It’s been many years since Todd Gritch, Betty Godeck and the Birch Bay Bums (a group of enthusiastic Canadians and Americans who wanted to support Birch Bay) began their annual Dinghy Derby Race and parade through Birch Bay just for fun.
It’s been so many years, in fact, that no one really remembers when or how exactly the event started. “It was going on when we opened the shop in 1971,” said Patricia Alesse, owner of The C Shop. “But I don’t know exactly how long they had been doing it before that.”
The tradition has been longstanding, though, and even though the Dinghy Derby has fallen by the wayside, most likely due to the inconsistency of tides, the parade still continues on as part of Birch Bay Discovery Days today. “There was one year when they planned it and the tide was way out,” Patrick Alesse said. “I suggested they pick up their boats and do a ‘dry run’ and come back in six hours. They weren’t amused.”
Formally established 34 years ago, the two-day event focuses on inviting folks to come and discover what Birch Bay has to offer during the summer months. It also commemorates the 1792 discovery of Birch Bay by Captain George Vancouver on his ship “Discovery.”
“It used to be in late June,” Patrick Alesse said. “But eventually it was pushed back to mid-July when the chamber took over.” The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce began organizing the event to draw tourists in 1984.
The organized event started with the basics, including the Birch Bay Bums’ Dinghy Derby Race and parade, and then slowly incorporated a local arts and crafts fair, spearheaded by local artist Elaine Vinish.
The festival has ebbed and flowed over the years. Events came and went, like the Alesse’s CLAMpetition, which was sometimes impeded by red tide or high tide. “It was fun,” Patrick Alesse said. “There was a serious side and an ‘unserious’ side to it. We would weigh the clams and the biggest clam would win, which of course was the serious part. But you could also decorate your clams and we would put them in the window of the shop. We had a lot of people participate.”
Now the festival includes a Ducky Derby, where 600 little rubber ducks are let loose in Terrell Creek to see which one will be the first to meander its way into the bay, in addition to the stalwart parade, food vendors, karaoke and a larger arts and crafts festival. This year, Discovery Days falls on Saturday, July 20 and Sunday, July 21.
The parade starts at 11 a.m. on July 21 just outside The C Shop’s front door at 4825 Alderson Road. “It’s a great event,” Alesse said. “People have a lot of fun.” For more information about the festival, see pages 9–12 in this week’s paper.