Hippies in yachts – Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Scenario – it’s the ’70s and you are a hippy exploring the wonderfully verdant American state of Washington. Suddenly, you stumble upon a struggling town called Port Townsend where scores of ornate Victorian buildings lie empty. What do you do?

Move in of course!

Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival Double-Barrelled Travel

Port Townsend – a home for hippies

The sign at Port Townsend’s entrance says ‘A Victorian Seaport and Arts Community’ for a good reason. It began as a bustling trading post on the American West coast but the depression of the 1920s killed off many of its ambitions and for many decades trade slowly declined.

But an influx of creative, freewheeling types has transformed the place into a bustling community once again and its impressive buildings have been restored to their original grandeur. Carmen and I were lured to visit Port Townsend when we house sat in nearby Port Angeles, and arrived on the day of the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival. Good result for me, I love messing about in boats!

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The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Thousands of people from all over Washington, the USA and nearby Canada thronged the streets and packed the old port’s quays to see classic sailing boats and power yachts glide into the bright blue waters of Puget Sound.

There were huge three-masted schooners, tiny dinghies, classic wooden speedboats and even a few canoes and kayaks paddling around. They were all heading out into the open water where they would form up into a big fleet and sail past Port Townsend in a vast display of sailing power. But it was taking a long time, so Carmen and I wandered around the shore-based attractions to  see what else was on offer.

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Festival fun

We listened to a band play sea shanties while we ate huge ice creams and then learned how to splice ropes in a display dedicated to the art of boat building. I want to build my own boat one day (got to stop travelling first though) so I was paying close attention to all the techniques. It’s quite cool how you have to soften wooden planks in an oven so they can be bent into the shape of a boat hull – very clever.

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We heard a chorus of boat horns blaring outside so we raced to the quay to see the fleet sail past. It was a magnificent sight. The water was glittering with crushed diamonds and the sharp green headland in the distance was shrouded in thick mist like cake icing. The fleet sliced through the scenery and sailed into the distance silhouetted against the afternoon sun.


Port Townsend was a great place to visit and if you ever find yourself exploring Washington state be sure to drop by. Who knows…you may see a run down building you can do up for yourself!

What’s the best boat festival you’ve been to?

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What you need to know:

Cost: Tickets cost between US$30 – $10 depending on whether you buy a multi or a single day pass, and whether you’re a senior citizen.

When to go: Next year’s Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival will be held on the 5-7 of September 2014.

Getting there: The festival is held at the Northwest Maritime Center & Point Hudson Marina, 431 Water Street, Port Townsend, WA 98368. Port Townsend is about 2 hours by car from Seattle. Or you could always sail from Seattle! (Not sure how long that would take.)

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About the author

Dave is the co-founder of Double-Barrelled Travel and has been nomadic since May 2013. When he's not busily working on a novel, he can be found exploring a war museum, sailing a yacht (unfortunately not his own), or hiking up a mountain.

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