Port Orchard to host inaugural Mosquito Fleet Fest

A century-old relic of transportation in Port Orchard is set to be the focus of a new city celebration, one that organizers of the May 25 Mosquito Fleet Fest say will further preserve the memory of the historic ferry fleet.

The Carlisle II is the oldest continuously operated ferry in Puget Sound and was once part of a larger fleet of small passenger and freight ferries when built in 1917. Though not every day, with the 2019 Waterman vessel available, the ferry continues to regularly serve the Port Orchard-Bremerton route.

“To me, it’s a huge source of pride for Port Orchard,” Sam Smith with the Port Orchard Bay Street Association said. “The Mosquito Fleet was basically the highway on the water.”

Others in Kitsap County have taken pride in the vessel, too, going so far as to incorporate the historic ferry into events like last year’s Blackberry Festival in Bremerton and the Frosty Fest in Poulsbo just two months ago. Whether it was the history of the vessel, the convenience of the free route or a combination, each event saw its fair share of ferry riders.

The success of the impromptu runs renewed debate for Kitsap to consider a return to the hyperlocal transportation model on the water and the need in Port Orchard to more properly recognize the significance of the fleet. Such has become the working idea of the Mosquito Fleet Fest.

“We really want to grow this event over the next three to five years to be a really large attraction, but we have the whole quality over quantity thing for now. We’re starting with a one-day event and going from there,” Smith said.

The festival will feature events on and off the water. Visitors will be able to register for one of two Story Sails on the Carlisle II, while folks on shore can participate in events like a downtown scavenger hunt and the return of the local legendary Seagull Calling contest.

Capacity for the Carlisle II will be limited, but Smith hopes the potential involvement of another historic vessel like the Virginia V steamer will keep sailing opportunities open. Smith said they recently talked to the Virginia V Foundation, and they want to come.