LISA CAPITELLI ¦ Assistant Editor
(Oct. 5, 2012) Learn about Worcester County’s maritime heritage and traditions on Saturday, during the fifth annual Harbor Day at the Docks celebration at the Commercial Fishing Harbor in West Ocean City.
The Sunset Avenue harbor will be transformed to create the feeling of a fishing village, with hand-painted signs on old pieces of wood, crab pots, ropes, nets, nautical displays and activities for the whole family, according to Melanie Pursel, executive director of the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and co-organizer of the event.
“It is an authentic maritime heritage festival that celebrates the commercial and sportfishing industries. It is an opportunity for locals and visitors to interact with real fishermen and talk with them about their trade, actually see the vessels up close and how our community was built on this industry,” Pursel said. “Someone new to the event will find a unique experience to interact with the fishermen, see fine maritime-related artwork and crafts and embrace the history of our region. They may also get to enjoy fresh seafood, music and free kids’ activities.”
The festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and include an assortment of activities designed to educate visitors about the commercial and recreational fishing industries, marine aquaculture, safety at sea and local seafood processing. All activities are free.
Susan Jones, executive director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association, is also one of the event organizers. She said an estimated 5,000 people participated in Harbor Day festivities last year.
“Attendance has grown each year. It continues to be popular as more people learn about it,” Jones said. “There’s something for all ages.”
Added Pursel, “After five years, people are now looking forward to the event each fall and say that it is different from any other festival that they have attended. We have tried to keep it authentic while still entertaining and fun.”
Scheduled activities on Saturday include “dock to plate” seafood cooking demonstrations by Adam Sanders of Jules Restaurant, John Martin of Martin Fish Company and Shark on the Harbor executive chef and owner, Travis Wright. Each will use fresh, local ingredients. Also on the lineup are Crabology 101, which offers a close look at the crustacean and the art of crab picking, presented by Donald Manning of Phillips Foods Inc; fish cleaning and oyster shucking demonstrations; lobster banning; net mending; maritime storytelling; and crafts for children.
Hooper’s Crab House, located in West Ocean City, will take its 24-foot truck to the festival, where crabs, clams, shrimp and mussels will be steamed on-site for the first time.
At 1 p.m., Hooper’s will host a crabpicking contest. General manager Ryan Intrieri said he contacted some picking houses in the area and they may send some representatives to participate in the competition.
Contestants will have three-and-a-half minutes to pick crabmeat. The person who generates the most meat will receive $200. Second-place prize is $125 and the third-place finisher will take home $75. Fourth- and fifth-place pickers will earn $25 each. The meat will be auctioned off after the contest.
The competition is open to professional and amateur pickers. To register, call Hooper’s at 410-213-1771 or sign up on Saturday. There is no cost to participate.
“We’re looking forward to participating and hopefully it’s a great success,” Intrieri said.
Also new this year is the Fishmobile, a converted bookmobile, with live specimens from local waters. This traveling marine science exhibit allows children to touch and hold living animals and learn how an oyster reef is created.
Music will be provided by Bryan Russo, DJ Jeremy and The Jolly Roving Tars, who play authentic maritime music.
Visitors can tour a working United States Coast Guard vessel, and get up close and personal with boats docked at the harbor by taking a kayak tour provided by Ayers Creek Adventures. Standup paddleboarding will also be available.
Vendors will be on hand selling nautical themed merchandise and Art League of Ocean City members will be painting in plein air-style throughout the harbor. Food will also be for sale.
“We have close to 40 vendors this year. It’s the most we’ve ever had,” Jones said.
The day will end at 5 p.m. with a blessing of the fleet, during which Pastor Sean Davis will offer blessings for the fishermen and their families.
“[Harbor Day] was started because there was nothing else like it in the area. Many people did not realize that we have an actual working harbor and these fisherman have spent their lives on the ocean bringing us amazing seafood over the years,” Pursel said. “We also wanted to embrace and honor the heritage of Ocean City with interpretive signage that is now prominent along the harbor, specifically, one design explains how the inlet was formed, thus creating the harbor and the industry for us as we see it today. In addition, sportfishing has become wildly popular and draws visitors from all over.”
Parking is limited along Sunset Avenue, so visitors are encouraged to park at the West Ocean City Park and Ride lot on Route 50 and take a free shuttle bus offered by the Francis Scott Key Family Resort.
Harbor Day is a partnership of the HMRA, the Greater Ocean City Chamber of Commerce and Worcester County Tourism. For more information about Harbor Day and a schedule of events, visit www.ocharborday.com.