The Wooden Boat Festival was cancelled Friday due to numerous boaters, presenters, and exhibitors pulling out due to safety concerns related to COVID, the Northwest Maritime Center announced …
The Wooden Boat Festival was cancelled Friday due to numerous boaters, presenters, and exhibitors pulling out due to safety concerns related to COVID, the Northwest Maritime Center announced Aug. 27.
With the volatility of the current health environment, increasing COVID anxiety among participants, and boaters saying they wouldn’t come, the Northwest Maritime Center decided to pull the plug on the festival — Port Townsend’s biggest summertime event — before it was too late.
“We were getting a lot of cancellations,” said Jake Beattie, executive director for the maritime center.
“It’s not a fun decision to make. We were looking forward to it,” he said of the festival.
The festival was called off a week after the maritime center announced that all festival-goers and staff would have to show proof of vaccination to attend.
Most organizers and participants supported the announcement, although some involved in the festival felt the precaution wasn’t enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19, while others felt it was excessive and unnecessary.
“We got feedback across the spectrum,” Beattie said.
One Port Townsend resident opposing the proof of vaccination requirement was Beth O’Neal, former Captain for Bar Harbor, who resigned from the bar after the vaccine protocols were announced.
In her resignation letter, O’Neal said: “This continued fear rhetoric, divisiveness, and infantilizing of adults, while the pharmaceutical/chemical industrial complex, oil (plastic) industry, and big tech continue the devastation of our planet and gain more and more power, is a direct threat to freedom, health and scientific integrity.”
O’Neal critiqued festival coordinators for mandating proof of vaccination, as she opposes the COVID vaccine.
She continued, “I’m very concerned, disappointed and sad … I don’t recognize my own town anymore.”
In contrast, County Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour supported the expanded vaccine protocols as well as the eventual decision to cancel the festival, and said festival organizers had been “very thoughtful in their consideration for the community.”
“I think a lot of people will be disappointed. But I trust that they’re making the right decision for the community, organization, and visitors,” Eisenhour said. “I think it was the prudent way to go. It will inevitably come back.”
The cancelation of the festival was not for of lack of interest, as there were approximately 500 volunteers ready to help out and more than 1000 tickets pre-sold.
After the proof of vaccination requirement was announced, surprisingly, “ticket sales went up for attendees,” Beattie said.
Although ticket sales were increasing, venders, exhibiters, and boaters were pulling out, leaving the maritime center in a tough spot.
Without boaters and presenters, coordinators felt the festival wouldn’t meet their lofty standards.
The maritime center lost an estimated $150,000 by cancelling the festival.
The shutdown will also hurt some businesses, as it has traditionally attracted tourists from across the country and around the world.
Kris Nelson, owner of four local restaurants and bars, said she understood why the festival couldn’t be held.
“I am certainly sad to hear about the festival needing to cancel, but I totally understand with the uncertainty of the Delta virus and people gathering,” Nelson said.
“Yes, it will certainly impact my restaurants. Like every cancelled festival in our community, there is a financial loss to our local businesses, and none impact[s] us more than the business the Wooden Boat Festival brings,” she added.
With a year and a half of COVID hammering local businesses, many businesses will be hurt by the lack of tourists coming in.
“I just hope all of our festivals, nonprofits, and small businesses can hold on,” Nelson said.
Eron Berg, Port of Port Townsend’s executive director said it wouldn’t have a big operational impact on the port.
“It’s sad. Two years in a row without a pinnacle festival is a big loss. We’re doing what we can to be supportive,” Berg said.
Although many organizers, participants, and residents are unhappy with the cancellation, many look forward to seeing the Wooden Boat Festival in 2022.
“We didn’t have confidence that [the festival] was going to live up to standards,” Beattie said. We have a motto: We don’t do ‘B’ work.”