The Aura

‘Aura’, 1948 Blanchard 33 foot Wooden Sloop

Aura_Side_Cutawaydrawing by Bill Garden, his design #98

Reserve a Day Charter, Sailing the San Juan Islands, on the Classic Wooden Sloop, ‘Aura’, a Northwest treasure. Her classic beauty, roomy cockpit, and steady speed make her ideal for day sails in the San Juan Islands. The Aura sails from Deer Harbor on Orcas Island. Designed by the great Northwest designer William Garden, she’s the fifth of nine built by the legendary Blanchard Boat Company of Seattle in the late 1940’s. Owned by Norman C. Blanchard himself for 25 years, she has always been meticulously maintained by her owners, true to the tradition of yachtsman-ship before fiberglass. She is a great sloop for day charter sailing the San Juan Islands.

The Aura is 33 feet long on deck, and weighs six tons. Her hull is red cedar planking, over oak frames, on a backbone of fir and yellow cedar.

Aura was first owned by a well-off Arizona mining family. They decided they wanted to go yachting and made arrangements with Norman C. Blanchard, son of the founder, for one of the 33 foot sloops, then under construction on spec, which they named Aira. They owned her for five years, sailing her in the summer, and returning her to Norm Blanchard during the ‘off season.’

This family then sold Aira to Norm Blanchard (who mortgaged his house for her) with the stipulation that he change her name. Perhaps they intended to name a new boat “Aira”. Since it was considered bad luck to change a boat’s name, Norm changed it as little as possible. He describes the episode in his book of memoirs, “Knee Deep in Shavings”, in the chapter titled “How Aura got her Name”. Now named “Aura”, she was owned and enjoyed by Norm from 1952 to 1977. He then reluctantly sold her to buy a powerboat, since he and his wife were not as nimble as they used to be. Ward got to meet him in 1996. A very gracious and knowledgeable man, he died in 2009 at the age of 98, a true Northwest classic.

In the years since Norm sold her, she has had a series of good owners who have kept her in great condition. She has had new floors, frames and planking around the mast step, and aft to the engine mounts. She has also had major changes to her cockpit, with new fuel tank aft of the engine, and new water tank under the v-berth forward. Other modifications include changing to masthead rig with a shortened mast and a bowsprit, to ease the weather helm. Stanchions and lifelines with a stern pulpit were added in the 80’s.

“Aura” is a two-time winner (1997 and 1999) of the Northwest Wooden Yacht Racing Association series. The trophy is on display at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle. She won “Best Sailboat” at the 1997 Vancouver Wooden Boat Show. Aura competes every year in the Classic Mariner’s Regatta in Port Townsend, where she often finishes in the top 3 in Class B. A half-hull model of “Aura” carved by Norm  C. Blanchard is in the upstairs dining room of the Seattle Yacht Club.

The noted Northwest marine architect, William Garden, then aged 28 years, drew the plans for a 33 foot sloop in 1946, early in his long and diverse career, which ended in 2011 at the age of 92. The plans were for the Blanchard Boat Company on Lake Union in Seattle. Founded by Norman J. Blanchard, an immigrant from England, after the First World War, the Blanchard Boat Company was one of many high-quality boat builders in Seattle in the days of abundant local old-growth lumber.

Blanchard built 9 boats to this design, one every six months or so. Some were fastened with bronze but most were iron fastened, including AURA. The last boat was built as a yawl, and was rumored to have been sunk in Lake Washington for the insurance money. Two boats sailed to Hawaii; one deteriorated there and one, Malia, is still sailing out of Haleiwa. Malia has cruised the South Pacific and the Caribbean. Of the other remaining Blanchard 33’s, only three are known to be in sailing condition, Aura, Vagabond, and Skylark. Vagabond is in Shilshole Marina, Skylark in Lake Union. Skylark was recently purchased by the son of the man who owned her in the 60’s. B-33 number one, formerly in Blaine WA, is being renovated by experienced boat builders north of Spokane but may never see salt water again. Varuna  had much work done, but then was sold for very little, and left largely abandoned on a mooring near the Orcas ferry dock until 2014, then was taken ashore, hopefully for more work. Seawind, formerly of the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, is sitting on a boatwright’s property near Langley, WA, waiting for someone to find time to repair her. Another B-33 in Tacoma was doubtful condition, and was likely broken up. In the humble opinion of Capt. Ward Fay, if certain boaters in the Northwest had as much sense of aesthetics and maritime heritage as they have money, these beautiful artifacts of a bygone age would not be in danger of being lost forever, and would be meeting annually in various shows and regattas, perfectly maintained.