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State flagship debuts at Harborfest

Among pirates, fireworks and exhibits, the star of the show was the 122-foot schooner Virginia

Among pirates, fireworks and exhibits, the star of the show was the 122-foot schooner Virginia

Town Point Park on Virginia’s Elizabeth River was once again the site for the annual Norfolk Harborfest weekend, June 10 to 12. The public debut of the schooner Virginia and accommodating weather brought out large crowds on all three days.

Roving bands of pirates, magicians and jugglers; a fireworks show; seven stages providing almost continuous musical entertainment; and even Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR race car on display ensured there was something for everyone.

Water-related events included hardhat diving demonstrations by the Crofton Diving Corp.; wakeboard shows by Airtime Water Sports of Virginia Beach; several pirate battles (complete with exchanges of broadsides); and a “Quick and Dirty” boatbuilding competition.

On the final day, the departure from the Nauticus pier of the 682-foot, 47,000-ton cruise ship, Horizon Celebrity, provided a visual testament to the benefits of multiple screws and thrusters.

The star of the show was the 122-foot schooner Virginia. Originally scheduled to lead the several-hundred boat parade of sail into the Waterside basin on this, her coming-out party, the black-hulled Virginia was moved further back into the fleet to enhance her entrance, with sails furled, for thousands of spectators lining the waterfront. She was moved to the Otter Berth in the middle of the festivities, where she was open for visitors all weekend.

Virginia’s dock-mate was the Delaware-based 116-foot, 200-ton Kalmar Nyckel. The colorful pinnace visits Norfolk frequently and is always a hit with the public. Other major ships in the parade included the 68-foot square-rigger, Godspeed, from Jamestown, Va.; and the Beaufort, N.C.-based 54-foot brigantine, Meka.

The Starfish, a wooden 108-foot former Navy YP (yard patrol craft) now operated by the Office of Naval Research as an “afloat lab,” was open to the public for most of the weekend. Her crew presented exhibits and presentations on several military technologies.

Even at $1,000 each for the weekend, the 36 slips at the Waterside Marina were full, as usual. Dockmaster Mike Evans and his crew were kept busy all weekend, trying to keep up with the needs and wants of a varied group of boaters. Some boaters scheduled their visit months in advance, like Paul Stengel aboard the 118-foot 1990 Dennyson yacht, I Don’t Recall, out of Fort Lauderdale. He was en route to his summer home port of Nantucket. A few, like Kevin Smart on the sleek, black-hulled 58-foot 2004 Donzi sportfisher, Owl’s Nest, were in Norfolk for emergency repairs and were able to secure a temporarily empty berth for a couple of hours. Owl’s Nest, with her twin 1500 MTUs, was en route from Miami to her summer home in Sag Harbor, N.Y., where she provides Smart a platform for fishing.

Another unintended visitor was the two-masted 212-foot aluminum sailing yacht, Felicita West. The vessel and her 12-man crew were also in Norfolk for some repairs and were berthed next to the Nauticus museum, across from the battleship Wisconsin. The two disparate ships provided the crowds with some visual extremes in ship design.

The local watermen and their classic deadrise workboats once again provided exhibitions of small boat seamanship at its finest, with several handling contests and races throughout the weekend. Because of the ongoing passenger terminal construction at their usual dock abreast Nauticus, the watermen were tied up alongside a barge, a short ways upriver from the main Harborfest area. Undaunted, they continued to uphold their reputation for “hosting the best party.”

Next year marks the 30th anniversary

of Harborfest, and Karen Sherberger of Norfolk Festevents promises that she and the more than 1,500 people involved in putting it together will outdo themselves yet again to make Harborfest 2006 a memorable event.