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

I would sell my soul to Neptune to own a wooden boat - a42-foot schooner, say, 40 years old but pristinely restored andlarge enough to live aboard, which would be essential because Icould afford her only by dumping my house along with my soul. Soeach July, dangerously, I find myself at the Lake Union Wooden BoatFestival in Seattle, falling in love but also taking soberingadvice from boat owners.

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

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

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

I know I'm temperamentally unsuited and too technicallyincompetent 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 a7-foot mahogany dinghy to the 125-foot Virginia V, a passengersteamer launched in 1922. Many owners will invite you aboard, aninvitation to accept with caution - you might never be heard fromagain. The Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival runs Jul 3-5, 2004(10-6; free; Center for Wooden Boats, 1010Valley St., Seattle; 206/382-2628). - Lawrence Cheek

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