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berman05cupola.jpgWooden Boat Foundation & Northwest Maritime Center
2002 - 2011  

UPDATE: NW Boating news about Kaci's 2011 transition

"The future of these organizations is the future of our community.  We have an eclectic mix of creative people, sit at a vibrant nautical crossroads with mountain views, well preserved historic buildings and a publicly accessible waterfront, something increasingly rare in the world.  Small businesses, environmental stewardship and community leadership that balances progressive thinking with sustainable, people-centered economics is going to make the difference between our special historic seaport and other rural, end-of-the-road communities.  As a local Pulitzer Prize winning writer said recently, "we have all the ingredients here already.. we just need to not screw it up.'   We must make reasonable progress to develop our economy in ways that reflect the values and natural setting and have the courage to care about all people, despite their politics.  There are waterfront communities and organizations all over the world that are watching, share our concern and vision. That's why I stay involved. "  Kaci Cronkhite, June 2007  and why I'll continue to care as we begin 2012

Background:  the link between Wooden Boat Festival and Programs at WBF

Founded in 1978, after the first and highly successful Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend, the Wooden Boat Foundation  grew to serve thousands of people visiting or living in Port Townsend through innovative, community inspired and often volunteer infused on-the-water and maritime educational programs.  The most popular and largest program continues to be the internationally renowned Wooden Boat Festival, but this small non-profit also spawned rich experiential programming that either stayed "in house" with staff and funding or caught fire outside the organization in other non-profits, partnerships or clubs.  Some of these include:

  • Community Sailing aka Learn to Sail programs were the first forray into youth programs.  The Daubenbergers (3 generations), the Vizzini/Schnapps, the family of Matt Barnett, the Flannigan/McNish household have all driven everything from fundraising, instruction and purchase of boats to literally driving their kids to practice, regattas and even the nationals! Those young sailors grew up to teach and start adult sailing programs in Port Townsend and other communities, and now NWMC offers private charters, lessons, networks with the region's schooners and historic ships as well as months of back to back progressive lessons and camps incorporating sail basics through the summer.
  • Summer Youth Sea Symposiums: a 3 week boatbuilding, seamanship and sailing experiences created under the leadership of Mary Dietz McCurdy (who'd moved to PT from NY's Southstreet Seaport). SYSS involved educational content from NW School of Wooden Boatbuilding, Schooner Adventuress and WBF's Commuity Sailing staff. These ideas live on in the Puget Sound Voyaging Society, NWMC/WBF Messin' About Sea Camps and obviously through year-round growth in Salish Sea wide programs of Sound Experience on Schooner Adventuress. 
  • Puget Sound Explorers: a weekly longboat-centered alternative school program developed by teacher Marci Van Cleve and local blacksmith Jon Soini in the 1990s. The program grew to include alternative schools county-wide, inspired out-of-state and county week-long programs, corporate team-building adventures and continues in one form or another to this day as the icon of programs at the NWMC.
  • Rowing programs: former collegiate athletes, boatbuilders and people opting for human-powered options to get out on the water found their outlet in both fixed and sliding seat initiatives, often starting with one boat donation, a huge volunteer effort, a generous and skilled rowing coach or three and early morning get togethers at the Cupola House.  From the solitary efforts of Jim Buckley, Steve Chapin, Mike Kennedy and Holly Kees, to 2s, 4s and 8s evolving from the Salish Star build to the restoration of Quinnault (our first Pocock) and Husky Challenger (one of nearly a dozen Pococks now housed around the marina and rowing the Bay) strong new organizations formed including Rat Island Rowing Club, Tuff as Nails and the Pocock Single Project. Storage for row boats became a priority for the NW Maritime Center design and today dominates the only beachfront portion of the building. Key involvement of rowers (eg. Dianne Roberts, Roger McPherson, John Collins) during significant phases of the capital campaign now makes it easy for crews and individuals to launch, rinse and store their boats year round. 
  • Regattas were always important at Wooden Boat Festival, but it took 5 years for WBF to organize staffing well enough to formalize specific races.  Mary Dietz McCurdy was at the helm for the first big race, Classic Mariners' (1983), Scott Swatner (mid-80s) then carried the momentum beyond Port Townsend helping inspire the Wooden Yacht Racing Association. He passed the baton to Exec Director Aletia Alvarez who added Shipwrights' Regatta, boldly and coldly scheduled in February since Shipwrights on the board at that time knew this was the only time of year they'd get out sailing!. When salty volunteers, board and staff have dared, WBF also hosted the Sea Dogs' Regatta, a complex test of seamanship including your own dog, real or stuffed! Regattas sparked the passion and now are supported by the year round PT Sailing Association, a volunteer effort organizing weekly, weekend and regatta sails from the appropriately located harbor view bar, Siren's Pub
  • WBF volunteers, board and staff also began wooden boat educational programs as offshoots of Festival. In the first decade of the millenium, I started Wooden Boat Wednesday's, organized a historic shipwright panels (which was recorded by JC Historical Society and PTTV), started the Lifetime Achievement Award (with Ted Pike and Sam Devlin) to honor NW achievers in Design (with WoodenBoat Publications) and for Community Spirit & Culture and the Festival's "Ask a Shipwright" which has now become a weekly program at the NWMC/WBF Chandlery called Ask a Boatbuilder.  Rob Sanderson and Macrae & Ellen Black-Wylde's started Messin' About Sea Camps; Kees Prins started Family Boatbuilding and Marci van Cleve expanded Puget Sound Explorers to Wayne Chimenti's Puget Sound Voyaging Society. This tradition of community inspired and energized program growth is carried on now through expanded non-wood programs like Spring Boating Symposium, Jeff Sander's Captain's license courses, conference room presentations from a wide range of maritime themes including tool care, use and maintenance by PT Woodworking School.   

