By Jonathan Cooper (marketing and creative director for Grand Banks Yachts.)
Listen to the Sound
Port Townsend is just the stop for serious boaters looking for a warm embrace.
Port Townsend has not only acknowledged its maritime heartbeat, it has embraced and elevated and nourished it. Situated about as far northwest as you can go in the United States without plopping yourself into the vast Pacific, Port Townsend, Washington, is both a haven and a breeding ground for boatbuilders, as well as artists, furniture-makers, bakers, and booksellers. Whether you’re talking with the town’s world-class boatbuilders and marine tradespeople, boatbuilding instructors at the welcoming Maritime Center, or residents and business and civic leaders, you’ll find saltwater and spar varnish running through the veins of the folks in this singular seaside town.
The salty appeal is unmistakable. With towering Douglas fir trees and sweeping views over the entrance to Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Townsend offers something for everyone: a movie theater and performing arts center, quality restaurants and grocery stores, art galleries, and even a car-ferry service from the mainland to rendezvous with landlubbers.
Port Townsend Shipyard, just west of the public marina, is one of the big attractions for seafarers; the 150-foot/330-ton might of the TravelLift there brings many an impressive vessel ashore. Walk the gravel yard and inspect the variety of ongoing projects. The local Wooden Boat Foundation and the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding both call the shipyard home, as do many of the marine businesses that cater to boat construction, repair, and restoration, with an emphasis on wooden boats, of course.
Many Port Townsend residents have witnessed a renaissance; festivals now attract visitors far and wide to celebrate everything from independent cinema to rhododendrons to vintage cars. The most renowned event of all though, is the annual Wooden Boat Festival, now in its 37th year. With more than 300 wooden vessels, dozens of presentations and demonstrations, a who’s who of experts, and thousands of enthusiasts, it is reportedly the largest wooden boat festival in North America. It takes place each year in September at Point Hudson Marina and the aforementioned Northwest Maritime Center, a jewel of contemporary design featuring contemporary, large-timber architecture with open spaces, a café, chandlery, nautical library, and more. Here you’ll also find the Center for Wooden Boats, where just about anyone can rent space, access tools, and mind-meld with other knowledgeable shipwrights (and here, knowledgeable shipwrights are the norm).
Once you’ve had your fill of museums, shops, restaurants, breweries, hiking, and beachcombing, try an off-the-beaten-path experience for dinner: Head to the south end of Port Townsend Bay for a memorable meal at the Ajax Cafe in the tiny nearby town of Port Hadlock. Tie up your boat at the dock across the road from the charmingly funky restaurant, then follow the delicious scents of locally grown goods cooked by the talented kitchen crew.
Port Townsend is ideally located for cruising the region: an easy destination for those touring Puget Sound, or a jumping-off point for a voyage through the San Juans and into Canada. Boat Haven Marina is a large facility with lots of guest moorage and access to services. Point Hudson Marina is smaller and sits just a short walk from the heart of the historic downtown. Looking to charter? PT is an easy day’s cruise from NW Explorations in Bellingham, an all-Grand Banks charter operation with loads of regional cruising expertise.