The Scoop

The Sag HarborFest Celebrates 50 Years in September

The Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce has announced dates for the 50th Anniversary of The Sag HarborFest to be held Friday, September 6th through Sunday, September 8th. HarborFest began as the Old Whalers’ Festival in 1963 and has grown over 50 years into a three-day festival complete with music, food tastings, contests, historic tours and, of course, the famous whaleboat races, which will take place throughout the weekend off Windmill Beach in Sag Harbor.

Started in 1963 as a way of attracting visitors to Sag Harbor early in the season, the Old Whalers’ Festival celebrated the community’s historic past and helped put money in merchants’ coffers when they needed it most—late June, after a long winter and spring and before July brought the tourists and the money.

And while the festival was conceived to be a money-maker for a village reeling from the collapse of the industrial part of its history, the Old Whalers’ Festival — with John Steinbeck as its honorary chairman, and the International Whaleboat Competition attracting teams from around the globe — brought coverage from the New York Daily News, ABC television’s Wide World of Sports and media from across the country and set Sag Harbor on a course that made it a destination for vacationers and boaters moving up and down the East Coast.

This year, the successor to the Old Whalers’ Festival—The Sag HarborFest—honors the 50-year anniversary of festivals celebrating the village’s maritime history. The festival, revived in 1990 to celebrate the publication of Dorothy Zaykowski’s history of the village—“Sag Harbor: An American Beauty”—has, for the better part of two decades, tried to honor the traditions established by the original Old Whalers Festival. Each year it has added events and competitions, tours and attractions to keep visitors engaged and entertained. And each year organizers contemplate what the fest might bring, echoing Steinbeck’s observation in his “Welcome” to the second annual Old Whalers’ Festival: “No one can foresee what will happen here but the prospects are dreadful and beautiful to contemplate. But after all, the Old Whalers whom we celebrate lived dangerously, and we cannot let them down.”

The weekend will kick-off with a benefit party at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum ( on Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. The “HarborFest Fiesta” will feature Montaco Truck tacos, Montauk Brewing Company beer, Channing Daughters wine, ice cream from Sylvester & Co. and music by DJ Mister Lama.

The Wharf will be filled both Saturday and Sunday with vendors participating in the Taste of Sag Harbor as well as a thrill ride of  children’s activities. The famous Chowder Contest will take place on Sunday and the 2013 Whaleboat Champion will be crowed after two days of intense races.

Harborfest,  Leo Butler, Pierre DuPlessis
Leo Butler and Pierre DuPlessis at Harborfest, Photo: Barry Gordin
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