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Down to the sea in ships

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In many towns along the Oregon Coast, boating isn’t just a livelihood or a means of recreation, but a way of life, the foundation that defines a community. In coming weeks, two towns will celebrate their maritime history with festivals that have been going strong, in one community, for decades; in the other, more than a century.  

In Pacific City, 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of Dory Days, which runs July 19-21. The festival opens Friday, but the real action starts at daybreak Saturday with a dory-boat fishing contest, followed by a pancake feed and the highlight of the weekend, the Dory Days Parade. It starts at 11 a.m. from the Bob Straub State Park, then moves into downtown Pacific City.

There also will be an arts and crafts fair, boat displays, a fish fry with dory-caught fish, a dune climb for the kids, bingo, and a booth manned by members of the Pacific City Dorymen’s Association to answer all your questions. 

The dory fleet got its start at the turn of the century after the Nestucca River fishery was closed, said Randy Haltiner, chairman of the nonprofit association. 

Originally, Pacific City fishermen rowed the flat-bottomed dory boats out to sea, and some continue to fish with them. Photo courtesy: Pacific City Dorymen’s Association
Originally, Pacific City fishermen rowed the flat-bottomed dory boats out to sea, and some continue to fish with them. Photo courtesy: Pacific City Dorymen’s Association

“They used to commercial-fish the river and they caught thousands and thousands of pounds,” he said. “They processed and canned at the mouth of the river in Nestucca Bay. It was unbelievable. When they shut down the river, the fishery moved to the ocean. There’s always been a natural protection from Cape Kiwanda. It protects the beach from wind and swells to where you can get safe launching.”

In those early years, fishermen rowed the boats, which were flat-bottomed for landing on the beach, with pointed sterns and bows. The parade includes the traditional boats, and a handful of the boats still fish, Haltiner said. The newer dory boats retain the flat bottom but generally have a square stern to hang a motor off.

Modern dory boats retain the flat bottom, but have a squared stern to accommodate an outboard motor.  Pacific City’s 60th annual Dory Days is July 19-21. Photo courtesy: Pacific City Dorymen’s Association
Modern dory boats retain the flat bottom, but have a squared stern to accommodate an outboard motor. Pacific City’s 60th annual Dory Days is July 19-21. Photo courtesy: Pacific City Dorymen’s Association

“You push them out and then you jump in and power through the surf,” Haltiner said. “When you come in, you pick a set of waves, get in between them and you just jump out when you hit the beach.”

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Today, the association counts nearly 700 members and about 200 boats. Dory Days has been named by the Oregon Heritage Commission one of 23 Oregon Heritage Traditions.

“We’re pretty proud of that,” Haltiner said. “There are very few places in the world quite as unique as this fleet. There are other places that launch off the beach, but I don’t know anywhere that has a fleet quite like this one.”

TO THE NORTH, Astoria is preparing for its 125th celebration of the Astoria Regatta, Aug. 7-10. The event — also designated an Oregon Heritage Tradition — started in 1894 as a celebration of the end of the fishing season, said Melissa Grothe, secretary and marketing chairwoman for the Astoria Regatta Association.

The fishing industry declined, but the celebration continued.

The Astoria Regatta includes parades both on land and sea, the latter featuring everything from U.S. Coast Guard vessels, to bar pilot boats, to pleasure craft. Photo courtesy: Astoria Regatta Association
The Astoria Regatta includes parades both on land and water, the latter featuring everything from U.S. Coast Guard vessels, to bar pilot boats, to pleasure craft. Photo courtesy: Astoria Regatta Association

“We kept the festival going just to continue to celebrate the community in which we live, to continue to celebrate the people who built the community and make it a successful place to live and work,” she said. Many downtown businesses decorate in nautical themes, she added, giving the city a celebratory feel. “It just makes the community really vibrant. There’s a little something for everyone.”

That little something includes boat races, a boat parade on the Columbia River, Regatta Square — a downtown block party of sorts — the Seamen’s Memorial in the Maritime Memorial Park, a pops concert, and the festival highlight, the Grand Land Parade through downtown Astoria. 

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There’s also a court of four princesses from area high schools, who are mentored by local businesswomen. The queen is crowned Aug. 7.

“I had the opportunity to represent the  town as a princess and it was really an honor,” Grothe said. “This is my chance to give back. I always remember as a kid going to the parades and seeing the fire trucks and seeing the princesses on the floats and thinking, this is so cool. To see that all happening is pretty exciting.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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