Back to Outdoors

Olympia Harbor Days ahoy!

Celebrating Budd Bay's maritime history

Bob Peck and the Smitty J, a quarter-scale replica harbor tug. Photo courtesy Carol Riley

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

This weekend, for the 44th time, Washington's capital city hosts Olympia Harbor Days, a celebration of tugboats in particular and of maritime heritage in general. Classic tugs will moor at Percival Landing all weekend. On Sunday, they'll charge into Budd Bay for what festival executive director Carol Riley believes to be the biggest vintage-tug show and race anywhere.

There's a reason Carol Riley feels so partial to tugboats. "In the late 1800s," she explained, "the harbor was really thriving for clams and oysters and timber. It was a very rugged place. The tall ships would come into Budd Bay, and as they entered the bay ... the tugboats would race out to the tall ships and guide (them) into the harbor. ...  They didn't have any communication devices like we have, so the first tugboat to get to the tall ship would get the job. So every day was a tugboat race."

Once upon a time, there was an Olympia Towing Company that built tugboats, but a mere few of the vessels racing this year will be survivors from Oly's indigenous fleet. "Most of the tugs that come are retired," Riley acknowledged. "They're hobbyists' boats. ... Many of them are live-aboard." (One, the Geraldine, hails from the U.S. Atlantic coast by way of the Panama Canal.) The tugs will be joined this year by statelier cousins they were built to protect. "For the first time in seven years," said Riley, "the tall ships are coming. ...  It's the tall ship Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain. There are daytime sails, evening sails, battle sails and lots of touring aboard the ships. ...  The Virginia V has been a regular at Harbor Days, but she only comes every other year. This is her year on. She's a historic steamship from the (Puget Sound) mosquito fleet."

The festival boasts a cornucopia of food and fun, including bungee jumping and walk-on-water balls. The Puget Sound Estuarium will offer marine-themed activities from geoduck costumes to "Name That Plankton" games. "We have four new food vendors coming in," promised Riley. "One offers Cajun or New Orleans cooking, so we'll have alligator on a stick." Little Creek Casino will be serving its trademark salmon at the Port Plaza. "They'll have fry bread and all the traditional, tribal fixings," Riley promised. "We'll have a maritime-knot-tying table, with instructions on how to tie a half-hitch or a square knot."

Each year, Panowicz engraves glass trophies for race winners. Junior boat designers will also be recruited. "We have the Hands On Children's Museum coming," said Riley. "Kids will make their own cork boats (and) they may have little regattas. ...  Hopefully we'll inspire children to go into the maritime industry, which is desperately needing people."

Olympia Harbor Days, 5-8 p.m., Friday, Sept. 1; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 3, Port Plaza to Percival Landing, 222 Columbia St. NW, Olympia, free,

Read next close


The Fair is back!

comments powered by Disqus