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What’s up duck? | The story behind Mercer Island’s first duck-boat

Islander Kevin Curry uncovers his homemade art boat, a duck, in his driveway in the 8800 block of S.E. 40th Street on Mercer Island, Oct. 6. - Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter
Islander Kevin Curry uncovers his homemade art boat, a duck, in his driveway in the 8800 block of S.E. 40th Street on Mercer Island, Oct. 6.
— image credit: Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter

Anyone who drives up S.E. 40th Street has probably seen it — a glittering, 12-foot-long duck with bulging red eyes and a handsome bill. There he sits, these days wrapped up in tarp to keep warm from the cold. Earlier this summer, you may have seen him bobbing peacefully on Lake Washington or trailing behind a Ford truck on his way home.

“Now, what’s the story behind this one?” You have most likely wondered.

The story begins with Island resident Kevin Curry — a man with a vision.

Having grown up on Mercer Island, Curry marveled at the fact that the community had never organized any kind of nautical fair. During his travels throughout the world, he had seen elaborate boats floating with grace in festivals and water parades. He is a fan of Greenlake’s annual Milk Carton Derby, a regular at Seafair and the University of Washington’s Opening Day. So why not on Mercer Island? He asked himself.

“Last summer, while at the Greenlake Milk Carton Derby, two concepts came together in my mind: Not only could boats be artwork, but there ought to be a festival to celebrate them as such,” the Island resident said.

Rather than mull over this question, Curry, who holds a bachelor’s degree in art, decided to act.

Last summer, as chairman of the Mercer Island Arts Council’s Public Arts Committee, Curry proposed organizing the first annual Artboat Festival as part of Summer Celebration! The idea was received with uncertainty, but Curry’s enthusiasm reigned. Rather than convince the council through words, he would show them with a fabulous boat. And so he started to build.

Six weeks later, the beautiful, 200-pound wood and fiberglass mallard was complete — just in time for Seafair. Members of the council who saw the final product were duly impressed.

But before Curry could launch his boat, he had to jump through a few more licensing loopholes.

“I had been hoping to take it out during Seafair, but I figured if police saw a duck, they might want to check it out,” he said. So the craftsman waited to get the proper licensing.

Once the big day came, Curry’s boat took to Lake Washington like, well, a duck to water.

“It runs pretty well,” he said of the boat, which has a 5 horsepower motor. “I’ve taken it out half a dozen times this summer and fit three people in it before.”

While on the water, boaters slow down to get a better look at the colorful duck. People on the shores of Mercer Island will wave. Others approach him laughing, with questions. Such attention is exactly what Curry had hoped for.

“People have even stopped by the house to ask about the duck,” said the construction contractor, who built the duck without a blueprint. “I tell them about the Artboat Festival, and some have said they’re going to build or decorate their own boat. It’s great.”

Curry has plenty of time to raise more awareness about his Artboat Festival, as the event is scheduled for July of 2009, alongside next year’s Summer Celebration! Meanwhile, the Islander is already planning a second boat — a wooden shark for a friend in Des Moines, Iowa — and he hopes others will get started on their own wacky ideas.

“The event is wide open to anyone who wishes to participate,” Curry said. “We will have a boat-as-sculpture competition with awards, but you don’t have to enter the competition in order to participate. You can build a boat, decorate a boat, show up in a boat, or just come to the park and have a picnic, and enjoy the spectacle.”

For more information on the Artboat Festival, visit: www.artboats.org

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