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Fabulous Fall Festivals Fill Waterfront with Fun

Juggling Jack Sparrow look-alikes are among the many pirates found at the Tybee Island Pirate Fest. Photo Courtesy Tybee Island Tourism Council
Juggling Jack Sparrow look-alikes are among the many pirates found at the Tybee Island Pirate Fest. Photo Courtesy Tybee Island Tourism Council

After surviving another summer in the Southeast, you deserve some fun. Coastal dwellers know that some of the biggest fun of the year is found at annual fall festivals, and when it comes to celebrations on the waterfront, October is the most festive month of the year. Here are some of our favorite events, each dedicated in some way to the nautical lifestyle we all love and live.

Birdfest: Spanish Fort, Ala., Oct. 4-6
The Ninth Annual John L. Borom Alabama Coastal Birdfest offers expertly guided trips by boat (and foot) to prime birding locations on the Alabama Coastal Birding Trail along with expert speakers and a free Bird and Conservation Expo on the grounds of Faulkner State College. The event provides fun and education drenched in southern hospitality.

Pirate Fest: Tybee Island, Ga., Oct. 4-7
A pirate parade, thieves’ market and family activities make the Eighth Annual Pirate Fest the place for swashbucklers to be on Columbus Day weekend. The event begins with the Buccaneer Ball on Thursday featuring the coronation of the king and queen and prizes for the best pirate and wench costumes. Performers throughout the weekend include Vince Neil of Mötley Crüe, Jimmy Buffett tribute band A1A, Sophia Fairesword the Dancing Pirate and shanty band The Brigands.

Riverfest: Wilmington, N.C., Oct. 5-7
North Carolina’s biggest coastal city celebrates its waterfront with a lighted pirate boat parade, the Invasion of the Pirates, a pirate children’s treasure hunt, craft and food vendors, fireworks, two stages of entertainment, an 8K race and other sporting events, exhibits, a standup paddleboard competition and more. Begun in 1978 as a cultural street festival to draw residents back to the historic downtown, the event now draws 250,000 visitors each year with proceeds funding scholarships for marine-related studies at Cape Fear Community College.

Shrimp Festival: Beaufort, S.C., Oct. 5-6
The 18th Annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival is a celebration of local food in the Lowcountry. The S.C. Shrimper’s Association partners with Main Street Beaufort to raise awareness of the benefits of wild caught shrimp beginning with a concert and preview of food on Friday. On Saturday, restaurants compete for the coveted Silver Cup and bragging rights for best shrimp dish while festival goers take part in the shrimp heading and peeling competitions. Sea Island Rotary organizes a rubber shrimp race, live entertainment, a children’s area, craft market and a 5K run to round out this popular event in the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.

Bayfest: Mobile, Ala., Oct. 5-7

With 125 acts on nine stages attracting 200,000 guests, the 18th annual Bayfest is Alabama’s largest music festival. But it also includes a family and children’s area in Bienville Square with activities including a chance to meet Jack Sparrow and the Mad Hatter, demonstrations by the Gulf Coast Exploreum, Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s ‘Touch Lab,’ interactive environmental areas, art activities and more.

Seafair: Rockport, Texas, Oct. 5-7
The festival grounds at Rockport Harbor come alive for the 38th Annual Rockport Seafair with cardboard boat races, crab races, stand up paddleboard demos, a parade, salsa and dessert contests, educational exhibits, a seafood cooking tent, arts and crafts, live bands, a parade and more big Texas fun.

Waterways Heritage Festival: Chesapeake, Va., Oct. 13-14

Cultural heritage, fine arts and music take center stage in Great Bridge Lock Park right on the Intracoastal Waterway. A historic bateau (a flat boat used for transporting goods in colonial days) will be on display, and guilds from throughout the commonwealth will demonstrate crafts such as weaving, woodworking, basketry, pottery, quilting, gardening, metalworking, glass blowing, sheep shearing and more. Proceeds support construction of the Great Bridge Battlefield and Waterways Historic Park and Visitor Center.

Mullet Festival: Swansboro, N.C., Oct. 13-14
A parade down Highway 24, a street carnival, food, arts and craft vendors, kids activities and half a dozen live bands bring big fun to the historic downtown of the “Friendly City By the Sea.” The mullet – reviled as trash fish in some states but revered as gourmet fare in others – takes center stage with the Mullet Fry. It is also served broiled, grilled, smoked or stewed. At 55 years and counting, this is one of oldest festivals on the entire coast.

ShrimpFest: Little River, S.C., Oct. 13-14
Previously known as the Shrimp and Jazz Festival, the Little River Chamber of Commerce has dropped the “Jazz” from their eighth annual event in order to open the waterfront stage to other genres of music. There’s something for every taste this year, from pop and country to bluegrass and beach music. Away from the music stages, the main event is the Shrimp and Grits Cook-off as Lowcountry cooks vie for the coveted People’s Choice Award and other prizes. There will also be arts and crafts, a children’s area and a car show to entertain visitors.

Fantasy Fest: Key West, Fla., Oct. 19-28
The Conch Republic takes on a carnival atmosphere for the annual 10-day celebration that has grown to rival Mardi Gras. Begun in 1979 as a party to stimulate business, it now encompasses numerous costume balls, costume competitions, AIDS fundraisers, circuses, drag queen contests and raucous parties of all stripes, all culminating in a grand parade with humorous floats presided over by the Conch King and Queen. One word to describe it: flamboyant. The nautical part? You’ve never seen so many people dressed as Neptune, mermaids and other denizens of the deep.

