Harborfest brings international crowd to Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – It’s the talk of the weekend: the 41st annual Harborfest is underway in downtown Norfolk. The three-day festival brings sailing crews from around the world to enjoy the Hampton Roads area.

“It’s our first night and we have a very great time. In Chile we don’t have festivals like this,” said Joaquin Escobar, who is a midshipman with the Chilean Navy.  He arrived in Norfolk Friday night on board the Esmeralda, the academy ship of the Chilean Navy. They left Chile for Norfolk on May 7.

“When you leave the Navy Academy in Chile, you go to the Esmeralda to finish your studies and finish all the things you learned in the military,” said Escobar.

The Esmeralda is one of seven tall ships that are easily spotted at this year’s Harborfest. Norfolk Festevents Marketing Director Jason Nichols says Harborfest was started by one tall ship, 41 years ago, and they want to honor that history.

“We try to bring and incorporate tall ships into every Harborfest,” Nichols said. “That’s actually what Harborfest is about.”

All of the tall ships are free to tour during the weekend. The international ones come from Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Spain.

“It’s even more remarkable, when you’re standing on the ship and the cadets from the international countries that are here to welcome you and greet you and talk to you, it really is a great experience,” said Nichols

He expects at least 250,000 people to visit the festival over the course of the weekend. Not only is Harborfest something different and exciting for those checking it out, it’s also a learning experience for the sailors who come to town.

“For me, it’s incredible because it’s our first time that we see many ships like navigation ships,” said Escobar.  “We can learn from other international nations.”