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Embassy Suites Sous Chef Sean Kingsbury serves up delicious chowder to attendees at Channel Islands Maritime Museum. (Photo by Chris Frost)
Thursday, August 8, 2019

By Chris Frost


Oxnard—It was a great day at the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, Aug. 4, as the Fifth Annual Chowderfest brought out a massive crowd of people all set to enjoy the day and savor the best chowder in Ventura County.


Ticket holders also got to visit the museum and see the many programs that make it a treasure in the community.  


The event featured about 150 volunteers, including committee members who are responsible for getting the restaurants and wineries to participate and bring their food.


Trustee Michelle Murphy said the event started as a small little get together.


"The Chowderfest was a concept brought to us by the local yacht clubs, and the people who brought it to us were the retired commodores," she said. "They wanted to help out the museum and came up with the concept. We put together the committee five years ago, and some of the yacht club members sit on the committee."


The event took off, and it continues to grow each year.


"This year, we've added games, a photo booth and spin the wheel for prizes," she said. "It consistently brings people into the museum who have never been here before. The one thing we hear is they had no idea this museum is here, and it's incredible."


The money they raise is not restricted, Murphy said, so it can be used for anything the museum wants to offer.


"We have a navigation exhibit which is in the works, so some of the money might go to it," she said. "It might go to some of our temporary exhibits and keeping the lights on and the staff paid."


The museum has an education program called "Every Fifth Grader on the Water," which is open to the kids in school.


"Every fifth grader in public school in Oxnard comes in here, and they have a half-day education program," she said. "They learn about the Chumash Indians; they learn about the Port of Hueneme and life as a sailor."


The kids also learn about the art collection at the museum, and the program culminates with a boat trip.


"It’s a marine biology boat where they can see the animals living in the harbor," she said. 


Murphy enjoys the Chowderfest.


"It's a thrill to get so many people out to the museum and see what a success it is," she said. "It's a labor of love."


Museum Curator Heather Behrens said the museum expects around 2,000 people to come by and experience the chowder and all the things available at the venue.


"The money we raise today goes to the special programs we have at the museum, like our speaker series and the different events that we put on," she said. 


Behrens loves seeing all the happy faces at the Chowderfest and enjoys the band Kelly's Lot, which is fun.


"Kelly's Lot comes every year," Behrens said. 


Becoming a member of the Maritime Museum is a simple investment, she said, that pays plenty of dividends.


"As an individual, for $50, you get to visit the museum with a guest any time we're open," she said. "There are unlimited admissions, and you get to attend the speaker series for free. Our speaker series costs between $5 and $7 if you are a senior citizen or adult non-member."


The event raised over $30,000 in 2018 and was on pace to beat that amount in 2019.


"It's growing every year," Behrens said. "The gift shop is open, which is called Bluefin Gifts, and during the festival, the museum is open for free for anyone who buys a ticket. We also have a little gift shop outside, as well."


One of the great stories you will hear when you visit the Channel Islands Maritime Museum is the story of "La Jenelle" and volunteer Doug Williams can tell you all about the legend.


"La Jenelle was the last name it had and was launched as the SS Borinquen in 1931 as a fancy cruise ship for passengers," he said. "Borinquen in Puerto Rico is the local Indian dialect. It did a stint in World War II as a troop transport as the SS Puerto Rico."


In 1960, Williams said they decided to make it into a hotel, and they landed it at Channel Islands Harbor.


"They parked it in the sand, and they were waiting for the fire marshal to come and do the fire inspection," he said. "We had a freak summer storm that we now know about in advance because of ground radar."


The storm didn't destroy the boat, he said, but it got lodged in the sand.


"They could not get it off the sand," he said. "They had every towboat from six counties attached to that thing, and they couldn't budge it. That became the first story in the Los Angeles area that was city-wide news. Channel 5 had reporters they sent out, and before that, they weren't equipped for that. They rescued seven or eight crewmen who stayed onboard with a Navy helicopter. It was the first time they ever did news coverage in the air."


Jane Joubert and her husband Jay enjoyed some great food and lots of chowders.


"So far, I like the clam chowder from the Embassy Suites," she said. "Jay is a modeler at the museum. He belongs to the model club there."


Jay said the club spends its time building model boats.


"My models are at home, but I bring them here to sell," he said. 


Jane loves the model boats and said Jay has been building them all his life.


"The pictures are restful and peaceful," she said. "I love all the art."


Embassy Suites Sous Chef Sean Kingsbury made sure that everyone who tried the chowder at his table walked away with a smile.


"The pancetta and the dried chilis we put on it make it stand out," he said. "It adds a nice heat to it. People tell us we're the best."


He loves interacting with all the people at the event.


"We enjoy the other foods and vendors at the event," he said. "I put a lot of hard work into this, and I enjoy making soups for events like this."


Michelle Horton was enjoying the chowder along with a little wine.


"This is Waterside's chowder, and that's my favorite so far," she said. "I've been enjoying tasting all the different chowders. Waterside has a great flavor."


She feels the Channel Islands Maritime Museum is an asset to Oxnard and the entire area.


"I like Plan B Wine Cellars," she added. "It's good."


Marty Sassoon said he likes the Embassy Suites chowder the best.


"I wasn't expecting that," he said. "It's not a seafood restaurant, but it had some good flavor to it. It's complex, but it has some diversity."


He loves going to the museum.


"I love art, and the models they did are impressive," he said. "There was one model that took the guy five years to build it, and there are 8,000 little nails in it. The intricacy and attention to details are cool."


Big things are just ahead for the museum.


“San Salvador is coming up at the end of Aug. and beginning of Sept.,” Behrens said. “San Salvador was rebuilt by the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum and is a replica of Cabrillo’s ship, which is a personal tie because they came to Channel Islands and were greeted by the Chumash.”



For more information about the Channel Islands Maritime Museum, visit  cimmvc.org.

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