Take Five: Steve Paljieg talks about the upcoming NB Wooden Boat Festival


The 8th Annual Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival will be held this coming weekend, June 7-9 at the Balboa Yacht Club, 1801 Bayside Drive, Corona del Mar. This popular festival draws around 4,000 individuals to revel in the maritime art and enjoy the beauty of the setting.

The theme this year is the “Art & Craft of the Wooden Boat” in celebration of the intricate craftsmanship, creativity and timeless beauty of the wooden boat.

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Courtesy of Steve Paljieg

Close-up of one of the beautiful wooden boats featured in a previous Wooden Boat Festival

Stu News caught up with Steve Paljieg, chair of the festival, to find out what is in store for attendees this year and how he became involved with the event.

Q: How did you become involved in this event?

A: About eight years ago, BYC Staff Commodore Morrie Kirk introduced my wife and I to boating in California and the Balboa Yacht Club. It’s a love for the ocean…those that voyage on her…serve on her…and preserve her…that we carry with us every day. Thank you, Morrie. Yacht clubs are, above all, a community of people. And my wife and I believe that the more you put into a community, the more you get back out of it. We’ve volunteered for a number of things at our club, but the Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival is our biggest undertaking yet. While I’m this year’s chairman, I couldn’t be doing this without the work of my wife, Denise, and so many other hardworking volunteers who make the festival what it is.

Q: How did it start? Have you been involved since its inception eight years ago?

A: The Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival was founded by BYC member Ralph Rodheim. We lost Ralph to the scourge of ALS shortly after the event’s founding, but his vision sustains us and propels us forward every year. This year, we’ve taken another big step forward to fulfilling Ralph’s vision by adding our very first Friday Opening Night – a special, curated evening under the stars to enjoy the beauty of wooden boats. This new festival addition is SOLD OUT for 2024. I was not involved in the Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival at its inception, but I am proud to be part of a long line of chairman (and volunteers) who’ve played a role in sustaining this wonderful Newport Beach Harbor event.

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Courtesy of Steve Paljieg

Balboa Yacht Club, site for Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival

Q: Obviously, you must be a huge fan of wooden boats, so how did your love for them start?

A: Call it love at first sight. My love of wooden boats began when friends and fellow BYC members Rick Ingold and Dean Kaiser introduced me to their beautiful wooden boat – Phantom. Like a floating time machine, Phantom instantly transported me to a bygone era of classic wooden yachts, classic people and classic experiences. It really felt like the Great Gatsby could be at the helm. Gin Rickey, anyone?

Q: How has the festival evolved over the years? What have been the challenges and rewards in being chair of this event?

A: Throughout the years, the festival has been known for bringing together the very best wooden boats that California (and some points beyond) has to offer. This year we’ve made a BIG step change in what the event provides to attendees. Beyond the beautiful wooden boats – 31 this year – we’ve added sailings on the 139-ft. America (a replica of the storied sailing yacht), working artisans on our Craftsmen’s Deck, a speaker series on our Captain’s Bridge, painting plein air artists, a model boat exhibit and even our very first event poet laureate.

Like any large event the challenges are in keeping all the numerous pieces coordinated and moving forward. But fortunately, we’ve got a large group of folks who volunteer to help make this all happen.

The biggest reward from being this year’s festival steward is seeing the impact that wooden boats can have in people’s lives. Those that work to preserve these floating works of art…like Wayne Ettel and the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building. Those who invest their time and treasure in their wooden boats like Karl Kreutziger (No Corkage), Rusty Aerias (Joie De Vivre) and so many owners. But most importantly the impact these boats have on our festival attendees some of whom are seeing these treasured vessels for the first time – pausing and gazing upon them like one might look upon a great piece of art. It’s just good for the soul.

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Photo by Kim Fetrow

Wooden kayak, created by Dave Lake, featured in a past Wooden Boat Festival. He builds kayaks with highly artistic inlaid scenes inspired by the nature of his region in southeastern Washington State.

Q: How did you come up with the theme this year – The Art and Craft of Wooden Boats?

A: My wife, Denise, is the creative genius in our house. And a real force of nature. It was her idea to brand this year’s festival the “Art & Craft of the Wooden Boat” and significantly expand our on-the-land programing to fully complement the 31 beautiful boats we have on-the-water. Are there two better words to describe wooden boats than art and craft? I don’t think so.

Come for the boats and stay for the day!

The Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival is on Saturday, June 8, from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. For more information go here.

For easy ways to get to the festival on Saturday, June 8 (parking shuttle and water taxi), go here.

Online auction allows folks to bid on a number of great on-the-water experiences for the auction, go here.