Tacoma-bound: 22 sailing ships and a 6-story-tall rubber duckie

The Lady Washington is among the ships attending this year’s Festival of Sail. She’s pictured firing one of her cannons during a mock duel with The Hawaiian Chieftain during Tall Ships Tacoma.
The Lady Washington is among the ships attending this year’s Festival of Sail. She’s pictured firing one of her cannons during a mock duel with The Hawaiian Chieftain during Tall Ships Tacoma. Staff file, 2008

More than 20 sailing ships — plus a building-size rubber duckie — are on course to visit the Tacoma waterfront this summer for a four-day maritime, music, food and wine festival.

Festival of Sail Tacoma will take place June 15-18 along the Thea Foss Waterway.

Organizers expect more than 200,000 people to attend the celebration, which will stretch 1 mile from the Museum of Glass to Thea’s Park.

“It’s going to be awesome to see the Foss Waterway packed with ships,” said Craig Samborski, CEO of Draw Events, a Minnesota-based company with experience in putting on tall ship festivals.

With support from the city, Draw Events is planning Tacoma’s celebration with Tacoma Sail Events, an LLC run by a committee of 10 people from the boating and real estate community.

Since plans were announced more than a year ago, organizers have secured sponsorships to help finance the festival, gotten owners to commit to showing their ships, and secured permits with the Coast Guard. They are finalizing musical acts and taking applications for exhibitors.

About 150 of a projected 200 volunteers, from teenagers to seniors, have signed up through the festival’s website.


The Festival of Sail’s confirmed lineup of 22 ships includes:

▪ Adventuress, from Port Townsend. The luxury yacht was built in Maine for a Chicago millionaire who led a failed attempt in 1913 to hunt a bowhead whale in the Arctic and deliver its skeleton to a New York City museum.

▪ Lady Washington, from Aberdeen. The 112-foot-long ship is a replica of an 18th century cannon-laden brig — a popular war and merchant ship of the 18th and 19th centuries. It was used in the movies “Star Trek: Generations” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

▪ Vérité, from Tacoma. A wind and oar-powered captain’s gig, it’s used to teach youths boating skills on the Thea Foss Waterway.

▪ A 15-ton, six-story inflatable rubber duck. It will be trucked in from Ohio on the back of a semitrailer.

Most of the ships are two-masted schooners, which were popular trade, fishing and racing vessels in New England during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Also on the roster are two brigs, which were commonly used as warships in the 18th and 19th centuries; a 1920s Puget Sound wooden ferry boat; and a former Arctic fur-trading ship.

Some of the ships, including an 80-foot-long schooner from California, will be open for tours and cruises, Samborski said.

The event’s music lineup is still being planned, but Symphony Tacoma is confirmed to play Saturday, he said.


This year’s Festival of Sail, with a little more than a $1 million budget, comes nine years after a 2008 tall ships festival in Tacoma. Held in rainy weather, it left one of the organizers, Tacoma Tall Ships, with a $500,000 debt.

Organizers of that event said they were able to resolve the debt by negotiating partial payments to vendors and getting donations from the public — including a $100,000 anonymous gift. The city also reduced the billing for police services.

The current planning committee and city officials say they are optimistic the festival won’t hit rough waters financially because they have more experience in organizing tall ships festivals, and Draw Events has a history of turning a profit.

Draw Events, Tacoma Sail Events and six sponsors, including Wells Fargo, Alaska Airlines and the Foss Waterway Development Authority, a city-run agency, are paying for this event, which also will be supported through ticket sales, Samborski said.

He said that if the event succeeds, it could have a roughly $15 million economic impact on Tacoma businesses and hotels, based on a tall ship festival he ran in a city with a comparable infrastructure.

The city of Tacoma will provide about $100,000 in police and fire services, said Councilman Robert Thoms, who sometimes meets with the committee that contacted Draw Events in 2014 to help organize the festival.

Those costs will be paid back if the festival turns a profit, he said.


Wendell Stroud, chairman of Tacoma Sail Events, said his only concern about putting on a festival would be a stretch of bad weather.

But he’s optimistic that the festival will be a way to show off Tacoma to outsiders and the Thea Foss Waterway to Tacomans.

“We just have a unique place in Tacoma that too many people don’t know about,” he said, adding that many years ago, the city began forming a plan to redevelop the former industrial waterway into housing, retail, parks and museums.

“It wasn’t a place where you wanted to be back those days,” Stroud said.

City officials say the festival will be an opportunity to show off the publicly owned waterfront and nearby businesses to local and international visitors.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland used the upcoming event as an incentive to attract sister-city mayors to an economic roundtable forum occurring at the same time, Thoms said.

“The more the merrier,” he said.

Festival of Sail

What: More than 20 sailing ships on display.

Where: Along the Foss Waterway in Tacoma.

When: June 15-18.

Tickets: One-day festival pass, $9; one-day pass, including entry to ships giving tours, $12; multiday pass, including entry onto ships, $20; day sail pass and entry to ships, $95; Parade of Sail sail pass, $150.

For more information, go to festofsailtacoma.com.

To volunteer: Visit festofsailtacoma.com/volunteer.

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