Tacoma’s seafaring heritage will be on full display during four days in June that will likely draw some 200,000 people to the City of Destiny’s waterfront. Visitors and residents alike will tour some two dozen historical and replica vessels, listen to sea shanties and marvel at the largest rubber duck ever created.
Festival of Sail Tacoma will take place June 15 to 18 along the Thea Foss Waterway and mark the first time the historic ships and schooners have visited Tacoma since 2008. Bad weather back then led to lower-than-expected turn out and a debt of about $500,000. Organizers have spent the passing years since then negotiating down that debt and reformulating the event from the waterline up.
The festival offers a rare chance to catch a glimpse, step aboard and even set sail on some of the grandest ships of a bygone era. This year will bring even more activities than previous festivals thanks to a name change from the Tall Ships Festival to Festival of Sail. The term “tall ships” raises ideas of pirates and age-old schooners The broader term “sail,” however, allows all things nautical, modern and historic, educational and goofy.
Hence the rubber duckie.
“You can change the whole dimension when you do that, and that is our goal,” said event organizer Craig Samborski, noting for example, the addition of the 61-foot-tall rubber duck bobbing on the waterfront next to awe-inspiring historic ships docked along the Thea Foss Waterway.
Festival of Sail Tacoma organizers contracted with Samborski’s national festival company, Draw Events, because of its record of large-scale events that include ship festivals in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Lake Eerie.
The Tacoma festival is primed to be the largest event in the region’s history and feature tours of 22 ships, day sailings on a select handful of them and educational programming throughout the festival. Music that ranges from sea shanties to a concert by Symphony Tacoma will fill out the venues and walkways along the waterfront’s Esplanade.
While there will be dozens of attractions to round out the festival, the heart of activities will still center on the historic ships. The ships set for Tacoma are mostly two-masted schooners that were used largely as traders, racers or fishing vessels during the age of wind-powered seafaring.
Standing out from those crafts will be the Lady Washington, a 112-foot replica of an 18th century warship that has appeared in several motion pictures and television shows, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Star Trek: Generations,” “Once Upon A Time” and “Revolution.” Another notable among notables is the North Star of Hershel Island, a three-masted ship that is the last of the sailing Arctic fur-trading ships and the only fully rigged ship in Canada.
Rounding out the list of must-see vessels will be the Virginia V and the Thane. The Virginia is the last of the steam-powered ferries that once made up Puget Sound’s “Mosquito Fleet” that sailed the coastline before the formation of the Washington State Ferry System.
The Thane is a replica of the vessel Joshua Slocum used during his three-year voyage to circumnavigate the world alone. The odyssey spanned 46,000 miles and became the basis of his 1900 book “Sailing Alone around the World,” a book that remains in print to this day.
These vessels and many others will start the festival with a “Parade of Sails” heading into Commencement Bay at 2 p.m. on June 15. On-shore activities will stretch the one-mile length of the Foss Waterway from Thea’s Park to the Museum of Glass until June 18.
The Foss Waterway Seaport will anchor the activities at the mouth of the Foss Waterway with dockside tours of the tall ships tied up to its marina, exhibits of Tacoma’s maritime past and activities in and around the museum’s historically renovated Balfour Dock location.
The seaport is coming off a successful visit of the Schooner Zodiac earlier this year, when two of its sailings sold out and the museum’s first of its chowder social that raised more than $50,000 to help fund its operations now that the facility has shifted to year-round activities for the first time in its history.
“It’s quite a great opportunity to see the tall ships,” said museum director Wesley Wenhardt.
For more information about the festival and what to expect, visit the Festival of Sail Tacoma website.