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Covering the Waterfront

Three-day festival brings pirates back to Oronoco Bay Park.

Next weekend, Alexandria’s waterfront will swarm with pirates, as the Alexandria Red Cross presents the 22nd annual Waterfront Festival, this year with the theme “Return of the Pirates.”

The festival will feature three days of pirate-themed activities for children, including treasure hunts on Saturday and Sunday. Children will be given a treasure map to locate treats hidden throughout the festival grounds. A drawing will be held at the end of the day on both Saturday and Sunday, and two young festival attendees will be given a special prize.

This year’s festival will also include three tall ships, the Schooner Sultana, the Kalmar Nyckel and the Gazela Philadelphia. The Schooner Sultana is a two-masted, 97-foot square-topsail schooner sailing out of Chestertown, Md. – a full-sized reproduction of the 1767 Sultana, a cargo schooner that sailed out of Boston. Tours of all three ships are included in the price of admission to the festival.

The original Sultana escorted British troops into Boston to suppress a riot over colonial taxes, In 1769, the Sultana was stationed at Hampton Roads to intercept colonial shipping traffic. The Sultana also sailed up the Potomac to Mount Vernon, where Captain John Inglis and Sail Master David Bruce dined with George Washington.

The Kalmar Nyckel was a Swedish ship that brought Swedish settlers to the Christina River in Wilmington, Del., in 1638, where they established New Sweden. The ship’s name means “Key of Kalmar,” named for Kalmar, a city on Sweden’s Baltic Sea coast. The original three-masted warship was lost late in the 17th Century, and the current reproduction launched from Wilmington on Sept. 28, 1997.

Gazela Philadelphia, a Portugese barkentine, was built in the late 19th or early 20th century to ferry fishermen between Portugal and the Grand Banks, off the Newfoundland coast. Built as a sailing ship, in 1938 the Gazela was fitted with a diesel engine.

The ship made its last commercial fishing trip in 1969, and in 1970 the Gazela’s owners sold her to the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, which restored the 177-foot vessel.

MORE THAN TWO decades ago, the Waterfront Festival got its start as a community picnic, intended to celebrate the cleanup of the Old Town waterfront.

Now, the festival draws between 60,000 and 85,000 people during its three-day run, with some 1,500 volunteers working to put the weekend together.

Proceeds from the festival benefit the Alexandria Chapter of the Red Cross, targeted to the local chapter’s community disaster preparedness and safety education programs.

The money shows up back in the community in a variety of ways. This winter, the Red Cross opened three shelters, offering food, cots and relief to victims of a water main break, an apartment complex with no heat and flooding from February snow melt. In addition, it costs $100 to train disaster relief volunteers.