Fort Ross Living History Day, July 26th 1997.

Once a year the State Park system has this "Living History Day" in Fort Ross a few miles north of me on the coast. They have people dress up in Russian garb from the period when this was an outpost of the Russian America Company. They have crafts demonstrations, sing Russian songs, give services in the church, fire muskets and cannon. This year there was going to be a clipper ship sailing into the cove with people dressed up as Eskimos paddling their Baidarkas (Russian for kayaks) out to meet the sailing ship. I was not invited to join in the kayak thing because I don't have a boat that can be mistaken for a skin covered frame boat. My roto-molded blue plastic boat would look like something that fell off of a UFO to the Russians, and my black rubber suit would probably even convince an Air Force major from the 1950's.

I wanted to go to The Fort as a tourist, and figured "what better way than in a kayak". I could launch from the Reef Campground a mile south of Fort Ross Cove and avoid the mad parking scene at the main Fort Ross Park. I knew that they were running Living History Day from 10 AM to 4 PM but did not know if they had a fixed schedule. I took my time getting up on a lazy Saturday morning, and didn't get to the reef until a little after noon. From the cliffs I could see not one, but two sailing ships in the cove. Unfortunately they were already leaving! They fired their cannon at each other a few times while I was down in the parking lot pulling on my wetsuit. By the time I got in the water they were far out to sea and soon faded into the offshore fog bank. I landed at Fort Ross Cove a few minutes after all the Baidarkas landed. There were seven or eight fabric covered Baidarkas, almost all with aluminum frames and nylon skins. But the designs are based on traditional Eskimo kayaks. The paddlers also wore kamleikas, waterproof parkas. The Eskimo kamleikas were made from sea-mammal intestine but these costumes were made out of a more politically correct material. (White rip-stop nylon cloth saturated with beeswax).

I changed into dry clothes and walked up to The Fort for the festivities. Up here I found a schedule that said the sailing ships were supposed to arrive at 12:30 PM. I was exactly on time but the ships were apparently early. They were not coming back for another show, I'll have to wait for next year. I met a friend who told me I should get busy and build a fabric covered boat so I could be one of the costumed kayakers by the time this event rolls around again. The schedule also said there would be another musket drill and cannon firing at 3:00 PM so I stayed around long enough to see (and hear!) this.

The State Park people and the volunteers had lots of things to look at while I waited for the cannon fire. There were interactive demonstrations where kids of all ages could make a candle or weave a basket. Most of the roped-off rooms in the Fort had someone inside and in costume, talking about the artifacts. There was a troop of men in uniform bivouacked in the field west of the fort. In the middle of the Fort there was a kitchen set up with a sheep turning on a spit, salad and borsch. You had to be one of the park personnel or a volunteer in costume to eat at this kitchen, us tourists had to bring our own food.

There was a demonstration of kayaking skills scheduled for 3:45 PM, but I had to run home and start cooking dinner. My dad was coming over to spend the night and I had to start the BBQ. I put my wetsuit back on for the short trip back to the Reef Campground and lamented about all the trouble of putting the suit on and off twice for such a short trip. Not to mention the work to come of cleaning the salt water out of it. I resolved to get started earlier next year and paddle a longer distance so I will feel like I really get some use out of the wetsuit.

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All text and images Copyright © 1997 by Mike Higgins / contact