A boat lover's confessions

The Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival attracts a variety of beautiful boats

I would sell my soul to Neptune to own a wooden boat - a 42-foot schooner, say, 40 years old but pristinely restored and large enough to live aboard, which would be essential because I could afford her only by dumping my house along with my soul. So each July, dangerously, I find myself at the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival in Seattle, falling in love but also taking sobering advice from boat owners.

"You've got to enjoy working long hours by yourself," says the skipper of a 38-foot lobster yacht.

"You'd better be very dedicated and very anal," warns another sea dog.

"A wooden boat will take all the perfectionism you can throw at it," sighs a voice of experience.

I know I'm temperamentally unsuited and too technically incompetent to maintain anything more complicated than a kayak. Still, I'm tempted, a hopeless sucker for unbearable beauty.

The event always attracts a variety of beautiful boats, from a 7-foot mahogany dinghy to the 125-foot Virginia V, a passenger steamer launched in 1922. Many owners will invite you aboard, an invitation to accept with caution - you might never be heard from again. The Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival runs Jul 3-5, 2004 (10-6; free; Center for Wooden Boats, 1010 Valley St., Seattle; 206/382-2628). - Lawrence Cheek