Your ship has come in

This weekend, the Inner Harbor will be full of show boats, local bands and nonstop food and activities

Waterfront festival


Devote a whole day to this weekend's Waterfront Festival and you'll still miss something.

The free four-day Inner Harbor extravaganza sails into the city for the first time since 2003, loaded with live music, food contests and yacht tours. And though there's no way for you to see everything, you can still catch most of the highlights if you plan your trip around them. Here's a guide to the events you might not want to miss.

The majority of the festival's activities run from noon today through Sunday. Since parking spaces are scarce downtown, you'll have to grab a garage spot and hoof it over to the main festival grounds on the Inner Harbor's West Shore (Light Street). Expect the biggest crowds all day Saturday and at lunchtime and dinnertime today and tomorrow.

When you draw up your game plan, create two categories -- pre-scheduled events and all-day-long activities you want to see. The festival has plenty of both. We'll start with the main fixed activities for each day.

From noon to 2 p.m. today, professionals will compete in the Oyster Shuck and Slurp Off in the Chesapeake Kitchen tent. Afterward, there's a three-hour lapse in the kitchen, which gives you time to roam around the festival. Come back at 5 p.m., when local chefs will give hourlong cooking demonstrations with free samplings at the end.

If you go tomorrow, catch the Celebrity Crab-Picking Contest noon-2 p.m. in the Chesapeake Kitchen. Chef presentations begin at 3 p.m., and Mayor Martin O'Malley and other dignitaries will issue the official welcome to the Volvo Ocean Race sailors at 5 p.m. between the two pavilions.

Saturday starts with a face-stuffing: 17 professional competitive eaters -- four from Maryland -- swallow as many crab cakes as they can at noon in the Bay Cabaret tent. Keep an eye on the Black Widow, aka Sonya Thomas, who weighs about 100 pounds. In the Chesapeake Kitchen, various chefs cook from 1 p.m. to about 8 p.m.

More than 20 local and regional bands play pretty much continuously in the Bay Cafe/Main Stage area each day. For a complete list of acts, see the accompanying festival breakdown. Sunday's live music has a string of jazz musicians in a program called Smooth Jazz on the Waterfront from noon to about 4 p.m. At 3 p.m. Sunday, the Chesapeake Kitchen hosts the Ultimate Crab Soup Cook-off, with recipes submitted from all around the state. Four judges decide the winner, who gets $500.

These next activities run all day, so you can participate at your leisure.

The heart of the festival is the Volvo Ocean Race, whose participating yachts will be open for free tours today through early May 4. It's a chance to see the boats up close and talk with the crews about their trip. Saturday, they leave their docks for a race on the Bay and return at 6 p.m. Pavilions will be set up at Rash Field, where you can learn more about the racing teams. The sailboats leave for the Annapolis Maryland Maritime Heritage Festival at 11 a.m. May 4.

From 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today through May 4, Harbor Point at South Caroline and Thames streets will have free Blokart racing. The small land vehicles have sails to catch the breeze and roll down a course. Even the most inexperienced sailor can pilot these land yachts, but if you hit any snags, the University of Maryland Baltimore County sailing team will be there to help.

You can head to the Downtown Sailing Center on Key Highway to learn sailing essentials and pilot a miniboat around the basin by the Maryland Science Center. Saturday is the official Learn to Sail day, when DSC members will give more advanced instructions.

Organizations like the Great Blacks In Wax Museum will also have exhibits set up at the festival.

Most of the events are firsts this year, said Tracy Baskerville of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. "It's nice to really do something different every time the sailors come to town," Baskerville said. "They really enjoy Baltimore, and that's why they keep coming back to the Inner Harbor."

The Waterfront Festival runs today through Sunday at the Inner Harbor's West Shore. For more information, call 410-752-8632 or visit

On the waterfront


Baltimore Waterfront Festival


Today-Saturday, noon-9 p.m. and Sunday noon-7 p.m.


Inner Harbor's West Shore




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