On shore, the Waterfront Blues Festival is a mellow time. Last weekend's party celebrated the Blues, the city of Portland, and a warm summer weekend. The lazy summer sun hung overhead as much of the crowd sits back in their camping chairs and having a few beers. Inside Tom McCall Waterfront Park, seating areas are well-marked, the porta-johns immaculate, and the smoking section clearly designated. All the rules followed to the letter.
Things were different on the water.
A few feet off shore, a patchwork fleet of motorboats, dinghies, and docks anchored on the Willamette to pirate the party.The unofficial commodore of the fleet is Finger, a partial pirate we first met last month. Finger spent his afternoons ferrying adventuresome revelers from the public docks out the party on the water. Interrupted by reportersâhe's become a celebrity of sortsâand the occasional booty call, our gondolier doubled as a tour guide, telling us which docks had the toilet and stroking his oar as we passed the American flag bikini-clad girls on a âGirls Gone Wild boat.â
The party on the partial piratesâ dock was a different. In the center of one circle was a burning hookah surrounded by seated smokers. Another circle centered around a spliff. Around 15 partiers total, all sipping on cans of beer and kicking back. Where was the beer was coming from? I couldn't tell.
Then one partier walked over to the edge of the dock to reel in a yellow rope. Lo and behold, a bakerâs dozen of PBR came up in a crab trap.
âKeeps âem cold,â said the man, tossing a can to my friend. The man didnât lie.
âWeâve been keeping them down there all afternoon,â said the pony-tailed man tending the chicken on the grill. âWe lost a few earlier, but itâs worth it for cold beer.â
âCans have been floating up throughout the day, like a little present from the river.â
A man walked around collecting money for another beer run to keep the party well-stocked while the ferries carried people from the docks to the marina, other docks, and other boats.
Finger's Huck Finn raft transported guests between Fingerâs docks and the Bella Della, a black sailboat flying a Jolly Roger. The tanned man with a black bandana tied about his head helming the Bella Della only completed the image. Finger may have referred to himself as a partial pirate in jest earlier, but some of the partiers along the waterfront had gone full pirate.
The lone bathroom open to the public out here was on a nearby, much larger dock. While Fingerâs had the feel of a private party amongst friends, this dock was open to all. Large families, groups of friends, and frat boys desperately trying to recreate their college days at Shasta tethered their boats out here, drinking beer, grilling, and turning the porta-potty into a war-zone.
After using the facilities, my friend and I paid $1 to take a taxi back to shore. One might be apprehensive about hopping in a raft helmed by a pre-teen, but thereâs nothing like a ride when you need it. The number is posted on the docks with the bathroom.
âIâve been living on a boat for a year now and this is my first time at Bluesfest,â says Bob, a soaking mountain of a man. âThereâs just nothing quite like this.â
He finished his beer, tossed it in the recycling bucket, and jumped into the PBR-chilling water.