The idea and evolution of NWMC

In 1995, at a WBF Board meeting, the idea was born for the Northwest Maritime Center. What began as a dream to provide a permanent home for the WBF, quickly grew to require it's own non-profit. Together, both organizations were committed to preservation of historic, accessible waterfront, wooden boat heritage and trades and sustainability of Point Hudson marina.  They raised nearly $1 million dollars, purchased a derelict fuel loading site and dock and began the most ambitious capital campaign in our region and the largest non-profit "green" building project in Washington state. Since 2009, two new facilities anchor the NE end of this historic Victorian Water Street, protect and improve the entrance to the annual Wooden Boat Festival in Point Hudson marina and provide year-round conference, program and water access/views in the heart of downtown.


  • 2002 Kaci Cronkhite takes the helm of Wooden Boat Festival
  • 2004 Kaci also serves as Interim Executive Director for six month "financial storm" @Wooden Boat Foundation
  • March 2005, NWMC and WBF vote to integrate, combining boards, staff and vision.
  • 2005-7 Dave Robison serves as Executive Director focused on fundraising, building design, and planning
  • 2005-7 Kaci Cronkhite serves as Managing Director of Operations, WBF Programs and Festival.
  • January 2007, Stan Cummings became Executive Director through final capital campaign
  • Dave Robison and Kaci Cronkhite continue as Advisors.  Staff expand into new buildings.
  • Spring 2008, programs passed the tipping point, more than 800 students in longboats, up from 44 in 2006. Other programs also filled in exponentially. 
  • 2009 Wooden Boat Festival celebrates dedication of The Chandler Education building.
  • 2010 Wooden Boat Festival celebrates opening of full campus.
  • 2011 Wooden Boat Festival celebrates largest attendance, net income and quality reaches new height.

