The Mukfest Pirates outside their 1945 “DUKW” vehicle — soon-to-be pirate ship — in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Mukfest Pirates outside their 1945 “DUKW” vehicle — soon-to-be pirate ship — in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Mukilteo pirates seize their flagship: A ‘Ride the Ducks’ boat

Meet the town’s new ambassadors, the Mukfest Pirates. They’re a laidback krewe of part-time buccaneers.

MUKILTEO — The city wants a pirate ship. And Captain Shipwreck has a vision.

He fancies the historic, 205-foot “HMS Victory,” commissioned for the Royal Navy in 1758 by Pitt the Elder. It had 104 guns and was the flagship for the First Sea Lord.

There’s quite a ways to go.

Standing in a Mukilteo auto shop, Shipwreck — known on land as George Safadago — adjusts his flashy pirate belt and gestures to his decommissioned, 33-foot Ride the Ducks boat.

“TOUR STARTS AT SPACE NEEDLE” is still scrawled across the 1945 “DUKW,” an amphibious military vehicle given a second life in the tourism industry. Soon it’ll carry the Mukfest Pirates, the town’s new scalawag ambassadors.

“There were a few weeks I thought I was over my head,” Safadago said inside the vessel, crouching under lines of old life jackets.

The engine has been ripped out so mechanics can start their work. A facelift is in order, too. Old public bus seats will be installed. Safadago still needs to find some indoor storage for when the boat’s roof is removed.

It’s a good thing he has a “krewe” of 17 other part-time pirates behind him. The Mukfest Pirates formed in 2020 as a good-humored community group. They were spotlighted in the town’s Lighthouse Festival, where they stormed the beach on a rented skiff, swords in the air. They donned eye patches and handed out candy when the town’s new ferry terminal began its maiden voyage.

This year, they hope a big pirate ship will help them make an even bigger splash.

George Safadago, also known as Captain Shipwreck, boards the 1945 “DUKW” in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

George Safadago, also known as Captain Shipwreck, boards the 1945 “DUKW” in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“We just want to make lasting memories for the young-at-heart and the kids,” said Safadago, a grandfather and longtime Mukilteo resident.

He got his hands on the historic vessel after Ride the Ducks Seattle filed for bankruptcy in 2020. Following a crash that killed five people and injured many more, the company shelled out millions to affected families and admitted to hundreds of safety violations. Crashes across the country prompted the introduction of a federal Duck Boat Safety Enhancement Act.

In Seattle, the tour company’s assets were quickly auctioned off. And it wasn’t just colorful World War II-era boats that were up for bid. The catalog featured archaeological relics such as:

• “Assorted duck exhaust parts.”

• “Case of six Ride the Ducks shot glasses.”

• “Ride the Ducks snow globes.”

• “Wacky quackers.”

• “Misc. loose contents of this break room.”

The Mukfest Pirates stuck with an extra-long duck boat.

It was a major investment. The group is relying on an online fundraiser to raise $11,000 to help “get their boat afloat!” They’re actively looking for sponsorships to help them get ready in time for the next Lighthouse Festival. It’ll mark the city of Mukilteo’s 75th anniversary.

The pirates haven’t chosen a name for their ship yet.

(Perhaps readers can help with that:)

They hope to keep the group alive for generations to come. Safadago’s young grandson, Jordan, is already helping design each year’s pirate pins.

Getting together a krewe was the easy part. Locals jumped at the opportunity.

Rob Fulton said he knew Safadago from his time working at a paper mill and “old guy softball.”

“I’ve just always wanted to be called Slice McGillicutty,” Fulton said of his sea name.

Then there’s Dan “Avian Gunner” Crossman. He had a working cannon ready to go even before the mateys convened — but not because he was into piracy.

“I think I was more kind of into things that explode,” Crossman said.

The cannon is part of the show now.

George Safadago pulls up the floor panels in the 1945 “DUKW” in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

George Safadago pulls up the floor panels in the 1945 “DUKW” in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jason Moon was a drama major at the University of Washington. On the seas, you can call him Chef Full Moon.

“I love dressing up, and the whole community thing,” he said. His two young sons are getting into it, too.

Boris the Boatbreaker was already volunteering at community events, helping his wife, who heads the local Chamber of Commerce. Before he renounced his life as a land lubber, he went by Brian Barnes.

“It was a real easy sell. I could either run around working at these things, or I could dress up like a pirate,” he said with a laugh. “My community involvement can involve a costume.”

Will Laughlin, Safadago’s neighbor, ran to Party City as soon as he heard about the krewe.

Safadago said the collective is somewhat modeled after the Seafair Pirates, the famous decades-old group that kicks off the Seattle celebration each year. That sword-toting gang, he said, is more exclusive. And their commitment to piracy is more intense than what Mukilteo is going for.

“We’re just dialed down,” he said, “a different level of piracy.”

Signs from the Duck tours visible inside the vehicle in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Signs from the Duck tours visible inside the vehicle in Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

According to the Mukfest Pirates website, they’re likely “the mildest of the notorious krewes of cutthroats and buccaneers this side of the Pacific Rim on the inner waters of the Salish Sea Coast.”

Jackie Sonmore, aka Saralynn of the Salish Sea, remembers delivering an “Argh!” too convincingly to a little girl last year.

“She looked at me and I said, ‘Oh! I’m sorry!’”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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