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Norfolk Harborfest 2023 festival continues - celebrating the region's maritime heritage

Harborfest is the largest, longest-running maritime festival in the U.S., and it all starts with the Parade of Sail on the Elizabeth River.

NORFOLK, Va. — Norfolk Harborfest is the largest, longest-running maritime festival in the U.S., and the 47th annual event kicked off Friday with the Parade of Sail on the Elizabeth River.

Crowds started growing along the Downtown Norfolk Waterfront for the first day of the June 9-11 festival, which includes food tents, live music, a large fireworks display and drone light show, and tons of games and activities.

But the focus of it all is the maritime and Naval community in Hampton Roads. Tall ships from around the globe are here, and the weekend will have several Navy exhibits and demonstrations.

An up-close look at the Schooner Virginia

One of the tall ships you’ll see at Harborfest this weekend is the Schooner Virginia, a historic replica of a 20th Century boat.

It has a long history and connection to Hampton Roads.

The original Virginia, built in 1916, was used in World War I to transfer pilots between convoy ships anchored here. It wrecked about 100 years ago off the coast of Cuba.

“Very unique in the way it’s the only boat that represents that early 20th century boat style," Michael Fiorentino said, Captain of the Schooner Virginia. 

The current Virginia is used primarily for educational purposes through the Nauticus Foundation.

"To the volunteers, this is sort of their time to shine to show off their vessel."

RELATED: Our complete guide to 2023 Norfolk Harborfest

The crew told 13News Now that there's somewhere between 6 and 15 miles of rope holding the sails and masts together.

It’s also a really fast ship!

The original virginia hit a top speed of 15 knots, or about 17 miles per hour, which the crew says is fast for technology that old.

The Schooner Virginia is docked at Town Point Park, where Harborfest attendees can climb aboard and tour the ship all weekend.

Harborfest food vendors gear up for thousands of customers

The grill is hot on Waterside Drive.

“We have pulled pork, pulled chicken,” said Quindell Jenkins, the owner of Pitt County Barbeque. "We have mac and cheese. We have baked beans. We’re doing smoked wings.”

There’s also something sweet sitting at Town Pointe Park.

“We have plain maple syrup in light and dark,” said Karylyn Gendron, co-owner of Mom and Pops Vermont Maple Syrup. “Then we have 11 different infused flavors.”

Food vendors woke up early Friday anticipating a large crowd throughout the weekend. Gendron and her family’s maple syrup business is one of many shops returning to Harborfest after seeing much success last year.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “And people were just so excited to see something that was different.”

Gendron said many people last year were eager to learn about the process of making maple syrup.

“We start in January doing it and it takes about four months to make every single bottle,” Gendron said.

Unlike Gendron, this is Quindell Jenkins’ first time as a vendor for the festival. He owns Pitt County Barbeque, based in Portsmouth, and wanted to bring Eastern North Carolina barbeque to Harborfest. He started cooking for the festival Thursday afternoon and was cooking brisket in his Harborfest booth at 4 a.m. Friday.

“The smell has been going all through the harbor and people have been stopping nonstop," he said.

Both Jenkins and Gendron expect to see thousands of people stopping by this weekend.

“We’re hoping to have a good day,” Gendron said. “I mean we’ve got a big cruise ship here and everybody’s excited to see that come in and out.”

“I know the wave is coming,” Jenkins said. “So, I have to prepare for it. So, whenever it runs out, it runs out.”

Harborfest 2023 will pay homage to historic Norfolk music venue

Of course, Harborfest would not be possible without its organizers. They’re working hard to make sure this years event goes on without a hitch. And they've planned something extra special for this weekend. 

This year's Harborfest will pay homage to the historic Norfolk music venue that attracted some of the best artists, including Jay-Z, The Violent Femmes, and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Organizers said this year would have been the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Boathouse. In 2003, it was left barely standing after damage due to Hurricane Isabel, and then years later, it was bulldozed completely.

“People who are music fans definitely know the name (Boathouse),” said Harborfest organizer Jordan Lett. “With it being the 40th anniversary of the venue opening, we wanted to do something to pay tribute to its contribution to the community.” 

There will be a number of performances on the Boathouse Stage at Harborfest this weekend that are reserved for bands that performed at the original Boathouse venue.

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