Penn Cove Water Festival success despite sunken boat

Canoe racers paddle by the Coupeville Wharf during Saturday’s Penn Cove Water Festival.   - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Canoe racers paddle by the Coupeville Wharf during Saturday’s Penn Cove Water Festival.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

A notorious sunken boat didn’t stop a popular festival from enjoying a successful weekend.

The Penn Cove Water Festival drew thousands of people to Coupeville Saturday.

Noteworthy for the annual canoe races, competitors noted the conditions Saturday were perfect and they didn’t appear to notice any adverse effects from the sinking of the Deep Sea, which took place the previous weekend.

“It seemed OK,” said Matt Ballew, a member of the Lummi Nation near Bellingham. He said he didn’t have much time to inspect the water quality given he was busy trying to pilot a canoe and complete a race without crashing into one of the other teams.

However, his comments were echoed by John Davis from the Nooksack Indian Tribe, which is also near Bellingham.

“It looks the same to me,” Davis said between races Saturday. He noted the overall conditions were calmer than last year when the races were hampered by a bit of rain.

The Penn Cove Water Festival attracted competitors and canoe clubs from tribes throughout the Puget Sound region and British Columbia. A preliminary count showed that 10 canoe clubs and six tribes were participating in Saturday’s races. Davis said that the number of racers was down from the previous year, but that could be because another canoe race took place Saturday in Chilliwack, B.C.

The festival took place as crews continued to clean the mess surrounding the Deep Sea, a 128-foot crab boat that has been left in Penn Cove for months. It caught fire and eventually sank the previous weekend. Oil and fuel leaks prompted state officials to close Penn Cove to shellfish harvesting. State officials are looking at ways to raise and remove the sunken vessel and mitigate any possible environmental damage.

Festival officials didn’t learn until later in the week that the canoe races were able to take place. Organizers started making contingency plans, ranging from moving the races to canceling them, if they weren’t able to hold the competition in Penn Cove, said Lisa Haas, president of the Penn Cove Water Festival.

Fortunately, the races were still able to take place as scheduled near Coupeville.

The Penn Cove Water Festival was organized by basically a new board that formed last year. Despite an abbreviated timeline to put together a large festival, Haas said the event was a success.

Haas complimented the new group of volunteers for their efforts to raise money and organize the festival. The group started in October while organizers in previous years would start fund raising once the festival finished in the spring.

“It went great. It was a lot smoother than we expected,” Haas said, adding there didn’t seem to be any adverse effects from the sinking of the Deep Sea. The one notable difference was the appearance of off-island news reporters who visited the festival Saturday to report about how the sunken vessel affected the festival, Haas said.

The historic May festival, which, in its current incarnation, celebrated its 21st year, provides a celebration of Native American culture. In addition to the canoe races, the day-long festival featured Native American storytellers, musicians and dancers.

Because the festival basically takes place at two different locations, Haas noted it was difficult to come up with a number of people who participated. She estimated the crowd at around 3,000 people.

The entertainment, environmental displays and food were located in downtown Coupeville while the canoe races were organized from Captain Coupe Park  east of downtown near the wastewater treatment plant.

With the festival complete, the volunteer board will meet this week to talk about Saturday’s event and begin planning for the 2013 version of the Penn Cove Water Festival.


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