Salty, Shiny Things at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

14 Sep

I’ve been to a few boat shows and I’ve no qualms telling you that I usually find them excruciatingly boring. All the fresh new gelcoat and shiny high-tech equipment blinds my eyes and when I come reeling off of each boat I can never remember where the hell I put my shoes.

The Wooden Boat Festival¬†in Port Townsend eschews the ‘Show’ moniker, and for good reason. The focus is not on new products, nor are they really trying to sell¬†anything, although there are a handful of vendor booths. Instead, it’s a celebration of all kinds of floating wooden things, young and old. In three days I saw everything from fully Bristol-finished yachts to very unusual homespun contraptions.

There was even a amphibious pedal-powered vehicle, made of wood of course.

Luckily, the Port Townsend festival not just for the woodies. Compared to the money-oozing wooden boat scene in, say Camden, Maine, this festival is much saltier. There are workboats on display, including the Elmore, which had the largest diesel engine I’ve ever seen.

This 70-year old, 10-ton engine gives the Elmore fuel consumption rates as good or better than most modern pleasurecraft! (see:

Then there are more experimental designs like this pedal-powered kayak.

The construction is elegantly simple, but expect it took a long time to perfect!

There are also dozens of workshops, many of which are just as useful for us Clorox-bottle sailors. I learned about sail repair, lapstrake planking with plywood, compass care, celestial navigation, and the ‘right’ way to use a saw and sharpen chisels (actually I learned that salty wooden-boat types can never agree on the right way to do anything).

Sail-maker extraordinaire Carol Hasse taught us how to tell a gaff from a bunch of junks
And here she is sculling Lorraine, her boat of 30-odd years. That’s a yuloh, a very effective Chinese sculling oar

Every night there were bands and in a space about the same size as a single dock at a big boat show there were three or four different places where you could get excellent local beer. Sometimes the beer was even free!

Best of all? Admission is $30 for the entire weekend.

This article was syndicated from Safe At Harbour But Meant For The Sea: DIY Sailing with Paul Calder


  1. Clayton Wright

    Dear Paul,

    Thank you for the kind remarks about my “pedal-powered kayak.” It did take many happily spent hours to figure out. You did a great job describing the wooden boat festival with its salty feel and lots of great things for everybody to see and do. It is truly the highlight of my year!

  2. Behan

    I adore the Wooden Boat Festival for all those reasons- and one more, which is how accessible it was for us as a family with children. Our kids still remember the boatbuilding activities they could participate in, the chanteys we heard, and the beautiful boats we were welcomed aboard. I’m not sure those are available to them in Camden. OK, officially homesick now! thanks Paul!

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