Saturday’s Maritime Festival won’t only mark the beginning of the summer in Juneau, but it will also mark the opening of a new attraction in Juneau.
The eighth annual festival will take place at the new Alaska Steamship dock — located next to the downtown public library, complete with the new cruise dock. This is a slight shift from the usual site at the adjacent Marine Park brickyard, but the annual event put on by the Juneau Economic Development Council will again maintain the same focus of honoring the region’s maritime tradition.
As JEDC Communications Specialist and Maritime Festival organizer Dana Herndon overlooked the new, large cruise ship dock Tuesday, she pointed out where the sailboat regatta will be, where Tracy’s Crab Shack will be dishing out its signature bisque, where nonprofits will set up their booths and more.
“This is where it’s all going down,” Herndon said. “This is going to be the first time the community will really go and check it out.”
The cruise dock is being officially unveiled to the public in a ceremony Friday, but the Maritime Festival will be the first major event there. The usual events will take place, preceded by the Blessing of the Fleet at 10 a.m., with the festival itself running from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is free, though donations are accepted.
One People Canoes will collaborate the opening ceremony with Yees Koo Oo Dancing at 11 a.m. From then on, a wide range of activities, tours, contests and music will be featured. The Coast Guard will conduct a search and rescue demonstration at noon. Local fish processors will show off their skills with a fish filleting contest at 1 p.m. Locals will attempt to complete a relay race using a slick salmon instead of a baton at 3 p.m.
One of the highlights every year is the tug-of-war competition, which will have a new twist this year. Local organizations field teams of seven or eight members, facing off on the wharf. Port Director Carl Uchytil and his Docks &Harbors team is looking to redeem itself after having its long winning streak snapped by the Juneau Police Department last year.
“It’s good, clean fun for the Maritime Festival to have something that’s nautical in that you’re pulling on a rope, a line,” Uchytil said, “so it’s all in good fun.”
It will become a little more nautical this year, however. The finals of the competition will take the fight from the land to the water, as the two final teams will board canoes and see which team can triumph. Uchytil is intrigued to see how the new venture turns out.
The larger intent behind the festival is not to figure out who can tug a rope the hardest or who can fillet a fish the fastest, JEDC Executive Director Brian Holst said.
“Our community could benefit from a reminder about how important all things maritime are,” Holst said. “Even though we have an incredible number of people that make their livelihood from fishing, seafood and working at processors, many of us don’t think of ourselves as a fishing town, and really we are.”
According to the NOAA Office of Science and Technology, Juneau’s port ranked in the top 50 nationally in both volume and value of commercial seafood in 2015. More than 300 vessels used for commercial fishing are registered to Juneau owners, according to JEDC, and the U.S. Coast Guard is the largest federal employer in Juneau.
The cruise industry also fits under the maritime umbrella, and a record 1,055,000 cruise passengers are expected in Juneau this summer who project to spend more than $1 million per day in town.
Sponsors such as Alaska Airlines and Alaska Glacier Seafoods help put the festival on, but another fundraiser for the event comes the night beforehand. The fourth annual Port to Starboard Progressive Dinner begins at 5:30 p.m., taking attendees between three downtown restaurants for seafood and drinks. Tickets are $95, and more than 100 had already been sold as of Tuesday. Proceeds go to the festival and to the local maritime economy.
Rain or shine, Herndon knows that the Maritime Festival always brings out a big crowd of Juneauites. If there is bad weather, the festival will move to its previous location at the Marine Park Brickyard. The music, the contests and the tug-of-war rematches hope to prove how important the maritime industry is for Juneau.
“We always try to go above and beyond and deliver this awesome community event and celebrate this industry that is a huge economic driver for us,” Herndon said. “It’s one of the biggest industries that we have here locally. At the minimum, we just want to highlight that.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2271