PORT ORCHARD — The organizers of the 2020 Fathoms O’ Fun Royalty Court pageant scheduled on March 21 were worried. Just a week away from the annual show — one of the headlining events of the Fathoms O’ Fun Festival summer — was in danger of being impacted by a looming natural disaster: a viral pandemic with the soon-to-become ubiquitous moniker COVID-19.
Like a dark, ominous wall of hurricane storm clouds looming at the ocean’s horizon, this natural disaster — which had shuttered portions of China as the deadly virus sickened and, in too many cases, killed victims — had reached America’s West Coast and ravaged sick people at a Kirkland nursing center.
This natural disaster was quickly becoming a national disaster. We quickly learned the coronavirus, which some had dismissed as akin to a bad case of the flu, was not to be trifled with. And while its path of devastation was becoming evident, just how it manifested was still mostly a mystery.
As state government led by Gov. Jay Inslee quickly issued cautionary directives hoping to quell the disease’s spread, Sharron King, the Fathoms’ chairwoman, and the organization’s board, made the heartbreaking decision to cancel the annual pageant.
In a news release distributed March 17, King announced its cancellation to the community: “Our Royalty and contestants have put in a great deal of work to make this a really great pageant and are sad that they cannot perform for you.”
Not knowing the ferociousness that the virus would display in later months, King said in the release that other community events scheduled in May and beyond would remain on the Fathoms calendar — including the Seagull Splat Run, Grand Parade and Fireworks Show.
Alas, it was not to be in this strangest of years in memory.
While pageant organizers were able to salvage enough of the event’s elements to crown a new Royalty Court, they faced a difficult challenge in salvaging a meaningful experience for the royal members and the South Kitsap community.
“After many weeks that turned into months, life continued to offer us challenge after challenge,” Royalty Court director Helene Jensen said about the COVID-19 disruption.
“We tried to reschedule, and even reinvent, events one after the other. Finally, in the end, like other cities, we had to cancel all of our regular and rescheduled events on the calendar. The public was becoming just as frustrated as we were. So much so, that some of our Facebook followers starting posting things like ‘Fathoms O’ No Fun.’”
But as happens so often in the face of adversity, people improvise and create new ways to operate. By the middle of June, organizers started to reinvent ways in which they could create and stage events and appearances in the community.
One of those events was called “Free Color with a Princess” at the Port Orchard waterfront.
“On various Saturdays throughout the summer, our Royalty Court set up at the Soroptimist Overlook area during the Farmers Market and invited children to come and color with our princesses,” Jensen said. “We also started doing live Facebook postings with our princesses reading a story to the children each week on our new Fathoms royalty page on Facebook.”
And last Saturday, members of the Royalty Court stood atop the Fathoms O’ Fun Festival float in the parking lot at Kitsap Bank off Bay Street, dancing to music and waving as motorists drove by on the busy downtown street.
“Our live float presentation was our way of saying ‘thank you’ to the city, county and our community for all the support they have given us in past years,” Jensen said.
The organizer said she was especially thankful for the work of float designer and builder Larry Lewis and crew members Leslie and Frankie.
“He and his crew worked hundreds of hours building an amazing award-winning float which we were really excited to display throughout Washington state.”
Jensen said that despite the limitations created by the coronavirus, the Royalty Court will continue its weekly “Storytime with a Princess” series on Facebook and will make appearances at the Farmers Market on Oct. 3 and 16, selling tickets to win a chance in a drawing for movie tickets or a gift basket from Port Orchard author Debbie Macomber. The drawing will take place on Oct. 16.
She said organizers are discussing other event ideas, which will be posted on the fathomsofun.org website.
The Royalty Court’s next live event and fundraiser will take place Tuesday, Oct. 6, at That One Place restaurant, between 5 and 8 p.m. Jensen said the business will donate some of its earnings that night to the Royalty Court, whose members will wait on customers and provide curbside dining service. She said the Fathoms float will be in the parking lot for visitors to inspect.