Smooth sailing at harbor festival

April 30, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

The Volvo Ocean Race fleet was competing in the Chesapeake Bay yesterday, but even on land Valerie Callahan could relate to the sailors.

The Anne Arundel County woman took a turn in a Volvo boat simulator at the Inner Harbor during yesterday's Waterfront Festival, emerging from the van-sized moving theater slightly soggy.

"It was fun, yes," said Callahan, who hails from Shady Side, as she took off a yellow poncho provided to riders by ABN AMRO, a Netherlands-based international bank sponsoring two racing teams, which brought in the simulator.

But would she be interested in taking a ride on a real racing boat after spending four minutes being jostled in the next-best thing? "No," she said, laughing.

Callahan and friend Cheryl Mack from Severna Park were among thousands of tourists and area residents who came to the Inner Harbor for the festival, which continues today.

Some, such as Callahan and Mack, came to catch a glimpse of the Volvo boats. Others wanted to crane their heads to see the tall ships. Some came to welcome home the Pride of Baltimore II.

But the three-day festival also attracted families with toddlers twirling in the grass fields, couples on dates sipping rum drinks through pink flamingo straws, two women with dogs sipping water from a martini glass, and competitive eaters gorging themselves on crab cakes.

Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas won the Phillips Seafood crab-eating contest. A world champion, the 98-pound Alexandria, Va., woman broke her own record yesterday by eating 46 crab cakes in 10 minutes.

Normally when she dines out, Thomas said, "I order just one."

Although 1993 Johns Hopkins University graduate Jason "Crazy Legs" Conti didn't win the contest -- he ate a mere 20 crab cakes in 10 minutes -- he says he ate them the right way, with National Bohemian beer.

"I can't have a Baltimore crab cake without Old Bay and Natty Boh," Conti said. "It wouldn't be right. ... They go together."

Shannon Cuffley watched the contest in awe of the Black Widow, who stuffs food into her cheeks while bopping a little dance that seems to make it all go down that much faster. "I've seen her on television. But she's much more impressive in person," said Cuffley of Pasadena.

But her husband, Cuff Cuffley, just shook his head. "I think it's a waste of good crab cakes," he said. "They're to be enjoyed."

Crew member Henry Coppola said he was looking forward to one of Maryland's favorite treats after stepping off the Pride of Baltimore II, which arrived yesterday morning from France, where the clipper ship had undergone major repairs.

Though it might sound scripted, Coppola, a Takoma Park native, said, "I really do want a crab cake and a beer. We'd actually talk about it in the middle of the night."

The Pride arrived to a homecoming that included performances by high school bands at the Inner Harbor. As the crew members made their way up the bay early yesterday, Coppola said, sailors welcomed them back via radio. "And tugboats would swing by," he said. "This is definitely a homecoming."

This year's festival was expected to draw about 300,000 people over four days, said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

The last time the waterfront festival coincided with the Volvo race was in 2002, but it rained that year and fewer people came out than in 1998, Baskerville said.

But if you were walking along the waterfront yesterday afternoon -- or trying to find parking near the Inner Harbor -- it might have felt like all 300,000 people were there at that moment, making their way between dance and band performances, Inner Harbor eateries and festival tent displays.

In one tent, local chefs -- including John Shields of Gertrude's and author of Coastal Cooking, and Paul Bartlett of Phillips Seafood -- gave cooking demonstrations. "They're always popular," Baskerville said. "At the end, they give out samples."

Roberta Logan-Jones, a retired nurse, came into the Inner Harbor with about 40 other tourists from Westchester County, N.Y. The group first toured the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, which Logan-Jones described as "very exciting, very depressing and very real." Then, they had lunch at the Inner Harbor and had enough time to look at the tall shops in port and enjoy the nice weather for a few minutes.

"You see so many people from so many walks of life," Logan-Jones said. "And the harbor is simply beautiful."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Today's festival highlights include jazz music from noon to 4 p.m., and the "Ultimate Crab Soup Cook Off" at 3 p.m. Information: promotionandarts.com or oceanracechesapeake.org.

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