Pilothouse: Maritime Northwest - PassageMaker
By Jonathan Cooper
1867_U.S._Coast_Survey_Chart_or_Map_of_Puget_Sound,_Washington_-_Geographicus_-_PugetSound-uscs-1867

Washington is dubbed “The Evergreen State,” which is a half-truth. The geological demarcation line between the two sides is the Cascade Range—a lineup of peaks that includes Washington’s highest (14,411 foot Mt. Rainier), and the most recent to blow its lid (Mount Saint Helens in 1980). Eastern Washington is beautiful but different. It features rolling hills, lakes, farmlands, and is home to Yakima, a world-class producer of wine as well as a large percentage of the world’s hops.

West of the Cascades, another, smaller mountain range overlooks the Pacific. The Olympics and Cascades combine to dwarf 100-mile-long Puget Sound, the second largest estuary in the United States after Chesapeake Bay. The sound is a protected waterway—protected from ocean swells, anyway—and is strewn with islands, rocky beaches, and plenty of seafaring tradition. Early explorers were Spanish and Russian, but the one who gets all the credit—and most of the naming rights—was Englishman, Captain George Vancouver.

Evergreen trees dominate western Washington—hence the nickname—but particularly on the Olympic Peninsula, which boasts the Hoh Rainforest in the foothills of the Olympics. There, the moisture-laden clouds from the Pacific bear down and dump around 127 inches of rain per year, creating pillows of moss, thick ferns, and towering Sitka spruce, Doug-fir, pine, and other flora. Sawmills were once a major source of income, and those trees helped establish the backbone of the boatbuilding industry long before Washington gained statehood, or even before boatbuilding was an industry at all. Countless dugout canoes and fishing boats were built from these timbers, starting with native tribes and continuing with Croatian and Scandinavian craftsmen who immigrated to the area in the 1800s.

Boatbuilding traditions continue to thrive, with local builders like Nordic, Ranger, and American Tugs, Cutwater, Ocean Sport, Lindell, and cruising powercats like Aspen, to name just a few. Others, like Sam Devlin, continue the tradition of building gorgeous wooden boats. In addition to these smaller cruisers, the Pacific Northwest is also the home for superyacht builders Westport, Delta, Christensen, and Nordland.

Today, maritime influences continue to support the industry at large, and despite the gloomy winter climate and short days, boats remain in the water all season, and many cruise year-round. Entities like the Northwest Marine Trade Association lobby in earnest for recreational boaters’ rights, protecting everyone from stand-up paddle boarders to megayacht owners, and every sportfisher and service yard in between.

Jonathan Cooper

Jonathan Cooper

Boatbuilding education continues, too, at the Center for Wooden Boats—which is getting brand new digs soon on South Lake Union—the Northwest School for Wooden Boat Building, and the Northwest Maritime Center, host of the annual Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend. Each one is dedicated to encouraging and activating boating interest in the community from children to adults, and one look at Puget Sound on sunny day, and it’s usually an easy sell. 

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