In 2007, WoodenBoat publications recognized two iconic yacht designers with Lifetime Achievement Awards. One, Phil Bolger, received his award at the WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport in July. The other, Bill Garden, was unable to travel to the show, as he lives comfortably ensconced among boats, shops, and a studio at a remote island home in British Columbia. “Time is precious to him,” said Ted Pike of the Wooden Boat Foundation in Port Townsend, Washington, “and he doesn’t like to leave the island.” So, an intrepid delegation composed of WoodenBoat president and general manager Jim Miller, yacht designer Sam Devlin, and Pike, set out on a journey to Bill's island home to deliver the award—a half-hull model of BULLFROG, a 30' Garden-designed cutter, carved by Ellsworth Rice.
“The adventure,” said Ted Pike, “began with a ferry ride from Port Angeles, Washington, to Victoria, British Columbia. We then drove to Sidney, where we waited for Bill to arrive in his 20' tugboat.” Pike admits that the trio felt a bit uneasy as the boat approached the dock, “because we knew he cherishes his time and we didn’t know how much of it he'd have to give us. Bill landed the boat, demonstrating deft control a the helm. “We boarded,” said Pike, and “without fuss he repositioned the springline so he could reverse around the corner of the dock and off we went to Toad's Landing, as his home is called.” And there the group's tension eased.
“Our tour began at his dock where a wonderful 30' runabout of his design was in a covered slip. He quietly showed us design features like the removable transom, special anti-sea-otter devices, and a very clever sliding sunroof. It was classic Garden styling with lots of beautiful curves. We then ascended the path to the house where we were met by Bill's longtime companion, Janie. Her gardens are exquisite; all the beds are bordered by stone that she has cut over the past 30 years. The gardens have a flowing balance to the beds where live-edge-planked seats and hand-hewn railings give you sweet places to sit and enjoy it all. There are stone and wood carved nymphs, angels, and nautical nuances purposefully scattered about. Window boxes explode with flowers as they rest on hand-carved knees. These are two very accomplished artists.
“Janie shooed us off so she could get back to work and Bill led us to the first of two large waterfront boat sheds. Each shed has a railway running in to it, and each has an overhead block-and-tackle system to move the boats. Bill's new catboat, TOM CAT, was in the lower shed for winter finishing touches after a busy sailing season. He has various row-and sailboats all getting improvements and maintenance. Bill makes everything he can, from cleats to blocks to artistic trim; yet, with all the special touches, all his boats (sail, row, and motor) are to be used.
Bill also has a passion for antique engines (there was an Easthope engine on the floor). He rebuilds and then installs them in his antique launches and motorboats.
“On the railway in the upper shop was an old Ray Hunt-designed International 110, freshly painted, and next to it a fiberglass lapstrake whitehall to which Bill had added a plywood sheerstrake (she was “just wasn't right,” as built, said Bill). There were spars overhead and more boats in the loft—all organized. Against the wall was a model-building shelf with a half model of the 60' Garden-design sloop OCEANUS well underway. Bill pointed out how he has included the cabin, as it's part of the whole design.
“Before we left the upper shop, we stopped at a small alcove where there were more full- and half-hull models, as well as old pictures of favorite boats and friends and good moments. As we wandered down to the house we stopped and admired Bill's fleet of antique boats in a covered set of slips. There were launches with well-oiled Easthope engines and a famous 30' motorboat, MERLIN, that graced Victoria for years. Bill is currently putting on one of his classic “eyebrows” on the front of the cabin, just to make it look a bit better.
“We ascended a small hill to Bill's house and spent the next few hours going over plans and pictures and models. Bill has designed hundreds of boats—sail and power, pleasure and commercial. He has supplied not only the plans for so many dreams, but encouragement and support, as well. He is currently finishing the plans of a beautiful 25'-waterline knockabout sloop that will be a wonderful daysailer and coastal cruiser. He shared with us a very detailed model that he made when he was 13 that included hand carved crew—a hint of things to come! (“He obviously was born with the talent,” said Jim Miller)
Once at the house, were finally able to present Bill with BULL FROG's beautiful half model for lifetime of achievement. After hot tea, fresh fruit, and muffins, it was time to go, and we reluctantly went down to the dock and boarded the tug. Bill's smile and wit and winks had punctuated our day of learning of his passionate, creative, contented life. There is no question that he is young at 90, he will not be slowing down without a fight.
“It was a magical day in a world where you have to try harder to find magic.”