Apropos of 27 crates

Maritime legacy is our future

Posted 5/15/19

You can see part of a wonderfully peculiar future for Port Townsend in the 27 huge shipping crates recently delivered to Pete and Cathy Langley’s foundry.

The sturdy boxes protect hundreds …

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Apropos of 27 crates

Maritime legacy is our future


You can see part of a wonderfully peculiar future for Port Townsend in the 27 huge shipping crates recently delivered to Pete and Cathy Langley’s foundry.

The sturdy boxes protect hundreds of precise models from which to cast custom brass and bronze parts formerly made by Rostand Manufacturing. A Connecticut stalwart of the yacht-building industry, Rostand once built Milford, CT before that town gave up on ship building.

Those Rostand models gravitated to Port Townsend Foundry because this town’s vibrant martime industry makes it the obvious place to send that epic collection.

If we see opportunities like this clearly, years from now this will still be the obvious place.

Furnaces will still roar and ingots of bronze will be made molten and cast by skilled and fairly-paid foundry-workers into the blocks, boom vangs and cleats by which ancient engineering harnesses wind to carry legendary boats across oceans.

If we do this right, sawyers, earning a living wage, will go on running rough lumber through whining, clanking, dusty saws and planers. We’ll hear music in that noise and we’ll celebrate, not complain. Shipwrights who sleep in their own homes here in town will rise to lock vast beams and planks into steam boxes and coax them into the graceful skeletons we admire as we pass the jumble of reconstructed and deconstructed dream boats resting on the hard.

Port Townsend will add value, not let it slip away, the way Port Angeles does every time another wood chip or timber carrier laden with the Peninsula’s raw forest riches slinks off to China to turn great trees into disposable cement forms.

If we don’t blow it, we’ll still be that place where carpenters will scratch notes on complicated blueprints and still be able to talk them over in person with four or five experienced peers.

Fitting the rails and stiles of cabinets into the curved bulkheads of a sloop’s galley will be commonplace here and unheard of elsewhere.

If we take active measures to welcome and encourage it, fine woods will yet be chiseled and cajoled into fine joinery, and square bolts of canvas will be cut, stitched and hoisted into graceful sails. Spools of rope and wire cable will be turned into custom lines by expert riggers. Excellent fabrics and graceful hardware will be shaped into handsome berths and saloons, just as they are today.

This place, Port Townsend, will go on being spoken of with respect around the globe as one of maybe two places where all those crafts flourish together.

That community of craftswomen and men give this town the authentic grit that attracts great artists, and unmasks the unskilled, untutored poseurs.
The waterfront won’t be the only beneficiary of our steadfast love. This remarkable community of craftspersons gives tourists something meaningful to look at and touch and experience, like the schooners Martha and Adventuress and those yet to arrive.

Most important of all, Quimper Peninsula will offer young strivers real opportunity.

There’s no app for hauling up an anchor. To build a windlass, one must understand physics in a visceral way and want to do real, not virtual, things.

When we do this right, capitalizing on the kinds of opportunity represented by the Rostand forms or Blaise Holly’s leadership of the Adventuress restoration, we in Port Townsend know the ways of doing that lead to ever-greater doings.

Young women and men who start their lives building epic boats and the complex hardware they require grow up to do that which seems impossible. They know the ways of simple machines: the lever, the wheel and axle, the inclined plane, the wedge, the pulley and the screw.

Great examples of wooden boat construction and reconstruction come here for the riches we are accumulating: intellectual capital, institutional memory and a cadre of hand-crafters unlike any other.

But we have to want a real port and not the Disney facsimile.

Furnaces must roar. Bronze must melt. Saws must whine and row upon row of tarp-cluttered works in progress must define our waterfront.

Affordable housing must rise, and rise and rise. Vocational education must be offered and exalted.

Certainly the sometimes-dangerous and dirty work of shipwrights should be monitored to ensure safe practices. But we can’t be silly about mess and noise the way we sometimes are about the paper mill. Sweat, steam, strong odor and occasional smudge are the evidence of this town’s peculiar kinds of consequential work.

If we do this maritime industry right today, we’ll have captured for tomorrow the  technical our daughters and sons can rely on to keep this town alive.

If we do this right, those who see the water’s edge only as a place for casinos and time-shares and inappropriate Microsoft mansions will have to wait.

Those who lick their chops at the prospect of that big score - the one-time commission on selling off the waterfront - will find their whisperings fall on deaf ears at city hall and in the county courthouse.

May they forever lick their chops, but never gorge on the carcass of Port Townsend’s maritime assets.


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Such talk reminds me a little of our paper mill, which saved our town financially and brought us our first decent fresh-water supply system just before the Great Depression struck. The mill's still the area's largest employer more than 90 years later, but there are always relative newcomers eager to force its closure. They are not all individuals who bought property downwind on the cheap or who are just generally blue-nose snobs. I'm sure there also are those who dream of developing its bayside property and/or the commodious hillside above with condos and such. I remain strongly aligned with our mill myself, as I arrived here at about the same time. My grandfather helped build it and my father raised his family working there through and well beyond the Great Depression. I worked there a couple of summers myself, and I look back on that now as a part of my education, in addition to its having helped finance my early college.

If paper does go out of style and the mill closes somewhere in the future, it would make an ideal infrastructure for forms of maritime industry, keeping its basic spirit alive.

Friday, May 17, 2019