Boaters don’t have to cruise across the Atlantic to experience an authentic taste of Europe. “Norway” is as close as Washington’s Puget Sound. Although it’s only about 15 miles from Seattle and 35 miles from Tacoma, skippers might imagine they should hoist the Norwegian courtesy ensign on approach to Poulsbo, Washington — also known as “Little Norway.” In this Scandinavian village, visitors often feel as if they’ve entered a foreign port, despite an absence of customs and border crossings. Visitors will find signs throughout the town peppered with Nordic words and phrases. Fortunately, Poulsbo natives speak English — to newcomers, anyway. This colorful settlement on the shores of Liberty Bay — also known as “Old Dogfish Bay,” — faces the majestic Olympic Mountains. The port’s southern exposure allows it to soak up Northwest sun from dawn to dusk. The scenic setting may be impressive, but the town itself is the main attraction for cruisers. Poulsbo’s winding main street is adorned with flower-bedecked wooden balconies and whimsical Norwegian painting treatments, called rosemaling. Store building walls feature large murals depicting the town’s rich heritage. Impish Scandinavian trolls seem to have found their way into window displays everywhere in town, from toy shops to the local hardware store. Poulsbo’s downtown core is crammed with Old World-style boutiques, bookstores, antique shops, jewelers and clothiers. Those in search of good food will find a wide variety of restaurants, the town drug store has a traditional soda fountain, espresso stands serve up delicacies well beyond coffee concoctions and local delicatessens offer all the fixings for picnics in the waterfront park. While many of these establishments are popular, probably none is more famous than Sluys Poulsbo Bakery. Boaters strolling uptown can follow their noses to this gathering place, packed full of freshly baked buns, doughnuts, pastries and such seasonal Norske delights as lefse, fattigman and krumkake. Sluys’ best-known concoction, though, is its Poulsbo bread. Few boaters leave Poulsbo without carrying home a loaf or two of this multi-grain treat. Celebrating Nordic Settlers Poulsbo’s roots date back to 1875, when Norwegian immigrant Ole Stubbhaug rowed into this lovely landlocked harbor on the eastern side of the Kitsap Peninsula. He found the lay of the land to his liking and built a home for his family, near the harbor entrance. In 1883, a friend named Jorgen Eliason, who had originally hailed from the same region in Norway, rowed in from Seattle. He staked a claim near an old logging camp — which became the site of the present Poulsbo. By the early 1900s, many Norwegians found their way to the harbor, which had an atmosphere much like their homeland. Norwegian was spoken on the streets, in churches and in shops. Settlers continued traditional pursuits of fishing and farming, though they heartily embraced the more lucrative logging industry then thriving on the Sound. Even this had a tie to fishing: Settlers harvested the abundant dogfish to render oil to grease the skids carrying logs to the water. By midcentury, the town was strung out half on pilings along the shore’s edge. It faced inward, turning its back doors to the water. But a local improvement association arose, spurred by a University of Washington plan which encouraged business communities to come up with area “themes” to attract and interest visitors. The idea of calling Poulsbo “Little Norway” was a natural. What really has made a difference, especially for boaters, is that community leaders finally turned their rehabilitative energies toward the waterfront. The Anderson Parkway/Liberty Bay Park project channeled $1.6 million into reclaiming the area for public use and dredging the once-shallow harbor to develop moorage facilities. Modern Marina Facilities Today, when boaters wend through the gooseneck entrance and cruise across the four-mile-long bay to the city docks, they will find public moorage fronting a grassy two acre waterfront park and a shoreside promenade leading to a larger park. The nearly 400 berth Poulsbo Marina, operated by the Port of Poulsbo, reserves about 130 guest slips on a first-come-first-served basis. Amenities include a launch ramp, showers, a laundry, free pumpout station use and water and electricity on the docks. Even Poulsbo Marina’s fuel dock caters to the community’s Norske theme, brandishing a large “Rok ikke” sign — which means “no smoking” in Norwegian. Moorage is $7 per night for boats under 35 feet. Rates increase an extra dollar for each five foot increment. (For example, 35 to 40 foot boats are charged $8.) Shore power costs an additional $3 per night. Additional moorage is available at Poulsbo’s nearby Liberty Bay Marina and at the Port of Keyport, located at the entrance to Liberty Bay. The Port of Keyport also offers a launch ramp for trailerboats. Norske Landmarks — and Other Delights Standing above the village, a white steepled church presents not only a prominent Poulsbo landmark, but a slice of town history. To the early Lutheran immigrants, a school came first, but the church came next. Jorgen Eliason donated land for the Fordefjord Lutheran church and cemetery behind it, where many of the original settlers are buried. Now called First Lutheran, the church and its congregation host a regionally famous Lutefisk Dinner each October. This year’s is set for October 15. Visiting boaters join hundreds of lute fanciers from all over the Northwest in relishing the jelly-like traditional seafood. And for those whose tastes don’t follow the same course, hearty portions of Scandinavian meatballs provide an alternate entree, accompanied by ample side dishes. A slice of local maritime history lies above the public docks on Front Street. In the basement of the old “Youngs Block” building, Ronald Young, son of an early Poulsbo settler, turned out more than 900 Poulsbo-design boats between 1914 and 1965. Each of his small wooden fishing vessels was quite beamy, with an upsweeping bow and stern, and a pronounced tumble home aft. Young sold them all unfinished, usually on a cash and carry basis. Highly collectible now, the boats are the focus of the annual Poulsbo Boat Rendezvous, held in July. Boating families will also enjoy a visit to Poulsbo’s Marine Science Center. Created to enhance knowledge of local sea life, the center features exhibits and displays including “touch tanks” popular with local school children. Admission is by a suggested donation of $2 for each adult and $1 for each child. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Getting There Boaters heading for Poulsbo should use NOAA Chart #18446. On entering the harbor, observe the Keyport Naval Torpedo Station to the south. Flashing red lights and red flags on the south dock as well as on a float opposite Battle Point on Bainbridge Island indicate active torpedo practice. During firing, keep to the eastern side of the channel. The Port of Poulsbo’s marina is located behind a large breakwater near the head of the bay. Docks E and F are reserved for guest moorage. Boaters register at the port office, directly above the floats. Several other marinas lie to the east of the public facility, within walking distance of town. Anchorage is possible near the marina, though the bay is open to winds from the southeast. Marine supplies are available in a well-stocked chandlery to the right at the top of the dock. Old Ole Stubbhaug, who had to face a day-long row to Seattle for supplies, eventually changed his name to Ole Stubbs. Like its first settler, Poulsbo has also changed, to become a prime weekend cruise destination that is easily accessible from many points around the Sound. But those pesky dogfish aren’t so ready to change. They’re still alive and thriving in Old Dogfish Bay.
Lynn Ove Mortensen