By Andrea Haffly
While boats of various sizes and designs are a common sight on Gig Harbor, seen easily from the city’s parks and public docks, classic or historical boats are cause for a bit more excitement.
Especially when the historical vessel in question is a replica U.S. Navy Survey Gig from 1841, the boat that literally put Gig Harbor on the nation’s map.
The Survey Gig Porpoise, a replica of the original boat, will be featured in a reenactment of the Wilkes Expedition, which led to the discovery of Gig Harbor 175 years ago.
The Gig, known to reenactors as Survey Gig Porpoise, will be featured in a reenactment of the Wilkes Expedition, which led to the discovery of Gig Harbor 175 years ago.
The reenactment is sponsored by the Gig Harbor BoatShop and will be held at noon Sunday (May 15) as part of the Fourth Annual Classic Boat Show, hosted by Tides Tavern on Saturday and Sunday (May 14 and 15).
Douglas McDonnell, a Gig Harbor resident and a volunteer with the Gig Harbor BoatShop, is the driving force behind the reenactment.
“We’re making a statement with this event,” McDonnell said. “Our own authentic history is something we’d really like to emphasis.”
A crew of reenactors, dressed in historically accurate U.S. Navy uniforms loaned from the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, will row Survey Gig Porpoise into the Harbor, loop back in front of Tides Tavern and will demonstrate historic musket fire for attendees of the Classic Boat Show.
McDonnell, along with his wife and grandson, will follow behind the Porpoise in a rowboat to replicate the Captain’s Gig that entered the Harbor shortly after the Survey Gig. Gig Harbor was discovered by a survey crew lead by Midshipman Joseph Sanford as part of Wilkes Expedition sent by the U.S. Navy to survey the coastline and waters of Puget Sound.
“The British had been here 49 years earlier and all they did was name the big stuff,” McDonnell said. “The Americans showed up in 1841 and realized this was a golden opportunity for them to lay claim to everything by naming it.”
Local names — ranging from Point Fosdick to Fox Island — were given in honor of crew members on the expedition.
But, unlike so many other nearby areas that took their names from the survey crew, Gig Harbor was named in honor of the boat — a Gig — that was used to first enter the area.
“This is a perspective of the name of our harbor,” McDonnell said. “The harbor was considered by those who proceeded us 175 years ago as being appropriate for a Gig.”
This naming of the harbor is apparent, McDonnel said, from an entry in Sanford’s logbook: “May 15, 1841. Pulled into and excellent little bay whose entrance is concealed from the Sound and measures 10 to 15 yards, too small for a ship, but just right for a gig.”
While Gig Harbor was a discovery to the U.S. Navy survey crew, it already served as home to a branch from the Puyallup Tribe, which called the harbor “Twa-wal-kut,” and traded peacefully with the survey crew.
While remembering local history is part of the upcoming event, the Classic Boat Show will provide plenty of free, family-friendly activities to last the entire weekend, according to Michael McManus, marketing manager for Tides Tavern.
“We’ve kind of got a little bit of everything at this event,” McManus said. “Families are encouraged to go down and look at the boats and talk to the boat owners.”
Classic boats ranging from the ‘20s to the ‘60s will line the dock below the Tavern for attendees to admire.
Additionally, the Gig Harbor BoatShop will be at the event to offer free harbor tours during the afternoon in their boat livery, said Guy Hoppen, Boatshop president and founding director.
Included in the BoatShop tours will be the Porpoise, McDonnell said, to allow event attendees a closer look at local history.
“Our history in the South Sound is rich with the American Navy,” McDonnell said. “It has tremendous flash and color of its own.”
The reenactment can be viewed from the waterfront anywhere between the Tides Tavern and the old Ferry Dock.