Kaci's comments on the 2006 merger transitions:
The 2006 Festival theme was "Pulling Together".   At first we envisioned a crew in a racing shell, or all hands on deck heaving together on halyards to lift big sails, like on Schooner Adventuress.  In my mind, this theme has an even broader vision for our organization.  It represents the ultimate celebration of "the spirit of crew".  I see 400 people working to make the Wooden Boat Festival happen; dozens of teachers, parents and captain educators working together to make the Puget Sound Explorers program real;  3 generations of Daubenbergers or Langley's dedicated to teaching kids to sail or working in the marine trades;  Eight 50-year-old women with support of their teachers and friends, rowing a shell to glory in San Diego; hundreds of people participating in the efforts to design and build a new maritime center - while also preserving the traditions and culture of our growing community. We've saved the old Thomas Oil site from condos and continue to work hard to preserve public access to our historic waterfront and to keep Point Hudson alive with education, boating and ocean loving people.  

My focus in 2006 was to set and maintain a sustainable course for staff in Cupola House and to begin the work on new or merged computer systems, integrating organizational connections and retaining the great staff who live, work and visit here. That focus has become sharper and the vision becomes more real every day.  As youth programs take on a life of their own, I'm switching focus to marine trades and adult programming in 2008.  

The Wooden Boat Festival is a great model. It represents a unique and very successful example of a community inspired event. It provides infinite opportunities for authentic experiences and educational connections with all kinds of wooden boats, their builders, owners and crews.  As a model of collaboration, this event inspired decades of programs at the WBF and will inspire new program and community partnerships within the integrated Northwest Maritime Center. 

The WBF gives us depth and the NWMC gives us breadth.  By pulling together, we hope to continue the maritime legacy of Port Townsend."

Kaci's comments on her final festival 2011

A decade of better becoming “best”
My first Festival was September 8-10, 2001. The day after that festival, my life and the lives of most people in our country changed. Having just returned from a circumnavigation, I was forewarned of serious culture shock and prepared for a 6 month adjustment back on land. But like others, I had no warning and little real life preparation for the attack on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon. As I waited with packed bags to get aboard PS Express for a ride north to Friday Harbor where Tethys, my home the last 6 years was moored, I saw the television news flash to a scene of burning buildings, then a rerun of footage showing a jet flying into the WTC Twin Towers.  Shocked, I remembered my youngest brother had just moved to New York and in his postcard bragged about “living across the street from the WTC.”  In seconds, I was reconnected to family I hadn’t seen in a decade, forging a new “community” in Port Townsend and fully immersed in an America shaken to her core and unified like never in my life.  

A few months later, completely unexpected, a job coordinating the Wooden Boat Festival was offered to me.  Empowered by optimism, spurred to use my skills and creativity, born with a love of history and naive to the herculean task I was taking on, I jumped at the chance to work hard and make a difference in the context of our country and my life.  In that first festival,  the huge wave of impossible details broke my need to “control” and taught me the exponential value of delegation to talented, passionate people.  In each festival I learned something and every festival got “better” so that by the 10th Festival even the anger of a few, was graciously dissolved by the love of literally thousands. The 35th Wooden Boat Festival was truly the “best” in all measures, and I am better for the decade of effort invested.
Navigation strategy and sail trim for the long passage

Numbers, whether used to quantify dollars, kegs, people or boats, are one of the two primary measures of festival success each year. Indeed, I used numbers as my primary strategies when navigating improvements the first four years. Boats, exhibitors, presenters and ticket sales all went up, some as much as 100% but most in the 3-20% range per year, every year or two.  Once we reached capacity of the marina, grounds, rooms in town and transportation tributaries, I shifted my focus, like we were on a long passage, where sustainability of spirit and managing resources became the top goal. Using a metaphor from ocean passages, I knew that managing chafe (community goodwill), preserving and developing human resources ( finding and nurturing talent in the Volunteer Captains) and trimming the sails (tweaking programmatic content and expenses) were vital to my success and likewise, our success.  The heart of the festival is in the people who volunteer, bring their boats and present their skills.  The over-arching goal was the mission accomplished: quality experience, engaged learning, preserving wooden boats and fun.  Through 10 festivals, we improved both the numbers and the experience.  Mission accomplished and anchor down.


Photo of Cupola House was taken by Michael & Jan Berman.  Thank you Michael for your beautiful work and your continued generosity.