The Joseph Labrozzi, Jr. men’s whaleboat team capsizes while racing to the finish line against the John K. Ott team during HarborFest 2013. Photo by Michael Heller.
By Stephen J. Kotz and Mara Certic
With the passage of Labor Day and the hectic summer season receding on the horizon, Sag Harbor residents can turn their attention to HarborFest, the annual celebration of its maritime heritage, which embarks on its second half century next week.
HarborFest kicks off this year with the “Whale of a Party” at the Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum at 6 p.m. on Friday, September 12, and comes to a rousing conclusion on the afternoon of Sunday, September 14, with the whaleboat race finals at 3 p.m., followed by a clam shucking contest and lobster roll eating contest.
“HarborFest is the premiere event for the chamber and it’s been around the longest,” said Kelly Dodds, the president of the Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the annual event. “It started out as the Whalers Festival, and at the heart of it, it celebrates Sag Harbor’s maritime heritage. Where else are you going to see whaleboat races?”
Coming as it does in mid-September, Ms. Dodds said HarborFest, besides being a draw for day trippers and weekenders, allows locals a chance to breathe a sigh of relief and after their typically busy summers and rediscover their village.
“The weather is great and local people aren’t working three jobs so they can come out enjoy what’s happening,” she said. “When you walk into HarvestFest, as you’re walking up the wharf, you hear the sounds of the whaleboat races, see the food and vendors. It’s a completely unique experience to Sag Harbor. There’s usually a nice breeze and a lot of smiles.”
Although most events are tried and true, there will be something new this year, the “Beach Blast” party and concert, which gets underway at 6:30 p.m. at Havens Beach. The event is being organized by Joe Lauro, the bassist with the group The Hoodoo Loungers, who has thrown a similar party on Shelter Island for many years. His band, which plays New Orleans style rhythm and blues and The Lone Sharks and The Forgiven, two groups that focus on roots rock and rockabilly, will perform. There is a suggested donation of $5 to help defray the cost of the event, which is being underwritten by the chamber and Mr. Lauro’s company, Historic Films.
Another new addition this year is a trolley service that will shuttle festival attendees from Havens Beach to Long Wharf and make a circuitous return trip, stopping at several historic village sites along the way, allowing passengers to take informal self-guided tours.
“It allows people to park their car for the day and get out and see the village,” Ms. Dodds said.
After Friday night’s party, the festival really kicks off on the morning of Saturday, September 13.
The Sag Harbor Farmers Market will be back at Bay Street on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. offering some of the best local produce and seafood the East End has to offer. Just down the road, on Long Wharf, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Montauk station will offer tours of its cutter for those interested to learn the ins and outs of their rescue missions and day-to-day operations. Service men and women will give tours from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday.
For those fascinated more by recreational vessels, classic boats, from schooners to sailboats, will be on display along Long Wharf on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., courtesy of the East End Classic Boat Society.
But sometimes touring a docked boat just isn’t enough for some. Captain Don Heckman invites seafarers to board his tour boat American Beauty for a historic tour of local waters. The boat will leave Long Wharf at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, and embark on a picturesque rides, during which Capt. Heckman will discuss how Sag Harbor has evolved from the 17th century through today.
Budding historians should also make note of historical walking tours by “Sag Harbor Sidewalks” on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday at 10:30 a.m., a tour focusing on the Sag Harbor’s maritime history will meet at the windmill on Long Wharf. The following day, at the same time, a walking tour focusing on the women in Sag Harbor’s history will also meet on Long Wharf. Visitors will see homes of fascinating women including Betty Friedan, Sag Harbor’s benefactress Mrs. Russell Sage, as well as some of our lesser-known heroines.
There will be many opportunities over HarborFest weekend to witness fierce competitions, which begin on Saturday morning at 11 a.m. as kids go head-to-head in a corn shucking competition. Following that, the first round of eliminations in the highly anticipated Whalers Cup races will kick off at noon at Long Wharf and Windmill Beach. Teams of four—two rowers, a tiller-man and a harpoonist—race on a triangular course along the Long Wharf. The finals will be held on Sunday at 3 p.m.
Gastronomists will make note that the annual Clam Chowder Contest will be held on Sunday. Make sure to turn up on Long Wharf at noon to find out exactly who is this year’s crème de la clam.
Music, games, activities and more will take place throughout the HarborFest weekend. For a full schedule of events check out the Sag Harbor Express’s “Festival” magazine, which comes out on Thursday, September 11.