Big Bear Lake: The Ship Sank and The Sun’s Out

The Time Bandit pirate ship in Big Bear Lake.
The Time Bandit pirate ship in Big Bear Lake.

We took a scenic drive up a winding mountain road and as the temperature dropped and the altitude soared, we finally reached Big Bear Lake tonight.  Soon it was time to meet a local resident and find out what people are talking about up here in this resort community with fewer than 7000 full-time residents.

At the Sweet Basil Bistro we joined Dawn Elig who gave us the news. “The ship sank,” she said.  That would be the famous Big Bear Pirate Ship, a one-third size replica of a pirate sailing vessel, which during a huge rainstorm last week listed on its side and sunk 10 feet. That’s bad news for this tourist-driven town, but her owners hope to float her up and have her ready for booze cruises and visitors in May. More than 100,000 visitors will flock to Big Bear on a busy snowy weekend, and Fourth of July is just as busy.

It’s the drought that’s on most people’s minds up here, Dawn told us, as we dined on lobster lasagna and lamb chops. It’s been a very tough year for skiers, with only two natural snowfalls over the winter and some weeks, not enough cold weather to make enough snow.  The whole state is having a terrible water shortage, and this is why when the big rainstorm brought down the pirate ship, it was a blessing of rain for the parched town. “The lake rose between 10 and 18 inches, depending on which part you measure,” we were told.

dawnI asked Dawn how she ended up living in Big Bear, and found out that it was her favorite vacation destination, and for many years a dream. “If only we could live here,” she remembers saying to her partner Tom, who still lives in San Diego and commutes to the couple’s mountainside condo during the week.

“There’s something about being up here,” she said, “you can smell the pines, and it gets more sunshine, by far, than San Diego.”  She said since you drive up out of the clouds, the abundant sun provides much better weather than you’ll find down the hill. That’s what they call LA here, although it’s a pretty long hill. About a two-and-a-half hour drive.

Dawn got a chance to make her dream into reality when she took a job as the office manager for the local visitor’s bureau, and a few years later, she’s a marketing and membership manager.  She still gets down the hill frequently to see family in San Diego, but she’s a big fan of the Bear, all year ’round.

You don’t find manicured lawns in Big Bear since there are laws against putting in new turf, Dawn told us. That means natural yards with trees and woodlands, and for the thousands of San Diego and Los Angeles residents who own vacations homes here, it’s just how they like it.

The small community is famous for a big roster of festivals, and they’re planning a new festival in May that will bring in many new tourists–it’s called the Starlight Festival.  One thing BB is famous for is its view of the stars, especially when you’re out on the lake. There is not all the lights from streetlights and cars that make viewing a challenge in the city.  There is also a small solar observatory here which will be a part of the new festival.