Wooden Boat Festival draws professionals, curious alike
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Crowds at the Wooden Boat Festival peruse the exhibits both large and small. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The 37th Wooden Boat Festival has expanded and evolved from previous events, but it is never certain whether the weather will cooperate.

The three-day celebration dodged the bullet this year, as days that began under a cloudy drizzle cleared up and turned glorious during the festival’s peak times Saturday.

“Even though we’ve had the nicest summer that we’ve had in a long time, this has been the most challenging weather we’ve had for years,” Carrie Andrews, who with Barb Trailer is co-directing the festival, said Friday.

“Although it was interesting to see the boats come in on Wednesday and Thursday through thunder and lightning.”

The Wooden Boat Festival, which began Friday, features more than 300 wooden boats and dozens of indoor and outdoor presentations.

It continues today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Point Hudson Marina Festival Grounds at the end of Water Street.

A sail-by of all festival boats in Port Townsend Bay is set for 3 p.m. today.

A single-day ticket is $15, with the senior, student and military ticket $10. They can be purchased at the festival’s main gate or online at www.woodenboat.org/festival.

The festival continues to add new events to keep the affair fresh, such as a boat-building competition sponsored by Edensaw Woods of Port Townsend.

Contestants were given 24 hours — two 12-hour shifts with a mandatory lunch break — to build a small boat that will be launched at noon today from Port Hudson.

The winner for the contest will receive a $1,000 Edensaw gift certificate, but this year’s inaugural event is less competitive because there are only two participants, Ric Kenney and Matthew Straughn-Morse.

Both are building small one-person skiffs with simple designs.

Northwest Maritime Center Boat Shop Manager Scott Jones said the contest was a work in progress, with the rules under development.

“We thought of having a rule where all the people who worked on the boat would have to fit on the boat,” he said.

“But we decided not to do that because it would exclude family or groups.”

The process is flexible, Kenney said.

“If Matthew doesn’t get everything done, we might both stay late on Saturday to help him finish up,” he said.

Andrews said “attendance has not been down” this weekend, though accurate attendance numbers are often unavailable for weeks “because we don’t know how many people have been coming and going.”

Past festivals have drawn crowds of 35,000, which likely includes a majority of those involved in the robust marine-trades population while attracting people from around the world.

“There are very few festivals in the world that have such an active community involvement for such a specialized subject,” said John Welsford, a boat builder who has traveled to the past three festivals from New Zealand.

“There are a lot of professional boats but a lot of amateur boats, which is unusual and very healthy. Some are doing it as a hobby because it preserved skills that would otherwise be lost because they are not commercially viable.”

While hobbyists can build boats as a diverting pastime, those who commit to the process can build a career, according to Pamela Roberts, the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding’s education director.

“When you come in here and see all the beautiful vessels, you want to touch the wood,” Roberts said.

“It speaks to our souls,” she said.

“We want wood in our lives, and the festival is keeping these traditions alive so the traditions don’t get lost.”

Roberts said all 22 who are graduating from the school this year have jobs waiting.

The school’s one-year program, which costs $17,000, graduates people with an associate degree who can then build a career.

“People who have an interest in working with their hands should give this a try because there are a lot of jobs available,” she said.

“It’s not just boats: A lot of our graduates go to work for technology companies, and there are people who want to build homes that don’t have a cookie-cutter interior.”

Some students gravitate to the school in an effort to capture the past.

“A lot of them talk about what wooden boats meant in their childhood,” Roberts said.

“One said that his grandfather owned a wooden boat, and it was integral to the fabric of his family,” she said.

“After it was sold and replaced by a fiberglass boat, his life was never the same.”

As the tides and the weather are beyond control, “go with the flow” seems to be the festival’s motto.

“My business is good, but who cares?” said Lisa Hamel of Portland, Ore., who has sold clothing at the event for 25 years.

“This is the crescendo of my summer,” she said. “There is a camaraderie here that you don’t get anywhere else.

“If the weather is cold, I can sell sweaters. If it’s hot, I can sell hats.”

For more information, visit www.woodenboat.org/festival.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: September 07. 2013 5:52PM
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