If you love boats, you gotta love wooden boats. If you love wooden boats, you gotta love Port Townsend, Wash.
Located on a deepwater bay on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, what was once was a thriving Indian village is now a thriving maritime village. The town’s prominent Victorian-seaport architecture and a forested, waterfront military base turned arts-oriented conference center also help inspire a lot of tourism. Adding to that is a local pulp mill that pumps a lot of money (and occasionally some aroma) into the economy, as well.
Even so, boats are now at the heart of Port Townsend, which has marinas that bookend the downtown waterfront. Both are publicly owned and operated by the port. The Boat Haven boatyard (Port Townsend Boatyard) features a 330-ton Marine Travelift, and the yard is always full of all types boats, which are surrounded by the businesses that cater to them. At the other end of town, the Point Hudson marina is home to transient vessels, more maritime businesses and the Northwest Maritime Center, host of the annual Wooden Boat Festival every September.
Another iconic local institution, the Northwest School of Wooden BoatBuilding, is located in nearby Port Hadlock. Founded in 1981, the school teaches traditional and contemporary wooden boatbuilding skills with a 12-month associate of occupational studies degree. And to broaden its scope, the school now also offers a six-month program in marine systems.
The compact, intense course is designed to get students in the workforce quickly. The training is hands-on and incorporates industry standards like those from ABS, ABYC and NMEA*. In-the-field training involves workboats, fishboats and pleasure craft of all types — wood, fiberglass, aluminum and steel. Systems include electrical, propulsion, corrosion, hydraulics and refrigeration.
Another blade in the village wheel is the Port Townsend Foundry. Not much wood there. This place is all about metals such as silicon bronze, manganese bronze, aluminum bronze, white bronze and aluminum alloys, which are crafted into everything from large hawseholes to replacement parts for antique water pumps.
Port Townsend also has a couple great breakfast places, both on port property: The Blue Moose Cafe at the Boat Haven and the Hudson Point Cafe at Point Hudson. It was there that I had a chance festival encounter with Betsy Davis, executive director of the Northwest School of Wooden BoatBuilding, and Cathy Langley, co-owner of the foundry. It’s a small town.
*American Bureau of Shipping, American Boat and Yacht Council, and National Marine Electronics Association.