PORT TOWNSEND — The evening began with a bow to loss, and then it turned in the direction of hope.
The Navigator Night Out on Thursday was to be the Northwest Maritime Center’s big indoor fundraiser; the event sold out quickly and drew about 200 guests. An amount raised was not available Friday.
Then came a surge of COVID-19 cases. The maritime center staff moved the party, with its catered meal, live band and all, outside under a canopy beside windy Port Townsend Bay.
Board president Lynn Terwoerds started her speech by acknowledging the loss of the center’s former executive director, Stan Cummings, on July 13.
Cummings, who was 76, died following injuries he suffered while bicycling on state Highway 20. The maritime center plans a celebration of his life at 7 p.m. Aug. 19.
Jake Beattie, who is marking 10 years as executive director, didn’t shy away from calling the past 16 months “tragic,” and he added that this period of time has felt like a whole decade.
“I’ve literally been in ships sinking at sea,” he said, “and I’ve never felt so helpless” as when he had to lay off some three dozen staff members.
Since then, the maritime center has gradually recovered.
Last year’s virtual Wooden Boat Festival turned out unexpectedly well, Beattie said, as did the school programs the center held outdoors, September through May, sometimes in the rain.
“That’s character-building,” he said.
Three young people at the Navigator Night Out event have learned something about that.
Akeyla Behrenfeld, 14, gave a humorous, heartfelt speech about finishing the Seventy48, the maritime center’s two-day boat race from Tacoma to Port Townsend in June.
In the Colin Angus expedition boat she built, Behrenfeld traveled 70 miles in seas that went from rough to rougher, sometimes asking herself why she was doing it. She arrived at the finish line at 12:33 a.m. after just less than 30 hours of rowing.
“Surfing the big waves was fun,” she said.
At other times, the human-powered race was painful and exhausting.
The last 5 miles revealed phosphorescent waters — and a new version of herself, Behrenfeld told the crowd. The teenager who rowed in that morning wasn’t the same one who’d departed Tacoma two previous nights.
“It’s important for kids to get outside” and do things “that aren’t necessarily fun all the time,” she said.
The audience rose for a standing ovation.
Emilia Ramsey, 17, also spoke candidly about changes in her life since she got involved with the maritime center’s Girls’ Boat Project.
Ramsey said she’s struggled with depression and pandemic-wrought isolation. Then boat-building and sailing with other young women gave her a new attitude.
She’s now a teacher’s assistant with the Girls’ Boat Project and a poet confident enough to read her work to the Navigator Night Out audience, which again stood up to applaud.
“I know just how capable I am,” Ramsey said.
Another teenager stood at the back of the crowd: Rigel Carlson, a staff member at SEA Marine in Port Townsend.
A few months ago, Carlson, 17, was in the maritime center’s Real World Readiness program, “pretty much a class for juvenile delinquents,” he said in a later interview.
It’s also a job-readiness program that sends students to mock interviews with local employers.
Carlson and SEA Marine general manager Chris Bakken did one of those interviews.
“We clicked, and he offered me a job,” where he now works full-time, from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Bakken, at the podium, hailed Carlson as a tenacious worker, then invited him to come up and receive a wave of applause.
That was “different,” Carlson said later, adding he’s unaccustomed to heaps of praise.
At SEA Marine, he works with septic and other systems and fits into tight spaces other staffers cannot.
The people he works with are the best part of the job; “they’re really cool,” Carlson said.
Next month, the Northwest Maritime Center will have a much larger party: the in-person Wooden Boat Festival Sept. 10-12. With hundreds of boats, outings on the water, live music and youth activities, the center will host a mostly outdoor celebration of its offerings, both current and future. Tickets information can be found at woodenboat.org.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]