Renowned NW naval architect Bill Garden dies at 92

Legendary Northwest boat designer William “Bill” Garden has died at the age of 92, the Wooden Boat Foundation in Port Townsend is reporting.

Garden reportedly died April 29 near Sidney, B.C. The prolific and renowned naval architect produced more than 650 designs during his lifetime, including the Mariner 36, the Gulf 40 (Cheoy Lee), Formosa 51 and CT 41, among many others. Over the span of six decades, Garden designed watercraft ranging from commercial fishing vessels to tugs and sailboats.

In 2007, Garden was given a Lifetime Achievement Award from WoodenBoat magazine. According to an account on the magazine’s blog, Garden didn’t like to leave the remote B.C. island where his home and design shop was located, so a delegation took the award to him. The same year, Garden was made a Member of the Order of Canada in recognition of his work as a naval architect and marine engineer.

“By all accounts, Garden was a generous and humble man who freely shared his knowledge and advice whenever asked,” reads a post on Latitude 38 magazine’s website. “We know he’ll be sorely missed by those who knew him.”

Garden was born in Calgary, Alberta on Nov. 18, 1918. After graduating from high school in Seattle, he studied boat building at the Edison Technical School, which later became part of Seattle Central Community College. According to Mystic Seaport, Garden then went to work for Andrew’s Boat Company on Seattle’s Portage Bay and by the age of 24, had turned out more than 50 vessel designs.

After World War II Garden became licensed as a naval architect and set up his own design shop in Washington. He moved to Victoria, B.C. in the late 1960s and bought a nearby private island named Toad’s Landing, where he did his design work from then on.

Thousands of boats worldwide have been built based on Garden’s designs, which became known for both their grace and seaworthiness. His work is featured in maritime museum collections throughout North America.

Do you have story about Bill Garden or one of his boat designs? Please share it in the comments section below.

7 Responses to Renowned NW naval architect Bill Garden dies at 92

  1. Bill Higgins January 13, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    Does anyone know when and why the Garden-designed 60 foot sloop Oceanis was destroyed? It really tore me up when I heard it had been crushed and dumped for non-payment of bills. Is this true? More information, anyone?

    • Paul August 4, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

      I have some information for you, Bill. I believe Oceanus was broken up in Anacortes (although there are conflicting stories of Port Townsend – I know the Boaters Cooperative is in PT and they specialize in wooden boats, but hard to see them break a boat up like that). The story goes that the owner wanted a total restoration (she was cold molded and needed a lot of work), but he was short of dollars. She sat for two years. No insurance company would insure her in her state, so no boatyard would take her in. The land owner saw her as a liability and broker her up. She was removed in dumpsters to a land fill. Sad. Apparently the keel is still lying in the yard somewhere. This information comes from Bob Perry and co at Sailing Anarchy. I have a similar boat to Oceanis, her name is Astrocyte (50ft not 60ft) and is located in Ladysmith, BC. I adore her, and she is in tip top shape primarily due to my Father in law’s great care of her prior to our taking her over this year. She’s staying in the family. We’re not a wealthy family, but even if I have to sell my first born to keep her up, I will 🙂 Paul.

  2. Jo Sohneronne May 14, 2011 at 6:33 pm #

    I am the lucky owner of Swirl II, a Gulf 40 that my step-dad bought from Bill in 1963. The way he tells it, he walked into Bill’s office and told him he wanted “the biggest boat with the most creature comforts that he could single-hand for inside passage cruising.” Bill told him he was in luck because just such a boat was being built in the Cheoy Lee yard at that moment. Papa bought her on the spot. She was shipped here on the deck of a freighter and off-loaded in the Port of Seattle. Papa retrieved her in the Una Mae, a converted tug owned by a friend on Bainbridge Island. In 1965, he married my mother and brought Swirl to live on a mooring buy in front of her house just north of Olympia. She has circumnavigated Vancouver Island, cruised to Alaska, entertained and sheltered four generations of our families and friends. Truly all that Papa ordered — and then some.

  3. peregrinesea May 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm #

    There is a great picture of the Orcas Belle under sail at -

    If anyone has more information about this vessel please let me know. I am going dowm to Mystic Seaport in a few weeks – they are custodian of the William Garden archive including boat and ship plans – perhaps I will find out more ….

  4. peregrinesea May 10, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    I have always admired designs of William Garden. There was a time when I thought the Garden designed Orcas Belle to be a perfect kind of sailboat for my future travels.

Leave a Reply