Shipwrights co-op celebrates 40 years in Port Townsend | Working Waterfront

Posted 2/11/21

For the last four decades the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op has corked, sanded, sawed, spiled, reefed, welded and generally toiled to ensure that their clientele who place their vessels in the …

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Shipwrights co-op celebrates 40 years in Port Townsend | Working Waterfront

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For the last four decades the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op has corked, sanded, sawed, spiled, reefed, welded and generally toiled to ensure that their clientele who place their vessels in the capable hands of its artisans can rest assured they’ll be well cared for.

David “Griz” Griswold, serves as the president of the co-op, and started with the PT Shipwrights about 21 years ago. Griswold said the business’ unique approach to ownership, might not work for all other businesses, but it certainly has made for a healthy Shipwrights Co-Op.

“Within this co-op model, which is kind of worker-owner business model ... it’s really mind-blowing how successful the co-op has really been, in the niche that we’ve created,” he said.

The work of the shipwrights co-op, Griswold explained, lent itself nicely to the organizational structure of a cooperative, and where others have tried to manage their trades in a similar fashion and failed, the Port Townsend Shipwright’s Co-Op has persisted and thrived.

“I don’t know how successful we would be in other realms, there’s been a number of [cooperatives] that have gone on but a lot of them have closed their doors too.”

Griswold said there were probably a number of factors that played a big role in the fixture of Port Townsend’s working waterfront lasting for four decades, not the least of which the people who are attracted to the shoreside town.

“A lot of interesting, creative people come to town and I think that’s really the key to a business, being able to be creative with not only what you do as work, but also how you look at your business.” 

As owners go the Shipwright’s Co-Op has no shortage of those, and while Griswold said having so many “type-a” personalities in one room can lead to some differences of opinion, the structure of the business necessitates that the stakeholders work through any issues that arise. 

“We’ve been rather selective on who we have as owners, so I think that’s contributed really well,” Griswold said. “Us owners, there’s 12 of us now, and we have to work together. But the co-op model forces us to get over our differences and move forward and we’ve grown in that environment and it’s been really great.”

“We all have each other’s back too,” the president of the co-op added. “We’re all pretty helpful and supportive with each other and growing the business and also helping each other out in life and everything else.”

“That environment, because of the co-op, has created a really dynamic, positive environment and we try to relay that to our employees, as a company as a whole,” he said. “Trying to make it as family as possible.”

Griswold pointed to a long list of regularly satisfied returning customers as a key element in assuring the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op’s continued operations. Even through a global pandemic, he says the phone has been ringing off the hook for returning customers hoping to have a little work done by the folks at the co-op. Griswold estimated that between 80-and 90 percent of the co-op’s business could be chalked up to returning customers. 

It’s not just your average pleasure cruisers getting help either, Griswold said about half of the co-op’s income comes directly from the fishing fleet. In addition to regular maintenance and repairs, the co-op has recently been working to help fishermen adapt to new regulations for their respective fisheries. 

Longline fishermen, in particular, in recent years have been given the nod to use codfish pots instead of the traditional longline method as they hunt for black cod (sablefish) in Alaska. The new allowance was in response to significant losses of fish due to depredation by whales. In their effort to make the switch, the co-op has been tasked with figuring out how to redesign and rig up the boats to carry pots instead of the old longline gear.   

“We’ve been retrofitting and often times redesigning their whole system for them,” Griswold said. “We’ve been part of the design team, really, which has been pretty exciting to see how the fishermen can efficiently fish pots and go away from the longline.”

The president said he hoped to see the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op become more involved in the design work and refitting of the fishing fleet for pot fishing in the future. But that’s not to say that adventure-prone yachters are unwelcome, in fact, recent moves made by the Co-Op have such seafarers specifically in mind.      

Over the years, Griswold said the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op has partnered with Carol Hasse — owner of Hasse & Company Port Townsend Sails — to craft for their clients bluewater-ready sails capable of bearing the brunt of long voyages. The Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op recently announced that it would be merging Hasse’s company into its own organization to continue providing their clients with the same quality sails.

“I am excited that the Shipwright’s Co-Op is going to take the helm of the business I started in 1978, and carry on sailmaking as part of our marine trades and our working waterfront here in Port Townsend,” Hasse said. “They’re going to keep all of our sailmakers employed — who are highly skilled and talented and would otherwise be left scrambling for a job.” 

Hasse added that she planned to hang close and serve as a consultant to the co-op should her years of expertise be needed in the years ahead.

Griswold added that Hasse and her crew have made a name for themselves that extends beyond just their attention to the finer details in building the sails.

“From our client’s perspective ... they really felt like Carol was going to take care of them no matter what,” Griswold said. “That’s really big, if you’re a cruiser and you’re out there in some Third World country and you have something wrong with your sail, they knew Carol would step in; they would make sure they would get them what they needed. I think that just kind of came with the quality, the reassurance that if they ever had a problem, the loft was there for them. I’ve heard that numerous times.”

Griswold, in pondering the milestone, thanked the Port Townsend Community and those who have come to them seeking the knowledge and skill of the tradespeople employed by the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-Op.

“It’s just wonderful that we were successful and we’ve been able to grow in the way that we have, and still keep a community footprint and give back to the community as much as we can — not only to the marine trades community that we do business in — but also our community in general,” he said.

“We couldn’t have done it by ourselves, everybody here has really helped us out.”

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