Wooden boats to ply the Teche during Cajun Classique

Cory Werk’s aim since moving to Breaux Bridge and opening the Bayou Teche Experience, a canoe-kayak outpost in the center of town, has been to get people excited about being on the water.

He’s worked with the Tour du Teche paddle race down the length of the Bayou Teche and other events to put more people on the water.

Now, he has a new mission.

This week’s Cajun Classique is the inaugural voyage of what he hopes will be an annual trek of wooden boats cruising down Bayou Teche, traveling 70 miles through three parishes, passing attractions along the way and ending at next weekend’s Wooden Boat Show in Franklin.

The Cajun Classique is sponsored by the Southwest Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society.

Werk learned about wooden boats while writing a blog to publicize a documentary about traditional Cajun wooden boat making. The film — “In the Mind of the Maker” by University of Louisiana at Lafayette English professor Charles Richard, director of the university’s Cinematic Arts Workshop — is currently in production.

“The film introduced me to wooden boats in this area,” Werk said, adding that Cajuns created wooden skiffs and pirogues without plans. “It’s a dying art form.”

The Cajun Classique will showcase this integral part of Cajun history, when south Louisiana wooden boats were essential for fishing, hunting and trapping.

“Everything was done on the water,” Werk said.

Werk hopes the event will spark a renaissance of the art form.

Participants in the Cajun Classique are wooden-boat owners, some traveling from Mississippi, Arkansas and Iowa.

The cruise begins Tuesday, when the wooden boats enter Bayou Teche.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the cruise will head downstream after the bridge in downtown Breaux Bridge is lifted, stopping for lunch in St. Martinville.

The cruise stops in New Iberia on Thursday, then concludes Friday at the Wooden Boat Show at the Bayou Teche Black Bear Festival in Franklin.

Along the way, participants will visit attractions such as Shadows-on-the-Teche plantation, Tabasco and Jungle Gardens and the Chitimacha Museum in Charenton. Werk added that they hope to include a visit with a Cajun traditional boat builder.

“Not everything is on the bayou, but it’s very close to it,” Werk said.

The Wooden Boat Show in Franklin is now in its fifth year and is also a labor of love, said Roger Stouff, who organizes the annual event with Gary Blum and Larry Couvillier. The trio began the show to spotlight local traditional boat builders along with modern wooden boats that are more prevalent elsewhere.

“Wooden boats are not as common here as people think, and people are fascinated by them,” he said.

Their inaugural show featured 12 boats, eight of which were owned by the show’s organizers. Last year’s show topped 50 boats, and this year’s show will include traditional and modern boats as well as “stuff that you’ve never seen before, that came out of people’s heads,” Stouff said.

In addition, the show will offer a boat-building presentation and lessons on fly fishing.

Admission to both the Wooden Boat Show and the Bear Festival, April 11-13, is free.

For information, visit www.techeboatshow.com and bayoutechebearfest.org.

Registration has closed for the cruise, which only accepts “classic antique boats,” Werk said, but spectators are welcome. For more information, visit www.cajunclassique.com.