Harbor Days, Olympia’s celebration of vintage tugboats and all things maritime, has been around for 46 years, but those who visit the festival this weekend will find plenty of new things to see, experience — and taste.
There will be more activities for children, who are encouraged to dress as pirates and stop at the Harbor House to choose a treasure.
In addition to the entertainment on land — including opening and closing ceremonies with members of the Squaxin Island Tribe, circus performers Friday evening and Lakefair princesses on Sunday afternoon — there’ll be music afloat, with bands playing from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday aboard the tugboat Patricia Ann.
There will be after-hours performances of the Shakespearean romance “The Tempest,” enhanced by the presence of the tall ship Lady Washington. It’s a bonus that festival organizer Carol Riley calls “Harbor Days after dark.”
And there’ll be a new focus on seafood, with vendors offering salmon, oysters, fish tacos, fish sandwiches and even lobster — in the festival-friendly form of a lobster corn dog.
A lobster corn dog?
“It’s lobster wound around a stick, and then it’s dipped in a honey cornmeal batter, and then it’s fried and served with aioli,” Riley told The Olympian, adding, “I want a lobster corndog right now.”
The seafood emphasis in what Riley calls “the Food G’Alley” is part of the sponsoring Olympia Kiwanis Club’s effort to add to Harbor Days’ maritime flavor.
Riley also has worked with skippers to increase the number of participating ships.
“We are expecting 20 vintage tugboats at the festival, which is more than we’ve had in years,” she said. “Eighteen of them are racing, which is double the number we had last year.”
The tugboats are still at the heart of the festival, Riley said.
One proof of that: The historic museum ship Comanche, a former Coast Guard cutter, will host a memorial service Monday for George Mills, a Coast Guard veteran who saw combat in World War II.
Mills, who passed away on April 22, his 97th birthday, and his wife, Robin Mills of Burbank, Calif., had volunteered aboard the Comanche since 2012.
The couple had a profound experience at Harbor Days last year, Robin Mills said.
“George was telling his World War II stories,” she told The Olympian. “This guy stepped forward and said something like, ‘Thank you for your service. You helped save the world,’ and burst into tears. Everybody started crying.
“It was one of the most emotional moments of my life,” she said. “It was so powerful to see that that many people care about World War II veterans.”
In addition to honoring Harbor Days’ maritime traditions, the Kiwanis Club is working to engage a new generation with the festival, offering more activities that fit the club’s mission is to support children and families.
Among them is a free workshop aimed at teens who might be interested in careers on the water, along with a greater array of harbor- and pirate-themed craft-making opportunities offered by local nonprofits and the Hands On Children’s Museum.
And there’s the Treasure Chest in the city’s Harbor House, which invites children — whether or not they’re wearing pirate garb — to choose a treasure from an array of toys and trinkets.
“The kids who came in last year were so excited,” she said. “Their eyes were as big as silver dollars.”
Organizers are expecting about 60,000 visitors over the course of the festival weekend, thanks in part to ongoing efforts to add new features and in part to the weather.
“We’re expecting temperatures in the mid-80s with occasional clouds,” Riley said. “I think the weather is going to be perfect.”
Olympia Harbor Days
- What: The 46th annual festival, put on by the Olympia Kiwanis Club, combines tugboats and maritime history with seafood, live entertainment, sand sculptures, building with Lego bricks, a beer garden and more.
- When: 5-8 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday
- Where: From Percival Landing to Port Plaza, downtown Olympia
- Tickets: Free, with donations of $5 per person or $10 per family suggested to fund the club’s scholarships and programs for children and families
- More information: harbordays.com
- Lady Washington: The tall ship will in Budd Inlet offering tours and sails through Sunday, Sept. 8. Sails are $49-$55; tours are offered for a $5 donation. 800-200-5239, https://www.historicalseaport.org/public-tours-sails/sailing-schedule/
- Virginia V: The historic steamship is offering excursions and tours. Excursions are $20-$50, with some free for ages 12 and younger; tours are by donation. harbordays.com/harbor-tours-sailing-tickets
Olympia Harbor Days Walkabout
- What: The Capitol Volkssport Club is kicking off Harbor Days with 5K and 10K walks along Percival Landing and to West Bay Park.
- When: Register between 2 and 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, and complete the walk by 6.
- Where: Registration is on the patio of the Batdorf and Bronson Tasting Room, 200 Market St. NE, Olympia.
- Tickets: The walk is free; American Volkssport members will receive recognition for the completed walk for $3.
- More information: harbordays.com/walkabout-2019
Intro to Working on the Water
- What: Harbor Days and The Seafarer Collective are offering a workshop for young people (ages 12-18) interested in learning about careers on the water.
- When: 9:30-11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 31
- Where: Meet at the base of the tower at Port Plaza, 701 Columbia St. NW, Olympia
- Cost: Free, but space is limited. Register at bit.ly/workingonthewater.
- More information: harbordays.com/working-on-the-water
- What: The tall ship Lady Washington will be part of the backdrop for this waterfront production of the fantastical Shakespearean comedy set on an enchanted island.
- When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- Where: Port Plaza, 701 Columbia St. NW, Olympia
- Cost: Free
- More information: thetempestolympia.com
World War II veteran memorial
- What: A memorial service for George Mills, a Coast Guard veteran who served in World War II, will be held aboard the historic museum ship Coast Guard Cutter Comanche. Mills, who lived in Burbank, Calif., had volunteered aboard the Comanche during Harbor Days since 2012.
- When and where: Board the Comanche, which will be docked at Port Plaza, by 11 a.m. Monday. The ship should return to the dock by 1:30 p.m.
- More information: comanche202.org