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Boats & Blackberries

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

Summertime in western Washington usually brings with it some sort of aquatic adventure —
but there’s plenty for the land-lubber to do, as well. Quite often, it involves
blackberries, which grow wild and in great profusion. Whether they are the intensely sweet,
thimble-sized berries that take forever to fill your bucket or large, succulent evergreens
or Himalayas that burst in your mouth with an explosion of flavor, they are all delicious.
Growing up in this part of Washington state, as kids, our fingers and lips were stained
purple all summer long as we collected bucket after bucket of those luscious berries to be
made into pies or jam, or canned or frozen for winter use. Every Labor Day weekend, the
little navy town of Bremerton, Washington, across Puget Sound from Seattle, holds its
annual two-day Blackberry Festival. Most of the festivities take place on the boardwalk
along the waterfront between the Seattle ferry dock and the destroyer, Turner Joy, a
Vietnam-era naval ship open for public tours. If you find yourself in western Puget Sound
country during that time, you definitely want to attend — it’s your golden opportunity to
taste all things blackberry: cobblers, pies, jam, ice cream, wine, blackberry slugs and
much more. If you want to pick your own berries, just ask around. Everyone seems to have
their own picking spot, and someone is sure to share their favorite patch with you. Leave
your rig in camp (Illahee State Park is a good choice) and mosey on downtown. There’s a
parking garage at 4th Street and Washington, just a couple blocks from the festival, or you
may leave your dinghy at Olympic College and take a shuttle to the waterfront. The weather
is usually warm this time of year, with the region’s long winter rains forgotten. Sunlight
sparkles on the waters of Sinclair Inlet and Mount Rainier, with its creamy symmetrical
shape, stands guardian on one horizon with the towering Olympics bookending the other.
Closer, folks weave their way among the vividly colored arts-and-craft and food booths,
while giant cones of blackberry ice cream soften in the sun. Nearby, a beekeeper stands
behind a table filled with jars of liquid gold and shows passersby a section of a beehive
crawling with these insects so necessary for a good berry harvest. Musicians entertain a
group with a lively western rhythm, while shoppers agonize over choices as they move among
displays of the many unique handcrafted items. Pacific Northwest art is a beautiful style
unlike any other. Ferryboats from Seattle pull in regularly, their passengers disembarking
to join the festivities. Pleasure boats filled with boaters from around Puget Sound line
the waterfront — and it’s not unusual for them to invite strangers aboard for a tour of
their boat or a cold drink. Once you have eaten your fill and browsed the craft displays,
stroll on down to the end of the boardwalk and take a guided tour of the Turner Joy. Here,
you can stand on the bridge and imagine feeling the pulse of the machinery below as the
boat plows through rough seas. You can also explore the engine rooms and, from the vantage
of the living quarters and mess hall, glimpse what life aboard these mighty vessels might
have been like. A walk down 4th Street reveals row upon row of vintage tin — antique car
displays are part and parcel to most years’ festivals. Another festival staple is the chalk
art. People on their hands and knees draw on the pavement as they compete in a
chalk-drawing contest. At 4th and Pacific, the maritime theme takes over once again at the
Bremerton Naval Museum and the adjoining Kitsap Historical Museum. This little corner of
Washington has a fascinating past with its logging and maritime legacies. Next door is the
famous Amy Burnett Art Gallery, home of spectacular artwork which so beautifully depicts
the spirit of the Great Northwest. As you walk the streets of Bremerton you can’t help but
notice that much of the city is undergoing transformation. Bremerton was a vigorous city
during and after World War II, but suffered a long decline that began in the ’70s. Now
exciting things are happening again as enthusiastic and determined citizens work to revive
the seaside town. Interesting shops and galleries are finding space in long-vacant
buildings where rents are affordable and spaces large. Day two of the festival you will
want to make another pass around the waterfront — but save plenty of room for a seafood
dinner. Leave your car in Bremerton and catch the ferry to Seattle, less than an hour away
by boat. Spend some time exploring the Seattle waterfront, then climb a few short blocks up
the hill and visit the Pike Place Market — where fish vendors hurl salmon through the air
and a multitude of fresh flowers, fruit and vegetables sit in dazzling displays. Back on
the waterfront, you have many choices of restaurants, some with outdoor tables where you
can watch a splendid sunset over the Olympic Mountains. The seafood is outstanding and, of
course, there is a delicious selection of coffees to go with dessert — which just might be
made with more of those delectable blackberries.

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