1st Mosquito Fleet Fest: Sailings, seagull call competition

Port Orchard’s maritime past found new life for one day in 2024 as the toot of remaining Mosquito Fleet vessels and the human cries of seagull calls filled the air for the city’s inaugural Mosquito Fleet Fest.

The Carlisle II, a century-old relic of transportation in Puget Sound, remains as much a historical treasure to the local community as it remains a vital tool in the Bremerton-Port Orchard foot ferry route. The floating museum is the oldest Mosquito Fleet boat to continue sailing the waters of the Sinclair Inlet, a point of pride that event organizers believed could be used to attract attention to the city.

“We’re trying to embrace the nautical maritime theme better for Port Orchard,” said Coreen Haydock with the Port Orchard Bay Street Association. “I’m really excited that we decided to do something that was actually just a maritime festival, centered around it.”

Association board president Monika Adams added: “Poulsbo has Viking Fest, Silverdale has Whaling Days, and we need something that’s just our signature thing. When we think about who we are, where we come from, it’s all about being a community that was linked by the water.”

Crowds gathered along the waterfront to see the Carlisle II. Some stepped aboard for one of multiple hour-long story sailings.

Heightening the event’s intrigue was the larger Virginia V steamer that had also sailed to the marina, giving visitors dockside tours and paying customers special sailings.

The Virginia V has also lived beyond the century mark, having sailed her maiden voyage in 1922. It and the Carlisle II are all that remain of a fleet of ferries constructed and used before the days of automobile prevalence. Adams said, “Before the advent of roads, boats were how we moved people and goods. In doing this, we’re bringing awareness to our maritime history.”

Back on land, a longtime tradition of Port Orchard resurfaced. Over a dozen competitors, with the eyes of a panel of fashionably wigged and robed judges watching, beckoned their feathery seagull friends with their best squawks and calls at the 33rd annual Seagull Calling Contest. In the competition, contestants see how many seagulls respond to their calls. Kids and adults participated.

“It’s the quirk factor,” Adams said. “It puts us on the map, and whatever works works with our hometown ritual.”

The event just isn’t about skills and how many gulls respond. A little handoff of cold hard cash for the judges or a bag of yummy bread or popcorn for the birds certainly doesn’t hurt. “There are no rules,” South Kitsap Chamber of Commerce director Cody Clark said. “The judges can be bribed. The seagulls can be bribed. Just throwing it out there for anyone.”

Councilmember Heidi Fenton used the lawless and silly nature of the competition to her advantage, taking home first place.

The Virginia V makes its way back to the Port Orchard Marina.

The Virginia V makes its way back to the Port Orchard Marina.