Smooth sailing on the waterfront

UP FRONT

Festival: A four-day festival celebrates the city's commercial and recreational links to the Bay.

April 26, 2001|By Gina Kazimir | Gina Kazimir,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IN MANY WAYS, Baltimore was built by the Chesapeake Bay. The water allowed the city to grow in the 19th century, and the harbor became Baltimore's defining feature in the 20th century.

In our everyday life, though, it's easy to forget that the bay and the ports along it helped create this city. But just in time to remind us, the Baltimore Waterfront Festival returns to the Inner Harbor today -- putting the bay and all its watery wonders front and center through the weekend.

"The Baltimore Waterfront Festival was born in 1998 when the Whitbread 'Round the World Race came to the city," says Bill Gilmore, executive director of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and Tourism, the agency that created and runs the festival.

"Our office was asked to produce the land component of the race, which had usually been a sort of `backstage' support for the teams in other cities. We wanted a broader appeal and decided to create a true waterfront festival, one that addressed everything to do with living and working on the bay. The result was great, and the city was hailed as the best stopover of all the Whitbread ports."

The famed around-the-world contest, now called the Volvo Ocean Race, returns to Baltimore next year. In addition to highlighting life on the bay, the fourth annual Waterfront Festival will celebrate the coming race and much more, with free events for the whole family to enjoy throughout all four days.

The opening ceremony begins today at noon at the Harborplace Amphitheatre. With ESPN's sailing commentator, Gary Jobson, as host, the event will give visitors a preview of the rest of the festival. Included will be a performance by Volvo Cannondale stunt cyclist Lance Trappe, an oyster-shucking demonstration presented by McCormick & Schmick's Restaurant, musical entertainment by Grupo Latino and more.

One of the highlights of today's calendar is the unveiling of Baltimore's first Fish Out of Water -- part of a public sculpture project. The Rouse Co. has sponsored this first fish, and there are plans for the giant sculptures to surface throughout the city come summer.

The rest of the weekend features a packed schedule of events. Outdoor sports enthusiasts will want to check out the Outdoor Adventure Area on Rash Field. The area has been expanded this year to include the first Baltimore Waterfront Festival Beach Volleyball Tournament. Players of all skill levels can play this evening and Friday and Saturday evenings, and there are clinics and tournaments on Sunday.

If volleyball isn't your thing, you might want to try your hands at the climbing walls or the ropes course, presented by Inner Quest and Outward Bound. Or plan to visit the Angling Area, Mountain Bike Display and the Kayak Experience to see exhibits and demonstrations.

"The Adventure Area is really fun," says Gilmore. "People can challenge themselves on the ropes course or wall, and even kids can have fun. There's an area that offers children a chance to sail a boat all by themselves; they're specially designed boats for children under 100 pounds. [They] can't tip over. The kids can get in and safely sail on their own."

The boats aren't the only thing for children at the festival. The SS Family Fun Zone features hands-on activities and entertainment for the younger crowd. On Saturday and Sunday, families can come and play and learn about the Chesapeake Bay at the Fun Zone. Young people can learn how boats float at the Living Classroom Foundation's Buoyancy and Boats activity. The National Aquarium in Baltimore's Marine Animal Rescue Program will offer information on how human-related activities can affect marine animals.

Young artists might want to make their own Japanese-style Gyotaku fish prints at Port Discovery's Scale It Down Area. Budding builders can build a boat of their own and watch it float as they race it across the pond in the Seaworthy Small Ships Area. And a water-safety presentation will teach skills useful to boaters of all ages.

In addition, there will be continuing entertainment in the SS Family Fun Zone, including clown theatrics and music.

Entertainment for the older crowd is part of the festival, too. The Bay Cabaret features musical performances by local and regional favorites. Things get started this evening with Angela Taylor and Betty in Black. Throughout the four days, performers such as Mambo Combo, Gumbo Junkyard, the Mike Stephens Project, the Players, Naked Blue and Porkgrind will offer music ranging from ska and zydeco to acoustic pop.

Still more music can be found in the International Ports of Call Pavilion. Honoring the many countries sponsoring and acting as hosts to teams for next year's Volvo Ocean Race, the pavilion features exhibits, demonstrations, native cuisine and entertainment. Music includes Latin, rock, international and jazz performances by Grupo Latino, Jump Street Jazz, Soulfarm, Marimel, Salt Brothers, Mahala, High Tide Steel Drum Band and more.

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