Hands Across the Water

The Australian Wooden Boat Festival
visits the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival!

Following the decision of the board of AWBF to nominate the United States of America as our guest nation for our festival in 2019, the organisers of the festival at Port Townsend, in Washington State, USA, invited Paul Cullen and I to not only publicise our event, but to meet potentially relevant individuals, and for me to make a presentation during the course of the festival.

We arrived just before the festival, thankfully coinciding with the clearing of the heavy smoke haze that had been in the area for some time due to the wildfires in that part of the world. Unfortunately it was replaced initially by some rain, the first the locals had seen in a long time!

Despite this, we were thrilled to find a wonderful festival, which has a justified and well deserved international reputation.

Port Townsend, Washington State

The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival is centred around a long elongated dock, which contains a large marina. The dock probably encompasses an area a bit larger than the combined areas of Victoria and Constitution Docks in Hobart. The festival also occupies the land that surrounds the dock, and utilises some lovely old buildings in that area. Adjoining the site (and part of it) is the purpose built and very impressive North West Wooden Boat Centre, and further larger vessels were either alongside a jetty adjacent to the Centre, or anchored offshore.

We located our tent, overlooking the marina, and quickly set about establishing our local “promotion centre”. It immediately became obvious that many of the locals are very interested in our event, and our organisation. It seems that this was not only as a consequence of word-of-mouth, but many people had learned of our presence in the event program, and were aware of our festival through the wonderful video undertaken by Off-Centre Harbour.

The Hobart Crew

Paul, and the others who helped him (comprising Board member Joy Phillips, member Mike Ponsonby and his wife Julie, together with Lee Knight and me, when time permitted) reported constant and enthusiastic enquiries from many interested people, throughout the duration of the event at Port Townsend. I gave my presentation, which lasted almost one hour, to a packed audience in one of the four theatres that were operating simultaneously. My presentation concerned our own festival, and Tasmania; and it conveyed an invitation to our American friends to join us in 2019. This presentation likewise resulted in a number of further positive enquiries from both boat owners, potential visitors, and other parties interested in taking part in the event.

It was particularly noticeable that a number of boat owners spoken to during the course of the festival, expressed keen interest in bringing their vessels to AWBF. Some of these vessels are large enough to undertake a passage to Tasmania. It would be wonderful to have as many of the vessels from that part of the world as possible come to our event; there are many examples of vessels that we do not see, or rarely see, in our part of the world, including a large number of beautiful schooners, some of which were of significant size. I have always wondered why the schooner rig does not seem to be particularly common in Australia, but they certainly make for very impressive vessels.

We were kept very busy throughout the festival, and I stayed on for a few days after the event to meet as many people as I could. With the wonderful and very kind assistance of our good friend and supporter Kaci Cronkhite, (circumnavigator, author, and one-time director of the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival), I had a number of meetings with many delightful people involved in the many wonderful traditional maritime trades and industries in and around Port Townsend, including the director and senior instructor at the North West School of Wooden Boat Building ; the proprietor of Edensaw, which specialises in huge quantities of boatbuilding timber sourced from all over the world; the proprietor of Hasse Sails, a specialist traditional sailmaker; the proprietor of a traditional foundry, the Port Townsend Foundry; and a large number of spar makers, traditional riggers, boatbuilders, boatyard proprietors, small boat and kayak builders, and the operators of community boatbuilding projects.

I think it is fair to say there was unbridled enthusiasm from all to get involved in the proposed project between our two countries. The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival is a wonderful event, with strong parallels with our own festival; I am confident that the relationship between our two organisations and events will continue to grow.

When Paul and I set out to go to Port Townsend, our aim was to identify people who could help with management and production in the USA; and we also wanted to identify vessels, businesses, and speakers who would make a wonderful contribution to our own festival. We are well down the track of securing personnel for management and operation work, and I am very keen to continue with our negotiations to get a number of vessels and trade exhibitors here to Hobart. Further, with the help of our friends at Wooden Boat Magazine, and with the assistance of both Joy and Mike when they were in the North East of the USA, along with keen supporter, Ian Smith of the wonderful 18 foot skiffs, I am very hopeful that we will also have some fascinating vessels from that part of the world in addition to those from the North West corner of the States.

All in all it was a fascinating trip, and a very rewarding experience. Of course, a significant part of the challenge will be to fund the project. AWBF will have some funds that can be dedicated towards it, and we hope that some funds can be raised to support the project in the USA. However, we also need sponsors to help bring the entire project to fruition.

Whilst the brief trip was extremely busy, I am confident that it will lead to a wonderful contribution to our festival in 2019!

Steve Knight
Australian Wooden Boat Festival

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