The city has always been known for its Victorian homes and buildings but today, visitors come more for the many special events it hosts every year. Events that attract thousands of visitors each year include the Wooden Boat Festival, happenings at Fort Worden Park, activities at the Northwest Maritime Center and the Marine Science Center, the Port Townsend Film Festival and the farmers market. It is truly a community made up of can-do citizens who want to be involved.
The development of the Northwest Maritime Center is a great example of a community coming together to create a world-class facility that today is enjoyed by visitors from all over the world. Its history goes back as far as the Wooden Boat Festival.
The vision for a Wooden Boat Festival began in 1978 around the idea of providing activities related to sailing, rowing and boat building. In 1980, the concept was developed into a nonprofit organization and the program took off. Each year, it became more popular.
By 1990, the community began to develop the idea of building a permanent home for the wooden boat program. Again, community and regional leaders came together and they raised $1 million to purchase a property with a dock for the future home of the Northwest Maritime Center. The property, which was formerly owned by the Thomas Oil Co., is located where the main street in downtown joins the historic Port Hudson Maritime District.
It took over 10 years and hundreds of community meetings for the project to come together. Construction began in 2008 and was completed one year later. The center was designed by the Miller Hull Partnership and is a LEED Gold-certified building.
Full- and part-time staff manage the center and a board of directors oversees the Wooden Boat Foundation and the operation of the program. Events include the Race to Alaska, Speaker Series and Classic Mariners’ Regatta, among others, plus summer programs for kids. The most famous of them all is the Wooden Boat Festival, with hundreds of boats and thousands of people coming each year to participate.
This is an example of what can happen when a community comes together around a vision, creates a plan, finds financial partners to provide support and has people who are passionate about making it happen. That’s what occurred in the small but active community of Port Townsend, leading to the creation of the Northwest Maritime Center.
Today, the center has a fleet of boats that include Optis dinghy sailboats to teach beginners, Vanguard 15 sailboats for intermediate sailors, Thunderbird wooden sloop sailboats and even two 26-foot longboats with eight rowing stations where young people can learn to row. The center also has shops where people can work on and build boats, and purchase items in the Wooden Boat Chandlery. It has clearly become a hub in the very active Port Townsend historic waterfront community.