Founding Director

Michael Vlahovich

Michael Vlahovich is a master builder and restorer of wooden boats.

His family came to the Pacific Northwest from Croatia about a hundred years ago. An important part of his heritage was the fishing life, and as a teenager, he became involved in commercial fishing for salmon in Puget Sound and Southeast Alaska. He also fished in California and Baja and traveled by sea to New Zealand, Europe, and through the Panama Canal. Michael became intrigued by the complex construction of the heavy work vessels he fished aboard.

After a few fishing seasons, he pursued an education in the skills of the shipwright. He studied under Joe Trumbly, a well-known builder and teacher who had roots in the boatyards of Tacoma and Gig Harbor, Washington. During his years in the trade, Michael has become known internationally as a master of wooden boat construction, restoration, and repair.

In recent years he has concentrated on the passing on of skills through apprenticeship programs, technical college instruction, community boat building projects, and public maritime demonstrations. He co-founded what is now called the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, Washington in 1994. This was a grassroots project designed to preserve the vessels, skills and stories along the waterfront of his hometown. He was also the originator of the Commencement Bay Maritime Fest, an annual celebration of maritime arts, heritage, and community in Tacoma.

In 1999, Michael was presented with the Washington State Governor’s Art and Heritage Award for preservation of commercial fishing heritage and folklore, and for maintaining the traditional craft of wooden boat building.

During his time as boatyard manager and director of special projects for the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, Michael and his apprentices played a pivotal role in the restoration of the last remaining boats in Maryland’s working skipjack fleet. Skipjacks fished Chesapeake Bay for oysters while under sail, and have been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s most endangered places. They are the last commercial sailing fleet in this country.

As captain of his own 65′ boat, Commencement, which he converted from a seiner to a charter boat several years ago, he seeks to provide experiences for passengers during natural heritage cruises in Puget Sound, British Columbia, and Southeast Alaska. He believes that time and resources must be dedicated to the preservation of the occupational traditions of fishing, seafaring, and boat building. In addition, he seeks to pass on an appreciation of the natural world on the shores and in the waters of the Northwest. He emphasizes the telling and enjoyment of stories as a valuable way of keeping the past alive.

Contact Michael at mikev@coastalheritage.org.