An RV at the Water's Edge

Port Townsend’s 40th Annual Wooden Boat Festival

Suzanne Anthony Suzanne Anthony  |  11.06.2016

After all the ports of call I have visited in my travels, nothing captivates me like a vessel under sail. In fact, if it weren’t that my solo navigation on water was so abysmal, I might have bought a sailboat instead of an RV.  You see, I love boats.  All boats.  But nothing speaks to my romantic side like the mystery and aura of timeless classicism of a wooden boat.  To take something from the elements of nature like a giant cedar tree from the earth, hand craft it lovingly into a vessel to harness the wind for the purpose of gliding across the water under one’s own power makes my heart sing a sweet siren’s song.

117During my 2014 visit to Port Townsend, I learned of their annual Wooden Boat Festival.  Judging by the size of the beautiful Northwest Maritime Center’s Wooden Boat Academy, I knew it had to be quite an event.  I set my intentions to return for the festival next time I pointed the Winnie View’s compass toward the Pacific Northwest.  So last winter while planning my summer itinerary, I went online to do the research, only to learn I was about 3 months too late.  You see, I not only wanted to be “at” the boat festival.  I wanted to be “in” the boat festival.

103Each September, the Northwest Maritime Center takes control of the Point Hudson Marina and RV Park.   For a three-day weekend, this typically quiet RV Park at the end of town that overlooks the serene Strait of Juan de Fuca becomes the thriving heart of the festivities.   With enough advance planning, it is possible to secure an RV full-hookup spot right there in the marina, thereby immersing oneself in the heart of the Wooden Boat Festival amidst the mayhem.   For a full-time RVing boat lover like me, to park my rolling home inside the gates of a festival of boats is a double shot of Nirvana!

But I didn’t plan far enough in advance.  Reservations begin on October 1st of the preceding year, and typically sell out within hours.  So I emailed to ask about a waitlist.   I still remember exactly where I was standing last March, boondocked outside Joshua Tree National Park, when Catherine from the Northwest Marine Center called to say “I’ve got good news!  You’ve cleared the waiting list!  Space 318 is yours if you still want it.”   The Wooden Boat Festival would become the pinnacle of my summer trip through the Pacific Northwest.

104I spread out the three day seminar program from the Wooden Boat Festival to plan my weekend with low expectations.   Not being exactly skilled in working with my hands, I didn’t have much interest in learning laminating techniques or tying thump mats, though some of the tech sessions like Maintenance of a Diesel Engine might have served me well.  Still, I anticipated that most of my time at the festival would be spent outdoors, going from boat to boat…and there were plenty of them, from the smallest dinghy to Jack Sparrow’s famous 67’ Pirates of the Caribbean ship.

106But once I began reading the biographies of some of the speakers, my paradigm became a lot less “wooden.”   The list contained authors, poets, photographers and storytellers.  Adventurers and explorers, all eager to tell their tales of life on the water in a wooden boat.    The “Who’s Who” list had a plethora of expertise, from cruising consultants working for mega-marine dealers to a PBS-featured couple who circumnavigated the globe in a 24’ wooden boat with no engine!  It didn’t take me long to find something of interest in every time slot.

114The bonus of keeping to a one hour seminar is one must speak at a higher layman’s level.  Photography tips become gentrified for the iPhone audience all the way to the DSLR expert.  Complicated navigation gets simplified in terms of favorite apps like Navionics, TideTrac, SailFlow and ShipFinder.   And book authors must boil down the essence of what inspired them to write the book.   No long, dry presentations on charts or systems.  The cream of the crop, the essence of the perfume, the distillation of “spirits” that make up the love and lore of sailing.

118There are presentations on “The Unstoppable Boat”; how to keep your boat moving when all those fancy tech systems have failed.  How to outfit your boat for blue water cruising (overnight passage without sight of land.)  Even the NPS was represented in the presentation, “Find your Park – in a Wooden Boat,” tales of navigating the rivers of our National Parks, most notably the Colorado in the Grand Canyon in a replica of “Portola,” the wooden dory belonging to Martin Litton.  Litton was a lifelong environmental activist and friend of Edward Abbey, who together led the opposition to the Glen Canyon Dam, as well as proposed dams in the Grand Canyon.

110For three straight days, there was no lack of entertainment.  Up with the sun to grab “people-less” photos.  Back to back seminars with lunch on the run.  And evening entertainment from movie documentaries on wooden boatbuilding, to “Fisherpoets,” readings of poetry and tales from the sea, followed by a nightcap at the Wee Nip Merchant Saloon, located 50 ft from my Winnie View door.

The wooden boat industry embodies the last remnants of the golden age of sail.   In today’s fast moving culture and instant gratification with “bigger is better” mentality, wooden boat building is a dying art.   It’s only those with a passion for the feel, touch, sound and smell of a wooden boat that are intent on keeping the art alive.    Many of these presenters have not only sailed wooden boats around the world, they have designed them, picked out the wood, built them by hand, and circumnavigated, calling them “home” for years.   For these enthusiasts, sailing around the world is not as much about the palm fringed beaches as it is sailing out on the sea.   “The ocean is the destination….the boat is the paradise.”

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  1. Lila Posted on 11.12.2016

    Thanks Suzanne. Port Townsend is on my list of must see places. Do you have a blog so I might follow your adventures?

    1. Don Cohen Posted on 11.12.2016

      You can follow Suzanne’s personal blog at:

  2. Marty Posted on 11.12.2016

    This was a very well written piece, thank you.