"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing --absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats."
--Mr. Mole, in Kenneth Graeme's "The Wind in the Willows"
If Graeme's water-going storybook character is the kind to heed advice, he's navigating his way to Orange County this weekend for two major celebrations of things nautical.
On Friday, the sixth annual Newport SeaFest kicks off 10 days of fun with the Wooden Boat Festival, which features three days of contests, games and parties (including several designed especially for kids). That festival is just one of 15 public events under the SeaFest umbrella, which also includes an outrigger canoe race to and from Catalina, a sandcastle contest, a pier swim and the Taste of Newport, a weekend-long blowout of food and music at Fashion Island.
The events take place throughout the Newport Harbor area; several are free, although some of the tonier dos will command a hefty price.
Over in Dana Point, the two-day Tallships Festival keeps a weather eye on nautical history, offering interactive events, displays and performances that pay tribute to 1800s sailors.
Hosted by the Orange County Marine Institute and sponsored by the city of Dana Point, the festivities begin Saturday with a parade of nine tall ships and schooners (including OCMI's resident brig, the Pilgrim) and continue through Sunday evening with shipboard performances, races, tours and, new to this year's event, a pirate encampment featuring the Port Royal Privateers, a Riverside-based living history group. Event prices range from free to around $20.
Here's a rundown of both festivals. (See accompanying schedules for times, locations, costs and additional events.)
Coordinated by the Newport Harbor Chamber of Commerce, SeaFest is touted as a "showcase for the Newport Beach lifestyle."
The SeaFest roster does conjure up images straight from a chamber brochure: sandcastles glinting in the sun, tanned hard bodies in a rousing game of volleyball, kites dancing in an azure sky. (If you need a reality check, try to find a parking place on the peninsula.)
This weekend's Wooden Boat Festival offers some of the best hands-on fun for kids and adults. Held in and around the Balboa Fun Zone, it features the "Nail and Sail Boat Building contest," in which two-adult teams must build a boat and paddles of their own design in the shortest time possible, using materials--basically a couple sheets of plywood, some 2-by-2s, nails and caulking--supplied by the organizers. Later, the contestants race their homemade crafts around a course, hopefully finishing before they spring a leak.
Other activities there include a boat parade and dinner-dance on Friday and children's boat-building classes, pier-fishing tournaments, costume and knot-tying contests Saturday and Sunday. Most activities are free or cost under $5; the priciest event is the dinner-dance, at $55 per couple.
Serious paddling also takes place at the Newport Dunes Resort, where about 50 men's and women's outrigger teams will race to and from Newport and Catalina Island in the U.S. Outrigger Championship. The women take off from the Dunes bound for Catalina on Saturday morning; the men depart Sunday from Catalina, arriving at the Dunes midday. Spectators can catch the race at the Dunes, or from the Balboa, Newport or Huntington Beach piers. For $8, visitors can also party with the athletes in a post-race luau at the Dunes.
Other SeaFest sporting events include a collegiate water polo tournament Saturday and Sunday (with teams from UCI, USC, UCLA and elsewhere) at Corona del Mar High School and the Theodore Robbins/KEZY volleyball tournament Sunday at Corona del Mar State Beach.
Rumor has it that the fine-grain sand on Corona del Mar beach is the best around for sandcastle building, and on Sunday visitors can judge for themselves at the annual sandcastle contest, featuring the work of about 25 professional and novice teams.
Highlights in SeaFest's second week include the Antique SeaFair, which offers symposiums, auctions and an antique marketplace, Sept. 15 through 18 in Lido Marine Village. The Taste of Newport runs Sept. 16 through 18 at Fashion Island and offers food by 35 local restaurants and continuous entertainment headlined by Juice Newton, Jack Mack and the Heart Attack and Three Dog Night.
Closing weekend, SeaFest continues with a swimming race around the Newport pier and a kite festival in adjacent Balboa Peninsula Park on Sept. 17, and the SeaFest Family Fun Run/Walk Sept. 18 at the Dunes.
Gentlemen, is your sweetheart loath to make that long trip down the gangplank, er, aisle? Besides lootin', carousin' and general mayhem-makin', the Port Royal Privateers, the newest participant in the Tallships Festival, boast tremendous matchmaking skills as well.