Boats, history highlight first day of Tacoma Maritime Fest

Too many Tacoma residents have never been to the city’s waterfront, say the people behind the Tacoma Maritime Fest.

That’s something the organizers of the annual festival aim to change. The free celebration of the city’s maritime history continues Sunday, giving visitors the chance to step aboard ships from different eras, head out on the Thea Foss Waterway for a sail, or make their own toy boats.

Wesley Wenhardt, executive director of the Foss Waterway Seaport, said part of the goal of the festival is to help people connect with the water and how it shaped Tacoma’s history.

“The reason Tacoma is here is because it was a deepwater port, and that is why the railroad came here,” Wenhardt said. “What we want to do is celebrate our past and heritage.”

Anchoring the site of the festival is the Foss Waterway Seaport, a former grain warehouse-turned-museum that recently underwent another $2 million in renovations. Inside the museum building, festival visitors can interact with sea stars, examine different types of plankton under a microscope, or crawl through an inflatable sea serpent named Seaweed.

Outside, attendees can tour 11 boats or check out the festival’s beer garden, live music and food vendors.

Among the most popular attractions Saturday were small sailboats, outfitted with rubber bumpers, that festival-goers could take out on the water.

Some, like Nathan George and his two daughters, opted to go out with the help of a Sea Scout rather than brave the waters on their own.

“They’ve been chomping at the bit,” George said of Nova, 6, and Luna, 2. “We’ve been waiting our turn.”

Also Saturday, visitors to the festival watched teams compete to build boats in less than six hours and then see which would triumph during a race.

Jason and Tishelle Ward examined the teams’ workmanship Saturday afternoon as they walked along the dock with their two daughters, 6-year-old Peyton and 9-year-old Reese.

“We’re just coming down for something local in town to do,” Jason Ward said. “It’s a nice, sunny day to enjoy the weather — and we like boats.”

Maritime Fest director Sue Schaeffer said she expects attendance at this year’s Maritime Fest to top last year’s. In 2013, between 5,500 and 7,000 people attended the two-day event, Schaeffer said, but organizers this year are hoping for closer to 10,000.

“It feels to me we have a little more energy this year,” Schaeffer said. “It seems like we had a much bigger crowd.”

The 2014 Tacoma Maritime Fest continues Sunday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. at 705 Dock St. For more information about attending, visit maritimefest.org.