A whole world of boating adventures and maritime learning is available to Whidbey Islanders. All they have to do is take a boat across Admiralty Inlet to Port Townsend.
Many islanders have already discovered the Wooden Boat Foundation in Port Townsend and others are working on an associated project, the new Northwest Maritime Center, an $8.1 million complex presently under construction.
Herb Weissblum, a former pugilist and Boston lawyer for 35 years, moved to Clinton on Whidbey Island more than a decade to ago to, as he kiddingly says, “get away from my creditors!” In fact, he and his wife were just looking for some new scenery in their retirement years.
A former Merchant Marine with decades of experience promoting and preserving the maritime experience, Weissblum naturally gravitated to the Wooden Boat Foundation in Port Towsend. He soon found himself on its board of directors and helped raise money for the new Northwest Maritime Center. The entire project, including land acquisition, cost $17.6 million.
When finished in the fall of 2009, the center will offer a 15,560 square foot Maritime Heritage & Resource Building, a 10,931 square foot Chandler Maritime Education Building, 6,160 square feet of pier and dock, and more than 40,000 square feet of outdoor public areas.
Executive director of the Maritime Center is Stan Cummings, who moved to the Northwest with his own extensive background in marine experience and education, with the goal of keeping seafaring traditions and education alive. “We have a whole portfolio of programs to get kids on the water in boats,” he said Wednesday during a visit to Oak Harbor.
There are 31 Whidbey Islanders who are supporting members of the Wooden Boat Foundation, and Weissblum hopes for more.
“This is not only for Port Townsend, it’s for Whidbey Island. If it was just Port Townsend I wouldn’t be involved,” he said.
Eventually, Cummings and Weissbaum will be knocking on school district doors on Whidbey Island, pitching the opportunities for maritime education a short ferry ride away in Port Townsend.
One program they would like to offer Whidbey Island kids involves seventh grade students. Every seventh grader in Port Townsend is brought to the Wooden Boat Center for an introductory tour. Those who express interest in further study are singled out and offered various courses and internships throughout the rest of their public school careers. When they graduate from high school, they are guided toward an appropriate marine academy.
Cummings said there are many career opportunities in marine trades and business. At present there is a 10 percent vacancy rate for those good jobs, and that will soar as baby boomers start retiring en masse. The Wooden Boat Foundation and its new, larger appendage, the Northwest Maritime Center, aims to fill these jobs with young men and women from throughout the Northwest.
“Eventually we’ll be here to work with the local schools,” Cummings said.
At present, the Wooden Boat Foundation is tracking about 30 Port Townsend students on their way toward marine careers. Additionally, more than 2,000 students come there annually, mostly during the summer, to take advantage of boating education, as do thousands of other people from throughout the world.
Through the Wooden Boat Foundation, students can build a boat, row it, and take it home; they can learn to sail a boat; they can learn maritime skills; and they can embark on a myriad of sailing adventures lasting a week or more to destinations in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.
The foundation’s big public event each year is the Wooden Boat Festival, which attracts thousands interested building boats. Its 32nd running will be held Sept. 5 to 7.
For information on how to get involved with the Northwest Maritime Center, visit www.nwmaritime.org.