Set in the northeast corner of the Olympic peninsula between the Salish Sea's Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet, Port Townsend has been called the place where the road ends and paradise begins. It was inhabited by Native Americans for centuries and given its current name in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver. It flourished during the latter half of the 1800s and served as a U.S. customs station in the 1880s, but by the late 1890s it was sinking into economic decline.
The 1970s brought renewed interest and investment to the community, as retirees started settling there and businesses began redeveloping it as a tourism center. Now tourism is the county's leading industry, with the marine trade a close second - more than 450 of the 9,000 residents work in a marine-related field.
Much of the town's 1800s-era charm has been preserved. Port Townsend has been named one of three Victorian seaports in the country by the National Historic Register. During Victorian Heritage Days, residents dress in period clothing to celebrate the influence of the past on their present and future. Port Townsend is committed to the perpetuation of boatbuilding and other marine industries. The Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, the Northwest Marine Center, the Wooden Boat Foundation and more than 10 other marine construction and repair businesses are located in the immediate vicinity. Plus, the heritage town is home to the famous Brion Toss Yacht Riggers, Carol Hasse's world-renowned Port Townsend Sails loft and the Port Townsend Foundry, which makes all types of non-ferrous custom and production parts for ships and boats. Whatever your maritime needs might be, and regardless of the materials used in your vessel, you'll find some of the best marine craftspeople in the world in Port Townsend.
There are two key marinas man-aged by the Port of Port Townsend. The Boat Haven is home to local pleasure boats and a fishing fleet and has 450 slips available year-round. It also has one of the largest Travelifts in the area, capable of moving vessels up to 330 tons and 150 feet long with a maximum beam of 30 feet, six inches. It is a popular destination with boaters for refits of all sizes. There are many stores and chandleries within a few blocks that make it a snap to provision for a weekend or a months-long passage.
The Point Hudson Marina has a turn-of-the- century, resort-like feel. There are 35 slips, lots of linear moorage and charter boats such as historic schooners and whale-watching vessels. There is also a small RV park next to the marina, allowing groups to enjoy the surroundings together regardless of their mode of transportation. The facility was recently rebuilt, but rather than using modern construction materials such as cement docks, the people of the city wanted to retain the look of a quaint marina. A decision was made to create new floats using natural wood decks, preserving the historic ambience.
The Wooden Boat Foundation is based at Point Hudson and focuses on connecting people of all ages with Port Townsend's boatbuilding resources. They are dedicated to their mission of providing continuing education for the conscientious boater. The festival featured more than 300 wooden vessels and hundreds of presentations and demonstrations and welcomed wooden-boat experts and enthusiasts from all over the country. Each year the program changes a bit, remaining true to its traditions while introducing new ideas for equipment and skills.
The foundation is in the process of creating a classroom at the top of its building. It will house a mockup of a ship's bridge with all the latest navigation hardware and software so that students will be able to learn how to interpret what they see on the displays and understand how it relates to shipping on the surrounding waters. The facility will also have blackout window shades that allow prospective captains to make simulated passages through some of the world's most challenging waters using only the navigational instruments.
Last year saw the inauguration of the tremendously successful Spring Boating Symposium. More than 200 Woodworking and boat-building skills are just a few of the educational programs available at the Wooden Boat Foundation, powerboats and sailboats attended. Experts conducted seminars and hands-on workshops on a variety of topics, all based on the themes of seamanship, boating lifestyle and vessel maintenance. Visit www.nwmaritime.org for more information.
Port Townsend is full of great restaurants, but there is one perennial favorite with boaters: Siren's (823 Water St., 360-379-1100, www.sirenspub.com), which bills itself as a pub of distinction. Food, microbrews and a great selection of cocktails are served in a cozy turn-of- the-century building with a deck that has wonderful views of the bay. Be sure to try the rock-shrimp capellini, prepared with a spicy coconut-milk sauce, fresh basil and lime. It will warm you up after a busy day spent exploring the town's many excellent shops or out cruising the region's inviting waters.