The summer season is here and sailboats are on the water around Commencement Bay. But next week those wind-powered wonders will be a bit larger than usual.
Festival of Sail runs June 15 to 18 and promises all things nautical with pier-side tours of more than 20 vessels and family entertainment up and down the Foss Waterway that includes roving seafarers singing sea shanties, exhibits and presentations at the Foss Waterway Seaport Museum and activities stretching along the Esplanade to the Museum of Glass. One of the most notable attractions will be the world’s largest rubber duckie, a 61-foot inflatable duck that is just screaming for a selfie – bathtub not included – in what is being promoted as the largest event in the history of the Tacoma waterfront.
The official start of the four-day event will be the “Parade of Sails” as the vessels arrive into Commencement Bay at 2 p.m. on June 15.
This festival offers up a rare chance to catch a glimpse, step aboard and even set sail on some of the grandest ships of yore. The event will be comprised of a four-day celebration that will include a fleet of globally renowned historic ships with ticket prices ranging from $9 to $150.
Standing out from the crafts slated to visit Tacoma will be the Evergreen State’s own 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.” The North Star of Hershel Island, a three-master that is the last of the sailing Arctic fur-trading ships and the only fully rigged ship in Canada, is also set to pull on to Tacoma’s docks.
Another must-see vessel will be the Virginia V, the last of the steam-powered ferries that once made up Puget Sound’s “Mosquito Fleet” that once served as water taxis around Puget Sound in the days before 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. His 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.
Along with on-board tours and day sails, other activities will include live music, entertainment, locally curated craft beer, educational programming, local food and fun for the entire family including a performance by the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra.
Festival of Sail marks the first time the historic ships and schooners have visited Tacoma since 2008. Bad weather that year led to lower-than-expected turn out and a debt of about $500,000. Organizers have since negotiating down that debt and reformulating the event from the waterline up, most notably contracting with the national festival company, Draw Events, because of its experience with large festivals that include ship festivals in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Lake Eerie.
A win for the festival would be a big win for the local economy, which is increasingly becoming reliant on tourist dollars, more specifically wallets from day trippers from other areas of the state.
Pierce County hosted more visitors, who spent more money and supported more local jobs than any year since records have been kept, according to a recent report released by Travel Tacoma + Pierce County, the region’s official destination marketing organization.
Pierce County welcomed 6.3 million visitors, with travel spending reaching $1.13 billion last year, according to the annual tourism study by Dean Runyan Associates. That represents a 2.5 percent increase over 2015 travel spending. Tourism supported 11,470 Pierce-County jobs and accounted for $312 million in wages, which was a 5.6 percent year-over-year increase.
The growth in tourism activities last year is all the more impressive, since it came after the “tourism bump” of 2015 caused by the U.S. Open Golf Championship being hosted at Chamber’s Bay Golf Course.
“This shows that tourism in Pierce County is bigger than one event, even one as noteworthy as the U.S. Open,” said Bennish Brown, President and CEO of Travel Tacoma + Pierce County. “That event may have helped put this region on the map for a lot of visitors, but making sure that momentum hasn’t evaporated has been the daily work of the museums, hotels, restaurants and attractions that make this a place people want to visit.”
Festival of Sail Tacoma 2017 takes place on June 15-18. For tickets visit www.festofsailtacoma.com or call 1 (877) 4FLY-TIX.