San Juan Islands Sailing Charter, ‘Aura’ Wooden Sloop


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 ten 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 yachtsmanship before fiberglass.

The Aura is 33 feet long 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 family who hailed from Arizona. 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 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". (Contrary to what people might think, Ward did not name Aura for some New Age reason, even though it's a nice name. She was named Aura in 1952, the same year he was named Ward.) Now named the Aura she was owned and enjoyed by Norm from 1952 to 1977. He then reluctantly sold her.

In the intervening years 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. She has also had minor changes to her cockpit, with fuel tanks located below her main cabin settees.

"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. A half-hull model of "Aura" carved by Norm Blanchard is in the upstairs dining room of the Seattle Yacht Club. She is a great sloop for day charter saliling the San Juan Islands.

San Juan Islands Day Cruising on the Aura Wooden Sailboat

The noted Seattle marine architect, William Garden, drew the plans for a 33 foot sloop in 1946, early in his long and diverse career. 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. 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 is still sailing. 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. 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 has had much work done and is located in Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, in need of a new shipwright/owner. Seawind, formerly of the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, is sitting on land near Langley, WA, waiting for it's boatwright/owner to find time to repair her. Another B-33 is in Tacoma in doubtful condition. In the 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 a regatta, perfectly maintained.

The fifth Blanchard 33, built in 1948, is Aura, known for her travels to various wooden boat festivals and races in Washington and British Columbia under the ownership of Capt. Ward Fay since 1994.

'Yachting' Magazine, April 1949

The Blanchard 33, from the Blanchard Boat Co., from designs by William Garden is a new stock one-design auxiliary cruising sloop, the first few of which have proved to be smart and able cruising boats. Requirements were quarters for four, with six feet of headroom, enclosed toilet, coal range in the galley, and a boat that could be built economically in quantity. Stem and ribs are oak; keel and deadwood, fir; planking, red cedar; decks, plywood; trim, Honduras mahogany; and fastenings, Everdur. She has a 4150-lb iron keel.

San Juan Islands Day Sailing on The Classic Wooden Sloop, ‘Aura’
Day Charter San Juan Islands Sailing on the Aura Wooden Sailboat