PORT TOWNSEND — Kaci Cronkhite, a local author and former director of the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, is celebrating the release of her new book, “Finding Pax: The Unexpected Journey of a Little Wooden Boat,” with events around Port Townsend this month.
Cronkhite will be signing books and presenting lectures in the days leading up to the annual Wooden Boat Festival, set Sept. 9-11, where her boat, Pax, will be on display.
The book is the story of Pax, a wooden sailboat built in Denmark in 1936, then purchased by Cronkhite in Canada in 2007.
“I was completely surprised to buy her because I knew better than to own a wooden boat,” Cronkhite said.
“Once I owned her, the mystery of her history really compelled me.”
Cronkhite tracked down the boat’s former owners, a trail that led her from Vancouver Island to California and eventually to Denmark.
She began to collect documents, newspaper clippings, photos and family stories about the boat with the help of many people in the states and in Denmark.
“When I started, a lot of these records were in Danish,” Cronkhite said. “As Google Earth and Google Translate became more prevalent, it got easier.”
However, the more information she found, the more she connected with the families of former owners and builders of Pax.
“It started with me just trying to be a responsible boat owner and know her history,” Cronkhite said.
“It became more that I was finding it for these families because we all loved this boat, or loved someone who loved this boat.”
Cronkhite did eventually track down the granddaughters of the original builders of Pax.
The women, who were in their 60s, told Cronkhite stories of collecting nails in their grandfather’s shop or waiting for him to come home from the boat yard.
“They told me that by finding her history, the boat’s history, I had given them their own history,” Cronkhite said.
Cronkhite said the book had been edited down from the 400,000-word first draft to the 40,000-word finished product and was the product of years of research and writing.
Originally, Cronkhite had planned to compile the information into a historical document, but in 2011 — after directing her 10th and final Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend — she sat down to write and ended up with a book.
Currently, the book is being sold almost exclusively in Port Townsend, which is appropriate because Cronkhite has strong ties to the community and its boating traditions.
Born on a ranch in Oklahoma, Cronkhite didn’t see the ocean until she was 21. She sailed for the first time in Port Townsend Bay when she was 31.
“It sparked something in me and inspired me,” Cronkhite said.
Soon after, she set out to get her doctorate in women’s cultural studies while simultaneously circumnavigating the globe and teaching women to sail.
Somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, she had to choose between finishing the Ph.D. program or completing her trip.
She chose the latter and landed in Port Townsend in September 2001 after circling the globe.
Cronkhite said she didn’t plan to stay, but when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, shut down all travel along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Cronkhite found herself stranded in the small seaside community.
“So, I found a place to live and walked into the job with the boat festival and never looked back,” Cronkhite said.
The community of Port Townsend is also featured in Cronkhite’s book. She said that in her lowest moments after purchasing and then realizing the work that needed to go into owning Pax, the community really came to her rescue.
“This community doesn’t really let you quit,” she said.
Cronkhite has already hosted a few events in August.
This month, she plans a Meet the Author event Sept. 7 and will host book signings and talks on and off her boat during the festival.
After that, she’ll take her book tour national — starting with Maine on Sept. 29.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5550, or at [email protected].