Alex Toombs of Port Townsend was among the first visitors to the Welcome Center at the Northwest Maritime Center on Thursday. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula News)

Alex Toombs of Port Townsend was among the first visitors to the Welcome Center at the Northwest Maritime Center on Thursday. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula News)

Maritime themes highlight new space at campus

Former PT retail space now welcoming center for visitors

PORT TOWNSEND — Walk into Northwest Maritime’s welcome center on Water Street and your perspective will shift from land to sea as you enter a space organized to resemble a sextant.

Straight ahead is a front desk resembling the hull of a boat crafted by Joel Arringto. Above the desk, maritime scenes play on a projection screen made by Port Townsend Sails. Informational displays to the left and right follow the curve of a compass rose painted by Nick Mann of Whale Song Signs on the polished wood floor.

Transforming the former Wooden Boat Chandlery retail store into a welcome center came after feedback from visitors saying they were unclear about Northwest Maritime’s mission and activities and wanted more information about the greater maritime area.

“We wanted to orient people to regional waterways and the stories they tell about Port Townsend and the greater maritime area,” Chief Operating Officer Katie Oman said.

Some of that is accomplished through hands-on displays, like a topographical map of upper Puget Sound — Navigating our Home Waters — created out of strips of maple. Push one button and lights at the points for Forts Flagler, Casey and Worden — the Triangle of Fire — appear. Push others and colored blinking lights show the locations of fog signals, buoys and lighthouses.

Visitors can spell out their names using maritime signal flags or send up a distress message. Learn the parts of sails — luff ring, radial patch, reef cringle — as you raise and lower them on a model boat made by the Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building, Port Townsend Sails and Port Townsend Foundry.

Seattle-based Mithun architects was in charge of the redesign, Oman said, but Northwest Maritime used local businesses and artisans wherever it could, as well as repurposed wood to craft exhibits.

The mix of new and old was purposeful, she said.

There is an exhibit describing the S’Klallam people’s fishing and sailing heritage and a flip book of black and white images by Port Townsend photographer Jeremy Johnson showing the many different people who currently work in the marine trades.

“The exhibits show the interplay of history and the present day,” she said.

There is still a retail area, but it has been relocated to the far east side of the space instead of being the first thing you see when you enter the building.

Those who were familiar with the Wooden Boat Chandlery may also notice the entry on Water Street has shifted to the left and the door is now ADA compliant (as are the changing rooms). The solid wall between the welcome center and Velocity coffee shop is now a display wall with windows and a sliding door.

Subtle changes have been instituted as well. Northwest Maritime dropped “Center” from its name, although the campus itself will continue to use it. And it has redesigned the logos of its various ventures and activities — the Swan Hotel, the Wooden Boat Festival, the Race to Alaska — to make them more consistent.

Oman said about “97 percent” of work had been completed. One of the few things is installation of wayfinding signage that will make navigating the campus easier.

Total cost of the project was just over a half million dollars — $375,000 for construction and $200,000 for exhibits. Funding came from Friends of the Northwest Maritime Center, the Heritage Capital Projects program administered by the Washington State Historical Society and a grant from the Maritime Washington National Heritage Area.


Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at

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