Olympia Harbor Days Celebrates 51 Years

By Lynette Charters Serembe

This is on page 10-11 of OLY ARTS Summer 2024 print edition.

Olympia Harbor Day started in 1973, showcasing the vintage tugboats of the Puget Sound at Percival Landing in Olympia. It was a casual gathering hosted by the nonprofit South Sound Maritime Heritage Association, which organizes the event to this day. The first promoted tugboat race happened one year later; it honored a tradition that originally started in the late 1800s when sailing ships needed steam powered tugboats to tow them into the docks because of lack of strong inland winds. The tugboats would race to meet the ships and the first tug to arrive got the towing job. Restaurant owner Ivar Hagland made the tradition popular by staging races in Elliott Bay in Seattle to publicize his seafood restaurants. The vintage tugboat races no longer happen in Seattle, and Olympia now hosts the largest races of its kind in Puget Sound.

Today Olympia Harbor Day is a much grander three-day event featuring the world’s largest annual vintage tugboat show and tugboat races in addition to historic tall ship and steamship cruises, sails, drone shows, music, dance performances, lighted belly dancers, fire/LED shows, music, as well as arts, crafts and food vendors.

The three-day event starts at 5 p.m. on Friday with a tribal blessing at Percival Landing,

Both the Lady Washington tall ship and the Virginia V steamer ship will be open for viewing in between sailings at the Port Plaza dock. Harbor tours and sailings are on offer for both, and the schooner Pterodactyl will be available for charters.


Walk aboard vintage tugboat show is on Saturday, Aug 3t, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. along the docks. Sadly, the Sand Man tugboat is no longer docked at Percival Landing. She was built in Tacoma in 1910, she competed for many years winning in 2019, but she recently sustained damage and needs extensive repair. If you’d like to help their efforts, please contact them at  http://www.tugsandman.org

The tugboat races are scheduled for Sunday, Sept. 1, noon to 3 p.m. Please note, the tugboat races can only be viewed from a private boat or on the Virginia V.

Throughout the weekend live music and dance performances will be found at Port Plaza, and Percival Landing stages.

Performances scheduled are Amira’s Belly Dancing, Curlews Call, Mikana Marimba, Tone Roller, Selassie ites, Garage Majal, Country Dave, Cosmos Dream, Olympia Highlanders, Two Town Sound and Tuners Barbershop, Knot for Sail, Stix and Bones, Cool Breeze, Humor and Heart, Veulta La Luna Fire/LED Spinning, Rainier Riff, Cool Breeze/Beluga Zumba, Coast Salish Tribal Performances, Choro Tomorrow, Selha Korha, FisherPoets, Danni Rose, Samba Olywa. Check Olympia Harbor Days website for details.

For more family fun, old favorites are back including:

Sand sculpting, (near the corner of Columbia St. and Olympia Ave.) is a large, sculpted sand display, the sculpting can be observed all weekend and will be completed for viewing on Sunday, Sept. 1. Also Sunday at 11 a.m. at the north side of Budd Bay Café, there will be a quick-carve contest. Two contestants at a time will be given 15 minutes to compete. The audience will judge who wins.

All weekend, harbor building is available provided by TrainBuilder. There will be tables set out for both little kids and big kids to build boats from Lego bricks. The boats are floated in pools to test for buoyancy. The Lego boats cannot be taken home but they are added to a harbor display. At night, boats are taken apart so the boat building can begin again the next day.

Puget Sound Estuarium will be hosting marine biology activities, with a touch tank of bay marine animals. See their website for hours and details. pugetsoundestuarium.org

The Hands On Children’s Museum will all be returning with it’s Make, Race, and Take boat building from recycle materials activity both Saturday and Sunday, and is free to the public. All recycled materials will be provided by Hands On Children’s Museum.

Check their website for details. www.hocm.org

Illuminated entertainment will include lighted belly dancers performed by Amira’s Belly Dancing, which can be seen at Percival Landing Park, and Vuelta La Luna fire and LED Light Spinners will be performing at the Port Plaza. These events both run for about an hour and start at 8.30 p.m., so you will need to choose which to attend or split your time between the two.

Skylites will be presenting a maritime drone show involving 150 drones. The main show will be on Friday evening, but there will also be a practice show on Thursday, both shows begin at 9.30 p.m. The drone show can be viewed all along the boardwalk, but it can also be seen from any reasonable distance.

The market vendors will stay open through Friday evening at 9;30 p.m. when the drone show begins.

Olympia Harbor Days advises that you check their website for updates and details of events as new information arrives. The free family outdoor event will take place rain or shine so dress accordingly.

Olympia Harbor Day Festival

Friday Aug. 30, 5-9:30 pm, Saturday Aug. 31, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday Sept 1, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., drone show Friday Aug 30, 9:30 p.m. (practice drone show Thursday Aug 29, 9:30 p.m.)

Budd Bay, Percival Landing, and various surrounding downtown locations

Free except for certain commercial services


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