Tacomans celebrated the 46 miles of waterfront between Browns Point and Day Island and the maritime industry that calls it home Saturday and Sunday at the 21st annual Tacoma Maritime Fest.
Along the Thea Foss Waterway downtown there were famous vessels, fire breathers, musicians, and competitors in the quick-and-dirty boat contest and race.
“The big thing is when they sink,” festival director Sue Schaeffer said with laugh about Saturday’s vessel-building competition. “Everyone wants them to sink.”
Schaeffer stepped up as the director this year, helping plan the festival and coordinate the roughly $100,000 in sponsorships and in-kind donations needed to put on the event.
“It was going to die,” volunteer Lorraine Ralston said. “If it wasn’t for Sue’s efforts, this would not have happened at all. There just wasn’t any other group willing to take the risk of putting it on.”
No one group is responsible for coordinating the festival, and when the longtime director stepped down, it was Schaeffer, who is also the executive director of the Tacoma Waterfront Association, who took over.
“I just felt that it had to go on, that it needed one more shot,” Schaeffer said. She said she can’t promise that the festival will be held next year, “but I think everyone hopes it will be. Everyone’s excited.”
She estimated the festival organizers had roughly 40 volunteers and that the Sea Scouts and Foss Waterway Seaport brought about 60.
They had between 1,500 and 2,000 attendees each day, she guessed, and though they didn’t have exact numbers, she thought it was slightly higher than last year.
“Most people say it feels heavier,” Schaeffer said. “Ships have been telling me it’s steady. They’re happy.”
Boats gave tours of the port and of Commencement Bay wildlife habitats. Other vessels, such as the luxury yacht M/V El Primero, were docked and available for walk-on tours.
Lectures by different captains were also given this year as part of a push Schaeffer made for the event to educate visitors about the maritime industry.
Three-year-old Macy Winter was more interested in the Super Slide set up by the entrance to Thea’s Park on Sunday.
She took a tiny tumble at the bottom of the slide and was spooked for a minute. But after a quick hug from Dad, she climbed up the steps for another run.
“I want to go again,” the toddler said.
This year’s festival was designed to better cater to families and children, organizers said.
Kids could climb inside Zorb balls that let them roll around on water, build toy boats and catch trout in a giant tank.
“You have to wait until a group of them come,” said 12-year-old Nicolas May, as he was poised with a net, ready to scoop up the next fish to swim by. “It’s called ‘fishing for a reason.’ ”
That’s because the longshore union that puts on the fishing booth, ILWU Local 23, donates the catch to a local food bank after the festival.
For many of the youngsters, it’s the first time they’ve caught a fish, booth coordinators said. It’s the eighth year the union has set up the tank at the festival.
Rodney Anderson of Seattle said he and 4-year-old son Gabriel, who was perched on his dad’s shoulders as they looked out over the waterfront, explored the festival both days.
“We came back so we could play and catch fish,” the dad said. “It’s been a blast.”
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268