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Missing ship fails to damper spirits at inaugural Salt and Fog Fish Fest

Participants enjoyed live music, gift and food vendors despite absence of Tall Ship Lady Washington

Nautical fanatics flocked to the Eureka wharf last weekend for the arrival of the Tall Ship Hawaiian Chieftain and the inaugural Salt and Fog Fish Fest.

Guests were invited to tour the ship, which serves as a mobile home for its crew of 14. The festival was scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the ship, and participants could take a trolly car from the main event to the nearby harbor where the ship was docked.

Originally, the Hawaiian Chieftain was supposed to arrive with her sister ship, the Lady Washington. But stormy weather forced the wooden-hulled vessel to turn back and seek shelter in Bodega Bay.

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To the crew of the Hawaiian Chieftain, the ship is both their home and their livelihood. | Photo by Silvia Alfonso

Chieftain’s Program Coordinator and Chief Gunner Kate Dingus said the Chieftain only made it through because its twin motors allowed it to maintain speed through the storm.

“It was pretty rough going for us as well, but luckily we made it through without having to turn around,” Dingus said. “The Washington should be meeting us up here Sunday afternoon.”

According to Dingus, the Chieftain is a unique vessel, sort of a ‘frankenboat’ with a steel hull and a unique sail set referred to by Dingus as a “split topsail gaff-rigged ketch.”

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The Hawaiian Chieftain was constructed in 1988, and served as a cargo vessel before being acquired by Gray Harbor in 2005. | Photo by Silvia Alfonso

Launched in 1988, the ship transported cargo between the Hawaiian islands before being acquired by Grey Harbor in 2005. Now the ship tours the coasts with its sister vessel, providing sailboat enthusiasts with the unique opportunity to tour a tall ship.

One of those enthusiasts was Beth White. She drove down from Oregon with a friend just to see the ships this weekend, and paid to sail around the bay on the Chieftain.

“I was hoping to get to see the Washington, but I still had a great time,” White said. “My favorite part was the cannon firing, it was so loud!”

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Kate Dingus demonstrates the gyroscopic abilities of the Hawaiian Chieftain’s specialized compass, called a binnacle. | Photo by Silvia Alfonso

Several blocks away from the Chieftain’s dock, the Salt and Fog fest was bustling, with live music, a chowder cook-off and a Coast Guard helicopter fly-by. The event spanned the entire weekend, with a pub crawl featuring 21 local bars and restaurants Friday, and a by-the-bay 5k foot race on Sunday.

Event Coordinator Tera Spohr said the festival was intended to pay homage to Eureka’s seafaring and ocean-fishing heritage, and was scheduled to coincide with the Tall Ship’s arrival.

“Everything we do locally has to do with the bay, and we thought we should celebrate some of our local artists and businesses with an event on the harbor,” Spohr said. “Every booth you see here is locally owned and operated.”

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The crew of the Chieftain know when to take things seriously, and all safety precautions are rigorously practiced. | Photo by Silvia Alfonso

The festival hosted a wide variety of local shops. The standards like Humboldt Chocolate and Mad River Brewing were drawing big crowds, but more unique businesses like Phyl’n cold-pressed juice delivery and All Dogs Biscuit Bakery, which serves boutique doggie treats, also received lots of attention.

The most eye-catching exhibit belonged to Dan McCauley, a local scrap artist who showed up with a massive metal crab with articulating legs mounted to the back of a pickup truck. Named “Decapodium” and originally built for Burning Man, the crab sat at the entrance of the festival, drawing in people off the street.

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The Hawaiian Chieftain pulls in after a successful tour around the Humboldt Bay. | Photo by Silvia Alfonso

McCauley was selling his beautifully crafted scrap sculptures, and said he liked the effect his artwork had on people.

“It’s nice to inspire people to not throw shit out,” McCauley said. “Reusing is important. Really important for my life, as it’s how I make a living.”

As the festival died down, the Chieftain‘s crew was celebrating a successful day with pizza, a treat they only have access to while docked. Dingus has spent several weeks aboard the Chieftain, and several months on the Washington before that.

As a member of the crew, she follows a set schedule and routine for meals and daily chores and responsibilities. She described life on the ship as very free, but said there was a lot to take seriously at the same time.

“You feel a different kind of love, both for the people and the boat. It’s not platonic, but it’s not romantic either,” Dingus said. “They become your family, or closer than your family, because there’s stuff you can talk about with your crew that your family would never understand.”

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