SeaSkills Boating Festival to kick off boating season

SeaSkills Boating Festival 2017. Photo by Michael Guelker-Cone

By Stefanie Donahue

Boaters can hone their sea skills at an all-day event in Blaine this month.

The SeaSkills Boating Festival is a free event offered annually by the Bellingham Sail and Power Squadron (BSPS) in partnership with the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons.

The festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 12 at Blaine Harbor and will feature a series of boating classes, vendor booths, safety checks, food trucks and more.

A branch of the U.S. Power Squadrons, BSPS is one of over 400 squadrons located across the nation aiming to increase boater safety through education. BSPS was incorporated in 1959 and is made up of members who moor their boats in Bellingham, Birch Bay and Blaine.

“This has just grown like topsy,” said Custer resident and SeaSkills co-creator, Penny Dalgliesh.

Joined by her husband Tom Dalgliesh, Penny started SeaSkills in 2012 for BSPS members. She said about 70 people attended the first event which featured a variety of boating classes and food.

Tom and Penny Dalgliesh. Photo courtesy of Penny Dalgliesh

Tom, a former British Merchant Navy seaman, and Penny, who had minimal boating experience, joined BSPS in 2002 after purchasing a sailboat named “Waverley.” Eager to learn how to safely navigate open water, the pair took several courses offered by BSPS that focused on seamanship, piloting and navigation, among other things. “We were really into it,” Penny said.

BSPS courses are taught by experienced sailors and boaters on land and on water, year-round.

“It’s about safety,” Penny said. “We’ve all had horror stories.”

For Penny, it was a trip to Sucia Island with Tom on New Year’s Day. Following an evening of celebration, the pair had to depart the island early due to high winds. Unfortunately, they experienced problems with their sails and got caught big time.

Penny made several distress calls on her cellphone before a tug boat arrived and sheltered their sailboat until the wind calmed. “It was scary as heck,” she said.

Years after the incident, Penny is now the BSPS commander; Tom has also held the position. Since joining BSPS, the pair has completed a U.S. Coast Guard safety class and have earned a master’s license.

They’ve also navigated “Waverley” throughout the San Juan Islands, Gulf Islands and ventured to Desolation Sound, B.C. and Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

With the spring boating season now beginning, Penny said she hopes the SeaSkills Boating Festival will get boaters off to a safe start.

What’s on deck?

Starting at 10 a.m., skilled professionals will be at Blaine Marine Park to accept and dispose of expired flares. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., guests can grab lunch at a food truck, catch a ride on the Plover ferry, view exhibits at the community boating center or get a free vessel safety check.

“Throughout the day, vessel safety examiners will be available for a U.S. Coast Guard approved safety check,” Penny said in an email. “This is a free service that confirms to boat owners that their lights are working properly, propane takes are suitably stored, fire extinguishers are up-to-date, life jackets are current [and more]. This is a great ‘piece of mind’ check for all.”

For those hankering to brush up on their boater safety skills, BSPS is offering free, one-hour classes on the visitor dock. Topics include overboard rescue, boat electrics and marina maneuvering. On-the-water classes are limited to six people per session; individuals age 18 and younger cannot join classes that take place on the water.

“Several marine businesses will be on hand to explain their trade,” she said. Plus, the Canadian Power and Sail Squadrons will also provide an electronic simulator to practice boat handling.

SeaSkills is now supported by Blaine-Birch Bay Parks and Recreation District 2, the city of Blaine, the Blaine Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Bellingham, the Sea Cadets and

“As this event continues to grow, the attendees come from all over Whatcom County and from B.C. as well,” Penny said. “We invite all to enjoy the facilities along Marine Drive.”

For more information, visit or call 360/332-6484.

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