Oceanside – Oceanside has been celebrating its harbor each year for nearly 60 years, and it’s about to do it again.
Harbor Days, Oceanside’s largest annual community event, returns to the Oceanside Harbor on Saturday, Sept. 21, and Sunday, Sept. 22. Put on by the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, each day will be packed with activities appealing to all ages with free admission and free parking offered at the harbor as well as the Oceanside Transit Center Parking Garage, along with a free shuttle service to the event.
Harbor Days will feature a Tiki Swim, which includes a 2.4-mile course from the Oceanside Pier to the Harbor. Kristi Hawthorne, Harbor Days event coordinator, said the Tiki Swim attracts 400 to 500 participants.
Harbor Days will also feature a pirate and mermaid village for its younger attendees.
“The village is pretty impressive, pretty authentic-looking,” Hawthorne said.
Each morning starts out with a pancake breakfast beginning at 7 a.m. hosted by the Oceanside Fire Department Association, with proceeds going to benefit the association. Just before breakfast is served on Saturday, the U.S. Navy will be landing its LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushion) hovercraft on the Harbor Beach at 6:30 a.m.
Each day, the Oceanside Police Department will perform canine unit demonstrations and a “pirate rescue and search dive,” something new to Harbor Days this year. According to Hawthorne, the rescue will feature a stranded boat with a pirate stuck on it that the Harbor Police will have to rescue. They will then pull up the pirate’s “sunken treasure” with the Harbor Police’s scuba-diving team.
Other Harbor Day activities include a pirate costume contest for kids, a beer garden sponsored by Prohibition Brewing Company, a fishing derby, a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter docked for tours and several arts, crafts and food booths to check out.
Out of everything going on at Harbor days, Chamber of Commerce CEO Scott Ashton said the Nail ‘N Sail event is the crowd favorite.
“On Sunday afternoon people faithfully come out to see it,” Ashton said. “People are seated all over the rocks and standing in the aisles — wherever they can find a space.”
According to Hawthorne, the Nail ‘N Sail competition has been a Harbor days staple for more than 20 years. Each team gets a set amount of materials — wood, nails and caulking — to build a boat with oars entirely from scratch. When teams are finished with their vessels, they must then attempt to paddle the boats across the harbor and back in a race.
“Nail ‘N Sail really is the most fun because everybody’s participating and there are so many people rooting for these teams that worked hard to build their boats, everyone is holding their breath to see if the boats are even going to float and if they are going to be able to paddle them… it gets a huge crowd and is really my favorite part,” Hawthorne said.
Hawthorne noted that police and lifeguards are in the water to help the boat-builders if they begin to sink.
“There’s a lot of sinking,” Hawthorne said.
Harbor Days goes back to 1960 when the first one was held before Oceanside even had a harbor. Hawthorne, who is also a local historian, said the first Harbor Days was put on to celebrate the fact that Oceanside was getting a harbor.
Oceanside’s harbor is special because it is manmade and is the only small craft harbor between San Diego and Dana Point.
Harbor Days has changed over time, but its intent to celebrate the harbor and Oceanside in general has remained.
“It highlights one of Oceanside’s greatest assets, which is our harbor,” Ashton said.
Hawthorne noted that the event’s venue itself is unbeatable with one side featuring the beach and ocean and the other side featuring its “beautiful” harbor.
“It’s just a hometown favorite event for so many people,” Hawthorne said about Harbor Days. “It’s really rooted in our pride for our city and our pride for our harbor.”
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son