61-Foot, 11-Ton Duck Coming to Philadelphia Waterfront

We talk with the man responsible for bringing it to the Tall Ships festival next month.
World's Largest Rubber Duck

Photo courtesy of Craig Samborski

A 61-foot tall, 11-ton duck is coming to Philadelphia next month.

As part of the 2015 Tall Ships Philadelphia/Camden festival, being held from June 25th to the 28th, Draw Events is bringing the World’s Largest Rubber Duck to the Delaware River.

Based on a the plans for an installation called Rubber Duck originally made by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, this version of the giant rubber duck — actually made of an inflatable vinyl covering — also appeared at last year’s Tall Ships Festival Los Angeles. Hofman unveiled the first version of the rubber duck in his native Amsterdam in 2007; the first North American appearance was in Pittsburgh in 2013.

“In my estimation, you need to go big or go home,” says Draw Events president Craig Samborski. “Then someone floated the idea of the duck past us.” Yes, a six-story high duck floating by is big enough. Samborski’s company bought the plans from Hofman, modified the specs — the version coming to Philadelphia is larger than what was indicated in the plans provided — and set out on building an 11-ton vinyl duck that sits on a 10-ton steel pontoon.

World's Largest Rubber Duck

Photo courtesy of Craig Samborski

Here’s how it’ll end up at the festival: The duck has been pre-assembled and tested in Los Angeles. It was shipped to a “very safe place” in New Jersey in November per Samborski. In the next few weeks, the duck will undergo a test inflation with the local crew working the Philadelphia/Camden Tall Ships show. (Samborski will be living in Philadelphia for about a month to coordinate everything for the Tall Ships.)

When it’s time for the show, the giant duck will be loaded into the Delaware with a 15-ton crane, then tugged to a spot in front of the Nipper Building in Camden. Each night, the duck will be towed back to a location at the port of New Jersey. It will be deflated for the night and re-inflated each morning.

Other giant ducks have captivated tourists; a 2013 installation in Hong Kong was so popular it led to a huge number of knockoffs in China. Pittsburgh’s duck was similarly popular. But there have been down times, too. That one in Hong Kong deflated while on display (organizers later said it was planned), while a duck burst on New Year’s Day while on display Taiwan in 2014.

In 2009, vandals stabbed huge holes in the rubber duck when it was in the city of Hasselt, Belgium. “The duck had just been repaired having been badly damaged in a storm and had only been back in the water for four days,” Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported.

Samborski says this duck will not be able to be popped by a nefarious waterfowl-hater while on the Camden waterfront. “It’s pretty hard to pop this thing,” he says. “It’s made out of a very heavy gauge vinyl. I suppose if you took a shot at it with a gun or a harpoon you could damage it. You really need to hit it with a bazooka — or maybe one of the guns from the Battleship New Jersey.” Samborski has a “MacGuyver-like guy” on who travels with the duck and an emergency maintenance kit, but hasn’t had any problems yet.

The duck has more enemies than just the Hasselt vandals. “Cities that cash in with Rubber Duck are outsourcing their public art, meaning they aren’t doing their artists or themselves any favors in the long run,” CityLab’s Kriston Capps wrote last year. “When I see images of it floating in a new harbor, I can almost hear Rubber Duck whispering, in a raspy duck voice: The place you love is no more.”

The duck does get results, though. Samborski says the Tall Ships Los Angeles festival drew just under 300,000 visitors over five days last year, even though the police forced it to close early on Saturday and Sunday due to overcrowding. “The LAPD wasn’t really happy with me those days,” he says. He says there was a $10 million economic impact to the area from Tall Ships LA last year. Though the giant rubber duck is not a particular or obvious fit for a tall ships festival, he says the attention it attracts is good for the ship owners, captains and crews.

“Several people warned me on the way [to the show-ending crew BBQ], ‘Craig, there’s some unhappy people there who want to talk to you,'” Samborski says. “I’m like, ‘Oh man, this is just going to suck.’ I walked in and, literally, every one of the tall ships captains was patting me on the back. They said, ‘Wednesday we would have killed you, but we literally never had so many people on our ships.'”

Samborski gushed over the lineup for this year’s Tall Ships Philadelphia/Camden festival. “This lineup of ships in Philadelphia/Camden is a spectacular one that I’ve never had at a festival before,” he says. “And I’m not sure I will be able to have ever again.” That lineup includes L’Hermione (a replica of the French ship that brought Lafayette to the U.S. in 1780), Barque Eagle (a 1930s German ship given to the U.S. as part of war reparations, and owned by the Coast Guard), El Galeon (a replica of a 16th century merchant vessel) and Gazela (Philadelphia’s tall ship).

Tall Ships Philadelphia/Camden runs from June 25th to the 28th and will have ships on both sides of the river. It’s being organized by four groups: The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation and the Independence Seaport Museum on the Philly side, and the Adventure Aquarium and Coopers Ferry Partnership on the Camden side. The festival will shuttle attendees across the river on the ferry. Tickets are as cheap as $7 for admission to both sides of the festival, or $16 for admission and tours of the ships. Sailing on one of the tall ships costs $85.

“A family can come and enjoy this event for many hours and not spend a lot of money,” Samborski says. “And they can really have a quality experience — not just with attractions, but also get some education and history out of the deal.”

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