Pirates, Ships & Live Music

Nestled in-between some of the famous dunes of Oregon is a town called Coos Bay, a town with a population of less than 20,000 people but a lot of heart. The drive from Corvallis to Coos Bay is a long one so I bide my time with a few podcasts I had downloaded the night before because I expected no signal most of the way, and with 3 hours of driving each way I had plenty of time ahead of me. There aren’t a lot of stops along my route for picture opportunities unless you research and go well off the route and if it wasn’t for my drive time I probably would’ve made more stops than I did.

My original intent was to get there at sunrise for some photo opportunities of the ships resting in the morning fog just as the sun started to rise, although I ended up sleeping through my alarm and not waking up until 730 – well after the sun was up. I was fortunate enough to had thought ahead and pack my bag for the trip the night before so I only had a few things to do before I headed toward Coos Bay. For the record, I will never get tired of saying the words Coos & Bay together. Coos Bay. A wine sommelier would use the word mouth-feel, a term describing the way wine feels in the mouth, it’s the same way Coos Bay feels when you say it.

The Festival of Sail is a traveling event that goes around the world but it returns to Coos Bay this week from June 1-4, stopping in the old port town before heading up the coast to Tacoma, Washington. This is the first year this specific event has been held in Coos Bay, but it is replacing an old-tradition that was held in town called ‘Tall Ship Days in Coos Bay’ that was hosted at the boardwalk, but is now being held in the parking lot and dock of the Mills Casino, owned by The Coquille Indian Tribe. The casino overlooks the beautiful Coos Bay and has over 200 waterfront rooms, over 100 RV Sites, bay view dining, over 700 Vegas-style slot machines and table games.

The festival will host at least 5 large sailing ships and ‘Mama Duck’, the monstrously cute 11-ton inflatable rubber duck that you’ve no doubt seen in selfies on Instagram and Twitter. Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman is behind Mama Duck. The giant floating toy has made appearances all over the world, from Hong Kong to Sydney. There is a story that even an unlicensed knock-off of Mama Duck appeared, and sadly deflated, at the Tall Ships Festival in Philadelphia in June 2015.

While maritime professionals may cringe at the giant duck, others say it will draw in more people than would normally show up due to attracting more families and kids which will then lead them to the ships themselves. It’s marketing done right and people seem to love it. The inflatable ducky measures at 61 feet tall, 50 feet in diameter and weighs around 23,000 pounds. From start to finish it takes two and a half hours to fully inflate. I hope you have strong lungs!

The ships scheduled to appear are as listed:

  • Schooner Freda B, known for its grace and beautiful design;
  • Hawaiian Chieftan, designed after ships that once traded cargo in the Pacific;
  • Lady Washington, a full-scale replica of the famous 18th century ship that has been used in “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Star Trek”;
  • Dirigo II, built in 1939 to be sailed in any ocean and in any weather;
  • Bill of Rights, a schooner built in 1971 with “grace of sail” and “lasting strength.”

People attending will be able to take a tour of the ships and even sail with them around the bay, though the event may be a little different than it has been in the past. It will host better security and more ships in the bay, but it also comes with an increase in entry fee. In 2015 – the last year the event was called Tall Ship Days – they had walk-on tours for $3, while sails ran from $39-$75. At this year’s Festival, tours will cost $12, while sails run from $95-$150. Entrance into the festival costs $9 but comes without access to any of the ships.

I spoke with several people while the ships were gone in roughly 2 hour intervals and giving me plenty of time to get familiar with the event from other people’s perspectives. I saw many kids lighting up with smiles and laughs as they lined up to get a carefully crafted balloon animal for their balloon artist, dozens of unofficial pirates walking around, many families pointing at the rubber duck and lining up for pictures for their Facebook accounts, live music and many food and drink vendors putting the final touches on their set ups.

No doubt when you go you will see plenty of security, police, and festival authorities walking around which should give many families lots of ease to know that it’s a safe event in as controlled of an environment as you can get. A police man said they were just there for a show of force, to let the community know that they’re here if you need them and to share a laugh if you care to talk to them.

I met a volunteer named Brian who walked up to me while I was leaning up against the railing waiting for the ships to return and we ended up leaving and grabbing lunch real quick. Turns out we’re from the same part of the country (east coast) and he works as a tour guide in Bandon doing kayak and fishing tours. I had a delicious Italian deli sandwich that I would have no doubt not have found if I had tried to leave and find food on my own.

The ships came back after a long wait and they returned by firing canons at us. They were blanks, but you wouldn’t know that by the sound they make when abruptly going off shortly before your heart stops and runs up through throat and then out of your mouth just to get in front of you and punch you in the face. What I’m saying is the unexpected intervals of the canons are nothing short of giving one a heart attack, which must have been a double whammy for people who got hit by real canons back in the day.

The ships are something you behold, I recommend everyone check this event out if you have never been or even if you have been before and have nothing to do this weekend. It’s a fun event, it’s something different, and it’s enjoyable for people with families or by yourself. 5 ships, 1 giant rubber ducky, several vendors, live music, and a casino! Go enjoy, and have fun!

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