POULSBO — There’s an old saying that the definition of a boat is “a hole in the water into which one throws their money.” For the last five years, Longship Marine owner Aaron Wenholz, has made it his mission to take the sting out of boating by making the costs a bit more feasible for the working class sailor.
“My goal is to make boating affordable. I think boating is scary to people, but there’s a lot of people that want to own boats and they would be really good stewards,” Wenholz said.
For the last nine years, Wenholz has been a liveaboard, making a life for himself on the water. Prior to operating Longship Marine, Wenholz worked as a boat rigger in Anacortes, and before that he built custom homes, which means the owner of Longship Marine is no slouch when it comes to restoring wooden boats — neither is Wenholz’s life partner, Nico Jensen. For the last two years, Wenholz and Jensen have been working to restore a 1930 tugboat, which now sits (afloat) beside the breakwater in the Port of Poulsbo Marina.
At first glance, Wenholz’s store seems like any other local shop, but only a couple steps inside reveal to newcomers that Longship Marine is an entirely separate animal altogether. Propped up against a wall beneath a rack of fleeces are dozens of brass propellers; wooden sailing blocks (pulleys) of various size hang from a rack; boat wheels ranging in size from small to chest-height line the walls in the front and back; and a mass of rope covers one entire wall and wraps around a corner.
Toward the back of the store, several racks contain a hodgepodge of widgets, chains, hose clamps, and thousands upon thousands of other bits and bobs one could use to outfit their vessel.
Among these odds and ends is the occasional hidden gem, such as the reefing iron — a tool used for clearing old caulking out of the seams in a boat’s planking — Jensen discovered while restoring a wooden boat. A reefing iron, Wenholz said, is something of a rarity and would likely require a commissioned blacksmith to make a new one.
“It’s very functional,” Wenholz said. “It’s a working man’s store.” But Wenholz even admitted that he did not know what everything in his shop is used for.
“Every day I learn,” he said. “I think I could probably tell you what 95 percent of this stuff in here is for.”
Wenholz’s shop harkens back to the old mom and pop hardware stores, where a visit was less about a transaction and more about conversing with your neighbors and the staff. Longship Marine, he said, often serves as the church of the old salt; daycruisers, liveaboards, ragbaggers and stinkpotters alike all congregate in the store to talk shop and get advice on projects and on occasion just generally gripe about things.
“It’s fun, there’s a lot of storytelling and fun stuff that happens in here,” Wenholz said. “It really is a community hub, it’s a busy little store.”
Gesturing to the broad, bay-facing windows of his shop, Wenholz said, “There’s always something happening out in the bay.”
“I have the whole view of the bay and I kinda keep an eye on things. People come to me because I know everybody out there, they’re going to come in here, or I’m going to run into them on the docks somewhere.”
For the most part, Wenholz said, he enjoys getting to know his customers.
“I like to talk to people so I know who they are and what they’re about,” he said.
Being constantly surrounded by boaters, restoring boats and living on the water has given Wenholz a wealth of first-hand knowledge. It’s a hot commodity for those who pass through the store.
“Aaron talks all day, even eating and using the bathroom are difficult on a normal day here because he’s very in demand and he’s too polite to cut someone short,” Jensen said. “He’s owned so many boats, he’s encountered so many different situations, he knows boats.”
“On a boat, if you’re going to go somewhere, you’re self-sufficient,” Wenholz explained. “You have to know how to repair, you have to know what’s what.”
And the store itself, Wenholz said, can often be likened to the very boats to which they cater.
“I often compare it to a wood boat, it’s an alive being, and there’s always something happening here,” he said.
“It can be a pretty amazing place to be, at the end of the day sometimes you’re like, ‘Wow that was amazing,’” Wenholz continued.
“The people that you get to meet and talk to, it’s incredible.”
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