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St. Helens may be new home for pirate ship

by: Courtesy photo SET SAIL — The Royaliste may call St. Helens home if a number of plans by Portland Pirate Festival organizers come to fruition.

It was the last place they thought they would find a pirate ship.

The group behind next month's pirate festival in St. Helens hopes to bring a full-scale replica ship to the city. It's current home? Kentucky, a place more known for bluegrass and bourbon than buccaneers.

This summer, organizers of the upcoming 'Portland Pirate Festival Invades St. Helens' purchased a full-sized, 68-foot pirate ship replica named The Royaliste which had been docked at Kentucky Lake. Now they hope to bring it to Columbia County, where it could headline future pirate festivals and become a regional attraction.

The ship's purchase is one of the latest developments for the two-day festival, which is set to converge upon St. Helens on Labor Day weekend. Festival organizers say they want the ship to act as an anchor for the event - known for its food, music and pirate reenactments - in years to come.

But because the ship won't make its way to the county for another year, and because the festival is coming off its worst financial year ever at Cathedral Park in North Portland, organizers say there's added pressure for the festival to perform this year.

'We can't even say there will be a festival in 2012,' said Shuhe Hawkins, the festival's co-organizer and spokesman.

The purchase of the ship was an all-or-nothing gambit for the festival, and not a cheap one. It came with a price tag that Hawkins estimates to be more than $100,000.

On top of that, there's also the question of finding the additional money needed to transport the ship across the country. That's expected to cost another $25,000, for which festival organizers are currently raising funds.

The fundraising figure so far: $500.

Though St. Helens won't own the ship, the city could act as a temporary home for the vessel once it makes its cross-country journey. Other locales where the ship would likely dock, at least temporarily, are Astoria, where the bay's saltwater would benefit the ships wooden hull, and upriver near Pasco, Wash.

'We are confident that something will work out with [long-term] mooring ' Hawkins said.

A year ago, a St. Helens committee, with input from Hawkins, contemplated purchasing a pirate ship called the Brigantine Sultana, but the deal fell apart, partially due to financial realities concerning the city's docking options: The pier improvements required to dock a large ship in St. Helens could cost the city more than $100,000.

Among some city organizers, plans for the ship remain ambitious, however.

'The goal is for St. Helens to be the permanent home,' said Amber Dennis, the city's tourism director.

In addition to finding a home for The Royaliste, Dennis said there are other pressing concerns facing the festival.

With less than a month to go before the pirate festival takes place, those concerns include finding a place for hundreds of visitors to stay.

Organizers are currently undergoing last-minute discussions with property owners between St. Helens and Scappoose for camping and parking spaces for festival attendees. Though Dennis characterizes the discussions as developing, she said they could also result in a shuttle service ferrying attendees between the event in Olde Towne and the campsite, she said.