Director talks returning PT Wooden Boat Festival alive, well, and online

Luciano Marano
Posted 7/29/20

This ship just could not be sunk.

Although, to tell the truth, it was a pretty close call. 

It had been officially decided, a done deal: The 2020 Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival would …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Director talks returning PT Wooden Boat Festival alive, well, and online


This ship just could not be sunk.

Although, to tell the truth, it was a pretty close call. 

It had been officially decided, a done deal: The 2020 Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival would not happen due to the COVID-19 crisis. 

The unfortunate revelation came back in April, when festival director Barb Trailer wrote on the event’s website, “This will be the first year in [44] that the wooden boat community will not come together in person to celebrate what we love. What is fall without the festival? For the sponsors, boaters, vendors, volunteers, presenters, the RV’ers, and all the people that come every year, it’s part of our annual rhythm and lives. We are heartbroken to not come together, but the love we feel for our festival family is ultimately why we choose to stay apart.” 

Yet another blow struck by the cruel year that is 2020. But what can you do except cue taps, right? Or maybe not ...

Stay that emergency flare, shipmate! Cease the SOS and restow the lifeboats because it turns out the party’s not over! 

In keeping with the alternative action of choice of many other gatherings — both momentous and mundane, huge annual to-dos and mandatory run-of-the-mill meetings alike — organizers changed course, braced for (temporarily, at least) rough seas, and set about steering the beloved seasonal staple into new, uncharted waters — virtual waters, that is (no sunblock required). 

This year’s festival, set to kick off Saturday, Sept. 12, will be held online via video offerings and live-streamed specials, something long intended to be incorporated as part of the larger event but now forced into existence by circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Nearly all the content will be available for at least two weeks, some of it longer, giving attendees the unique chance to maybe actually experience the whole festival for once, Trailer said. 

“In the past we have had an average of 125 presenters,” she explained. “Nobody can see it all.”

Especially for the presenters themselves, Trailer explained, or anyone who brought a boat, getting out and about to enjoy all the happenings was, at best, rather difficult. 

“This is an opportunity for them to catch presentations they’ve never been able to,” she said. “People never get to see everything and now they can.” 

And, given the amount of content on tap, they can do so relatively cheaply. 

Admission is $20 and includes access to the full festival except the special Race to Alaska movie ($15 for that event only; $30 for that film and full festival access). 

Tickets and more information are available via 

“The Race to Alaska - The Movie” is a feature documentary that immerses audiences in the famed engineless boat race up the rugged coastline between the Evergreen State and the Last Frontier. It’s a film about the ultimate unscripted personal adventure — sort of the diametric opposite of being self-quarantined at home.

Hosting the festival online opens the event to people from afar, Trailer said, and allows for the inclusion of content that never could have made the voyage before. 

“People who could never come can come,” she said. 

Still, as well as it all turned out in the end, it was a tough transition from on-the-water to online, Trailer admitted. 

But the alternative had quickly became unbearable. 

“It just felt like too big a hole to leave,” she said. “It’s a pretty big community we engage with and the festival is the highlight of the year for many groups of people.” 

“So many people tell us it’s their favorite weekend of the year,” she added. “It’s the peak of the sailing season. It’s a rally, a giant reunion. To not have it for a year — so many people emailed.” 

And thus it was (re)decided: The show must go on. But how? 

“For a lot of people it was not that easy to imagine [going virtual],” Trailer said. “The Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival is all about connecting with people and all the beautiful boats. It’s this amazing buffet of activity and beauty and creativity.”

And rest assured, folks, it will be again. 

The videos and streaming events will be of various lengths, Trailer explained, so as to facilitate a kind of self-curated experience: Watch what you want, when you have time, and enjoy all that you care to. 

“It’s kind of like going through a video magazine,” Trailer said. 

“We can’t bring the exact experience online, but we’ve managed to bring all the best of things,” she added — uniting people who love boats and being on the water, celebrating an appreciation of the art of craft of wooden boats from both creative and technical perspectives, maritime camaraderie and the sharing of sea stories and adventures. 

“We’ve been able to bring that through the video format and through chatrooms and through several different ways throughout the festival that people will be able to engage,” she said. “The more we do it the more exciting it gets.” 

“We’re just trying to make it fun and enjoyable for people.” 

Additionally, the director said the new format has allowed the festival a way of rewarding regular participants who have had a hard year.

“We are using this year as an opportunity give back to everybody,” Trailer said. “There is so much good energy in doing the right thing, and in the COVID year we’re not charging anyone to participate that are people that would normally come participate in the festival.” 

Educational groups and school programs especially, Trailer said, are being allowed to participate for free and promote themselves. 

Some highlights of the 2020 festival include: special videos about several more noteworthy vessels; a short documentary about the festival itself and the regional marine trade; a “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Wooden Boats”; contributed content from Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, the Norwegian Maritime Competence Center, and the Tasmanian Wooden Boat Festival; and a special edition of the perennially popular (and often sold-out) “She Tells Sea Tales” series, wherein female mariners share stories of their lives and work on the water. 

There are also at least two other “showcase” documentaries, in addition to the Race to Alaska film, each with a slated Q&A sessions. 

The first, “Draken,” is about a Viking ship tentatively scheduled to actually visit the festival in 2021 or 2022.

“A Viking ship captain, a graphic artist, and a naval architect reflect on their death-defying adventure aboard the Draken Harald Hårfagre,” said festival spokesperson Anika Colvin. “The largest Viking ship in modern history, the Draken reveals truths about building and sailing that were ahead of their time and maybe ahead of ours as well.”

The second is a special chat with the founders of the CEIBA project about their building a sailing cargo ship in the jungles of Costa Rica.

“Eco-minded about the high cost of traditional shipping, SailCargo, Inc. is building a vessel to carry trade under sail in the jungle of Costa Rica,” Colvin explained. 

All in all, it’s a tidal wave of offerings. 

“There will be a ton of content,” Trailer said. “There will be something for everybody.” 


No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment