Days 42-43 (September 9-10)
Port Townsend, Washington
Our forest fire-related rerouting combined with the addition of Bellingham to our itinerary lands us on a particular route that brings us through Port Townsend, Washington on just the right weekend. The 42nd annual Wooden Boat Festival is going on.
Hint: Even if you aren’t so into boats, keep scrolling down to see a photo tour of Port Townsend.
I feel close to my late father in this place. A former sailboat builder by trade, Dad was always up for an adventure, but in his older days he didn’t do much traveling. A few years ago my father’s close friend organized a multi-stop Washington & Nevada trip, with the Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend being the jumping off point because this event was on Dad’s bucket list. My father joyfully called this his “trip of a lifetime” every time he spoke of it, and as such I had hoped to retrace his steps one day.
The rain slacks off for a few hours when we set off to walk around the boat festival to check out the wooden beauties. Before we reach the festival area we spy the stacks of McLaughlin fiberglass Optimist prams stacked on the deck of the Northwest Maritime Center. Although my father didn’t build Optis (the sailor who purchased his business 30 years ago added that boat to the McLaughlin Boat Works line) it’s still fun to see the logo that Dad designed in the 70’s, and the ongoing legacy of the sailboat business whose reputation for quality is well-known within the dinghy racing community worldwide.
Side note: Coincidentally, as I complete this post, I’ve just left Dunedin, Florida, which was home to boatbuilder Clark Mills, who designed the Optimist Pram and several other iconic sailboats. There is more sailboat history to share, and I’ll be posting about this trip in the next week or two.
Port Townsend’s festival is the largest gathering of wooden boats in North America. There are boats exhibited here that have been sailed all over the world.
The collection of restored antique and newly built wooden boats does not disappoint, and makes me wish that we had Dad’s restored wooden Snipe and hand built lapstrake canoe with us. It’s also surprising and quite pleasing to see so many younger wooden boat enthusiasts.
Side note: If you have any interest in wooden boats, you should check out professional sailor and boatbuilder Leo Sampson Goolden’s youtube series about his painstaking restoration of Tally Ho, an antique racing yacht built by Albert Strange in 1909. It’s addictive! You can also find links to the videos on Sampson Boat Co.’s website.
We drive through town to get the lay of the land, and end up at the pretty Fort Worden campus, which appears to be a big part of the heart of this town. We walk around for a bit checking out the grounds and the historic buildings, and think this would be a great home base for a big family vacation.
Port Townsend is a charming small city with a warm touristy quality. It seems like quite a livable town where one could go weeks at a time with only legs, bike an/or boat as primary sources of transportation. The boating and boat-building communities are large and active here, with the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building nearby and the Northwest Maritime Center at the center of town.
Of course fresh seafood and regional foods are plentiful here, as are independent bookstores, antique stores, and movie theaters (two independent plus a drive-in theater). There is even a record store that’s been around since 1974.
Much of the city’s architecture dates to the 19th century, and there is a large collection of Victorian homes in the historic Uptown district. All of this can be found within a city of whose population is less than 10,000.
After 7 days without a shower and a couple of days of rain, we are more than ready to dry out, get clean, and do some laundry. We check into the reasonably-priced Harborside Inn and pay the extra $10 for a second-floor room with a balcony view of the Boat Haven and Yacht Club, which are right across the street.
It feels great to lounge at the hotel and get clean, but we aren’t ready to be in for the night yet. Happily the “inn” is next door to the unique Propolis Brewing, where we enjoy a couple of their seasonal botanical farmhouse ales. Different, but quite delicious. Don’t even think about asking for an IPA here.
Just across the street, next to the yacht club we find the tiny but locally legendary dive Sea-J’s Cafe. Expect mediocre service but excellent fish-and-chips.
During our visit, one of the two ferries that travels back and forth between Whidbey Island and Port Townsend ran aground. Down to one ferry, the traffic got very backed up and we weren’t able to reserve a spot for the next morning’s ferry. We decide to hang around town until lunchtime the next day, pondering where to go next and where to stay.
Fort Worden’s campground is still fully booked, so we decide to take a drive south via the Kitsap Peninsula through Tacoma and on toward the land of Twin Peaks…