Northwest Maritime Center Executive Director Jake Beattie.

Northwest Maritime Center Executive Director Jake Beattie.

Northwest Maritime Center continues to grow, director says

Expanding education opportunities one of organization’s priorities

PORT TOWNSEND — The Northwest Maritime Center is heading into its biggest year ever, according to Executive Director Jake Beattie, and it’s expanding its mission of connecting people to experiences of the sea.

“The hardest thing that I still do is tell people everything that we’re doing,” Beattie said Friday in an address to The Chamber of Jefferson County.

From youth and adult education programs to boat construction and the largest wooden boat festival in North America, the maritime center continues to grow, Beattie said, with a budget of $9 million and 60 year-round employees.

The most well-known of the Maritime Center’s operations is the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, which, with the exception of a few years during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been running continuously since 1978.

It’s the largest festival of its kind in the country and the second largest in the world behind the Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart on the island of Tasmania.

The center also hosts an annual Race to Alaska — now the subject of a documentary film available online — a non-motorized boat race between Port Townsend and Ketchikan, Alaska, with a $10,000 prize. This year’s race starts June 5.

In 2018, the center purchased 48° North, a monthly sailing magazine distributed throughout the Pacific Northwest with a circulation of about 20,000. Beattie said the magazine, which is free, is now generating revenue that’s able to offset costs for the center.

Much of what the center does focuses on maritime education, and as the center grows, personnel are looking to expand its educational offerings, Beattie said.

Every seventh-grader in Jefferson County attends classes at the center, where regular school subjects are taught through a maritime lens, and summer camp programs are available to youth ages 5-16.

The center also has a state-of-the-art boating simulator that offers training courses to professional and recreational boaters, Beattie said.

As the center expands, it’s looking to expand its reach throughout Puget Sound and better connect with other maritime education institutions, he said.

The center has its own maritime high school program and is working with the Highline School District in Southwest King County, which has its own maritime program.

“Port Townsend is exporting (maritime education) to the rest of the region. You don’t often hear about rural communities innovating for urban centers,” Beattie said. “That’s something we should all be proud of.”

But as the center grows, it’s also running into barriers, including the costs of providing educational opportunities and the lack of housing for its own employees.

Beattie said he’s heard concerns from employees about the lack of affordable housing locally, and the center has been looking into potential solutions such as employer-related housing.

“I worry about the housing getting out of control and getting absolutely unaffordable,” for maritime workers, Beattie said.

“If the maritime center ends up being a maritime center in a former maritime community, then I have failed,” he said.

But Beattie was optimistic about the center’s future.

In 2019, Congress established the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area, which, according to the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, will provide additional funding opportunities for projects that support the region’s maritime heritage, and Beattie said the center is an anchor institution in the designated area.

The center is working on creating a visitor center interpretive area like the kind found in national parks, Beattie said, and recently purchased a vessel — the Admiral Jack — which doubles as a floating classroom and will offer tours of the area in the summer.

Beattie also expressed hope at the potential expansion of offshore wind power generation, an industry he said is set to expand and could provide numerous high-paying jobs in the region.

Beattie said he’s been in conversations with the Seattle Maritime Academy and state legislators about how the center can better provide pathways into the maritime trades.

“The maritime world is about to blow up on the West Coast,” Beattie said.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

The Northwest Maritime Center hosts boat races, classes, camps, workshops and the Wooden Boat Festival from its campus at the foot of Water Street in Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News file)

The Northwest Maritime Center hosts boat races, classes, camps, workshops and the Wooden Boat Festival from its campus at the foot of Water Street in Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News file)

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