The annual Belfast Harbor Fest and Classic Boat Show weekend scheduled for Aug. 14-16 has been canceled because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The festival, now in its 13th year, is held the third weekend in August on the waterfront and usually draws a large crowd. The event honors Belfast’s rich nautical history while celebrating the city as one of Midcoast Maine’s culinary communities.

In a conversation with The Republican Journal May 15, Belfast Rotary President Duke Marston said organizers were concerned about the governor's mandate of social distancing and how it would play out with the festival, which drew over 2,000 people last year.

“The biggest issue is the distancing,” he said.

Several other events, Marston noted, including the Celtic Festival and the Common Ground Fair, have also been canceled. “The Maine Bicentennial Committee had given us a small grant, but they canceled before we did.”

The Come Boating Regatta, planned for Saturday, Aug. 15, which is open to all paddled boats and coincides with the festival, has also been canceled.

“We were getting hit from several different sides,” Marston said. “I couldn’t make it work.”

While he “definitely felt sorry” about the decision not to have the festival, he said most people in Waldo County are concerned about a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Day two of the festival typically draws a large crowd for the National Boatbuilding Championship and Northeast Regional Boatbuilding Challenge. Two-person teams build wooden skiffs and vie for cash prizes and bragging rights for fastest-built, best-built, and rowing race winners. Contestants are asked to build a boat in four hours, launch it and compete in a relay race

An interactive virtual boatbuilding event featuring Cody Keithan of K Construction is currently being planned, Marston said. Participants will challenge themselves to match or beat Keithan’s time building a boat. More information will be made available as details are firmed up.

The festival ends on day three with a just-for-fun cardboard boat race with prizes for “fastest  boat,” “popular favorite,” and “best sinking” entries, and is capped by a  Habitat for Humanity benefit lobster bake.

“When the governor’s plan came out,” Marston said, “I was trying to think of alternatives that fit the guidelines and still have it be a meaningful event.”

Harbor Fest raises funds for local food pantries, charitable organizations, college scholarships, emergency aid, and holiday gifts for nearly 140 local children, with support from 50  sponsors, vendors and boatbuilding teams, plus more than 60 Rotary and community volunteers.

The Belfast Rotary recently raised $40,000 for local food pantries and the soup kitchen, as well as donating to the Game Loft, Keep the Faith program in Belfast and Waldo Community Action Partners. This year, he said, it also has a new $82,000 scholarship fund, and hopes to recognize selected seniors in a Zoom event.

Next year’s event will take place Aug. 13-15 and Marston said it will be “bigger and better in 2021.”

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