Mullet & Music Fest: Gautier, Miss., Oct. 20-21
The 22nd Gautier Mullet and Music Fest features live entertainment, a kids’ area, arts and crafts vendors, a Classic Car and Motorcycle Show, food vendors, crowning of the festival king and queen, and the famous Mullet Toss Contest. A heritage and educational area will include exhibits on history, wildlife, ecology, fisheries and demonstrations by local craftsmen.

NC Oyster Festival: Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., Oct. 20-21 

Marking its 32nd year, this year’s Oyster Festival features the Oyster Stew Cook-Off, Oyster Shucking Contest, a road race, tennis tournament, surf contest, pageant, a kids’ area with rides and a petting zoo, arts and crafts vendors, a beer garden, and entertainment by seven bands including American Idol contestant Casey James.

Ghost Ship: Wilmington, N.C., Oct. 19-27
If you’re looking for a nautical way to get in the Halloween mood, the crew of the Battleship North Carolina will scare up a great option as they convert the decks of the historic ship to a ghostly green color. Ghosts and zombies lurk in the lower decks to terrify any souls brave enough to go below.

SMOKE ON THE WATER: Washington, N.C., Oct. 26-27

Elizabeth II, the 60-foot replica of Sir Walter Raleigh’s colonial ship, will sail to Little Washington for the annual celebration of pig meat and chili on the waterfront. The event includes music, rides, a car show, a fire truck pull and more.

Seafood Festival: Apalachicola, Fla., Nov. 4-5
Billed as Florida’s oldest maritime event, the festival draws thousands to the historic town at the mouth of the Apalachicola River for arts and crafts, musical entertainment, oyster eating and shucking contests, blue crab races, a parade, the 5K Redfish Run, the blessing of the fleet and, of course, plenty of seafood.



N.C. Seafood festival Reels in good times
By Helen Aitken

The 26th N.C. Seafood Festival along the Morehead City waterfront Oct. 5-8 features hundreds of vendors including N.C. wineries, crafts, local barbecue and giant turkey legs. There are also midway rides, free entertainment on four stages, activities for young children and, of course, piles of seafood. Cooking tips and demonstrations highlight local seafood catches.

“You can sample N.C. seafood, hour by hour and with different chefs to cook them,” says festival Executive Director Stephanie McIntyre. “The visitors get to taste the products and vote on the best dishes; we look at new angles to bring seafood recipes to the region.”

This year, local chefs will compete for the best Shrimp and Grits recipe, as voted by the visitors, then featured on the festival’s website.

“On Saturday and Sunday, every hour on the hour, visitors can participate in the Flounder Fling, a tradition with us,” McIntyre adds. “We use a few 13- pound flounders and some 9- pound ones for the kids. We use two sheet metal pans that are about 24 inches in diameter, and you try to fling the flounder into it. You get three tries and if you fling it in, you win a T-shirt that says, ‘I Flung a Flounder.’” The used flounders are donated to the N.C. Div. of Marine Fisheries for research.

Since 1987, the festival has dispersed over $1.8 million to the Carteret County non-profit groups participating. About $32 million goes back into Carteret County by way of hotels, gas sales, food and tourism during the festival. Pre-festival events include a golf tournament and a road race for student scholarships in marine biology or ocean-related subjects.

The education tent shows exhibits on turtles, fishing practices, fish farming, wetland’s importance and sea organisms from agencies like the N.C. Fisheries, NOAA and Sea Grant. It also includes a touch tank from the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.

There are optional tours of a Coast Guard Cutter with the Southern Outer Banks boat show next to the festival (See Boat Show story pg. 42). Although the crowds exceed 180,000, free parking with shuttle service from the N.C. State Port on Saturday and Sunday keep it hassle free.

On Sunday morning, the Blessing of the Fleet honoring ship builders, fishing traditions, fishermen and their sacrifices takes place at the port (See story pg. 46).
Visit www.ncseafoodfestival.org for full details of the festivities.


Seafair Floating Art Museum

Floating Art at Mumfest: Megayacht Brings Fine Art to New Bern

By Helen Aitken

SeaFair, a 228-foot megayacht, brings the inaugural New Bern Art Fest to the historic waterfront of New Bern, N.C., running Oct. 12-14 in conjunction with the  31st annual Mumfest activities and 10th annual Boat Show.

SeaFair, a floating fine arts exposition has a 6.5-foot draft, specifically designed to sail into niche river ports. Owners David and Lee Ann Lester of Florida have organized more than 70 international art fairs with SeaFair in the past two decades. With nearly six stories, the $40 million yacht has three galleries, a restaurant, several bars and an open-air bistro. The three-day art show includes informational lectures and a Meet the Artist’ series. Advanced tickets may be purchased at www.expoships.com or onsite.

Meanwhile, Mumfest is expected to attract throngs in excess of 85,000 to enjoy exhibits, music, food, amusement rides, kids’ activities, stunt bikes, jugglers, magicians, wine tasting, dance demos and performances by the Incredible Dog Team. The city-sponsored event helps fund downtown revitalization projects.


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