Highland Games to keep brining culture to Homer

Kilt up, laddies and lasses. The highland games are upon us.

Thanks to the efforts of the Kachemak Bay Scottish Club, the annual Kachemak Bay Highland Games will bring culture, spirit and a little whisky to Homer for the eighth year this weekend.

Though the actual games don’t start until Saturday at 9 a.m., the club will participate in Homer’s Fourth of July parade on Thursday at 5 p.m. There also will be two free clinics open at Karen Hornaday Park to would-be participants on both Thursday and Friday, according to Robert Archibald, president of the Kachemak Bay Scottish Club. While there are different divisions for masters, amateurs and novices, Archibald said the club can’t let people participate with absolutely no prior experience.

The club will also hold a scotch tasting at 7 p.m. Friday at the Kannery Restaurant. It’s a limited seating event, and those interested are asked to contact the restaurant at 907-435-0949 for tickets. Those who attend can expect hors d’oeuvres chosen specifically to pair with the “wee dram” of scotch, according to the club’s website.

Admission to the games on Saturday is $10 for adults; ages 16 and younger get in free when accompanied by adults. The games include a food booth and beer garden. Following the games is a ceilidh or party at The Kannery.

What began in 2004 as an idea for a fundraiser conceived by Archibald and Dave Brann has ballooned into a popular event that draws sassenachs (outsiders) from all over the state.

“We tried to think of something that was fun, unique and new, that would raise eyebrows,” Archibald said.

The games are a sanctioned event through the Scottish American Athletic Association, Archibald said, and the judges are brought up from the Lower 48.

“If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do this right,” he said of the games.

The very first games were held at Archibald’s place on Sprucewood Drive. Now, they have a permanent home in Karen Hornaday Park where participants in multiple skill and age divisions can compete in weight throws, stone throws, a golf bag toss, a kilted mile foot race, and, with a splash of local color, the halibut toss.

Don’t worry, it’s not a real halibut, but a fabric fish made by NOMAR.

An ever popular event is the caber throw, also called turning the caber. Archibald has a straightforward explanation for this feat of athleticism.

“It’s just a big old tree that’s kind of cleaned up so it doesn’t scuff the side of your face off,” he said.

Cabers can range in weight from 30 to 100 pounds, he said.

One event that draws some participants to Homer is the sheaf toss, Archibald said. Originally it was an event in which Scotts would launch a bag of wheat or hay as high as they could with a pitchfork. These days, it’s done with a burlap sack filled with varying weights, but the pitchfork is still the method of propulsion, Archibald said.

The other major highland games in the state don’t include the sheaf toss, he said, so it tends to bring participants down from Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. The standards used to measure the height of the sheaf toss, similar to those used for pole vaulting events, go up to 28 feet, Archibald said.

Another big draw this year will be the musical guest, The Fire. The trio of Scottish musicians recently played the other major highland games held in Palmer, Archibald said, and locals will not want to miss them.

“It’s been fun exposing Homer to the games,” Archibald said of the annual event.

Asked why he and his fellows decided it would make a good fundraiser and a lasting event, he said, “It’s just because we’re crazy.”

For more information on this year’s highland games, visit the Kachemak Bay Scottish Club website at kachemakbaycelticclub.com.

Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.