The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Port Townsend Foundry

I attended and volunteered at The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, hosted by the Northwest Maritime Center, on September 8th and 9th, 2018. My motive is to share some positive encounters I had over the weekend. Highlights of my festival experience were Joni Blanchard’s Varnishing Tips and Tricks presentation, meeting Kaci Cronkite, Steve Wystrach’s film on Robert Manry, and Maria Coryell-Martin’s Adventure Sketching workshop. My experience was centered on my volunteer commitments as the Boatyard Stage Manager and wandering the docks. While my personal scope of the festival is narrow, it is intended to highlight how to participate and spectate on an individual level. I do not have a personal or professional connection with these presenters and the first and last time I have met them, was at the festival.

Joni Blanchard’s presentation, “Varnishing Tips and Tricks,” held on Saturday afternoon at the Boatyard Stage, was both entertaining and informative. She clearly knows her subject well and is not only knowledgeable and thoughtful but also has an apparent level of artistry that transcends technique. She presents with a great smile, a down-to-earth manner and is clearly passionate about her craft.

Joni gave thorough and experience-based advice on products, methods, and myths. She brought many visual props to her presentation outlining the varnishing process from beginning to end. These included tapes, cleaners, varnishes, brushes, and umbrellas, to name just a few. Joni not only offered which products and techniques she used, but explained advantages and disadvantages, the when and the why, possible variabilities, common misunderstandings, and the “tips and tricks” only someone with an immense amount of experience can convey. She answered audience questions sincerely and honestly, and if an inquiry was beyond her knowledge, she said so. She wrapped up her workshop with a live demonstration of rolling and tipping.

Whether you are a novice or a professional, I suggest there is something to learn from attending one of Joni’s “Varnishing Tips and Tricks” presentations. Joni also has a book, Tricks, Cheating & Chingaderos: A Collection of Knowledge and Tips for Varnishing/Painting Wooden Boats. While the book is outside of my personal festival experience, based on Joni Blanchard’s presentation, I would suggest it is likely a good acquisition for someone interested in the craft of varnishing.

Saturday evening I was walking the docks with my friend Bob, perusing the wooden boats on hand. We happened to be admiring a 1936 28’ Danish double-ender named PAX, when the owner, Kaci Cronkhite, returned to her boat. She asked if we would like to come aboard. Like any curious boat enthusiasts, we said, “Yes.” We spent the next 10 minutes chatting with Kaci about PAX’s history and getting a “teaser” synopsis of her book, Finding Pax.  She made references to Erskine Childers’, The Riddle in the Sands, a classic I have read and enjoyed, and Finding Pax certainly piqued my interest. When my friend asked for clarification on whether the boat was at one time stolen in California and taken to Canada, Kaci’s reply was, “You’ll have to read the book.” I found Kaci to be an intense personality. A steadfast promoter that is charming, intelligent, inspirational, and with a flare of mystique.

The one event I had planned on attending at the festival was Steve Wystrach’s documentary film, Manry at Sea: In the Wake of a Dream, showing Saturday at 7 pm in the Northwest Maritime Center. This would be the Northwest premiere of the film, and I was advised to arrive early for a good seat. This advice turned out to be sound. In 2007 I was loaned Robert Manry’s book, Tinkerbelle. Tinkerbelle is Robert’s inspirational story about crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a 14-foot boat in 1965, from Falmouth, Massachusetts to Falmouth, England. Big adventure in a small boat is always intriguing to me, so when I heard there was now a film, naturally I was interested.

Steve, influenced by the story of Tinkerbelle, and with experience in the film industry, recognized that Robert had a 16-mm movie camera in his list of gear for Tinkerbelle. He wondered what happened to the footage. Inspired, Steve eventually made contact with Manry’s family who still had that footage and more, and 21 years later, the film is complete.

The documentary did not disappoint. Steve put into a film much of what Robert put into words. Steve highlighted more of Robert’s personality, great smile, and personal history. There is video taken by Robert while at sea and media coverage of the hype. There are also recent interviews with family, acquaintances, and experts.

If you are a non-sailor, Steve’s film will give you all you may want to know about Robert’s story. If you are a sailor, you will want to read the book in addition to the movie. It is a terrific account of an incredible voyage.

Last, but not least, Maria Coryell-Martin presented Adventure Sketching at the Boatyard Stage on Sunday at noon. I was uncertain what and who to expect, and the Sunday weather turned a little rainy and a lot windy. However, Maria was not intimidated by such elements and showed the skill of improvisation as we adjusted the Stage to contend with the weather conditions.

Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Maria’s presentation was maritime focused and designed for the person who wished to capture a scene on paper, regardless of skill and experience. Her delivery was fun, animated and energetic. She projected her voice well, and every member of the mostly adult audience was engaged. Maria discussed various techniques and approaches to sketching. For one, observing the subject matter by squinting to simplify it. Another was interpreting and drawing lines by using broad strokes or in contrast, by using continuous lines. She emphasized the importance of contrasting shades and gave ideas for conveying these. She reviewed materials for journaling and traveling and always reminded people that this was meant to be fun and there was no “wrong.” She provided plenty of paper and pencils for the audience and followed every technical suggestion with an exercise for the audience. This was a key to her audiences engagement.

Maria is a very talented artist and an excellent teacher. Her ability to captivate the audience, young and old, is exceptional and her skills, apparent. I would recommend her workshops to anyone interested in sketching. Whether you are a dabbling novice or a more seasoned artist, I suspect you will find her energy is exhilarating and your time spent, worthwhile.

While I missed many great presentations and events at The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, I did not miss having a great experience. To give an accurate and detailed account of the entire festival would be exhausting and frankly, impossible. The success of the festival depends on hundreds of dedicated staff, faculty, and volunteers and is the city’s biggest weekend. I focused on how an individual can make a contribution to the whole and enhance their own experience. If you have been thinking of attending the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, I recommend it. If you have an opportunity to volunteer, your efforts will be appreciated and shape your experience. It took me eight years to attend the annual festival and glad I finally did.

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