I just finished talking with David Doxtater, the executive director of Tall Ships Tacoma. They’re in the home stretch of preparing for July’s festival. The office was certainly busier than any other time I’ve visited, and Doxtater told me he recently moved into a Tacoma hotel so he can spend more time in the office and less time in his car commuting from Bainbridge Island.
Jason Hagey and I are working on a story for this weekend that catches the readers up with what the latest is with the event planning.
The number of ships is down to 31 from 32. The Army Reserve barge has dropped out. Event spokeswoman Lorraine Ralston said its place in the festival was tentative from the start, but the other 31 are still on schedule to pull into the Thea Foss Waterway on July 3.
"We’re bringing in a broader range of ships," Doxtater said. "We have premium ships. We’ll have the Nina, the Bounty, the Kaisei, the Eagle."
The anchor will be the Eagle, a 295-foot U.S. Coast Guard cutter. And it wasn’t easy to book its appearance.
"We really led the charge," he said. "We rallied the other (West Coast) Tall Ships events this summer. We got some congressmen involved. We went back to D.C. and did some lobbying. We helped convince them switch their schedule to the West Coast. They weren’t really planning to come here."
The Tall Ships aficionados in the area were stoked when the news about the Eagle arrived in January.
"The minute people heard that, they were overjoyed," he said. "This was the ship they wanted. This was the ship they wanted last time. It helped create good, positive energy."
The organization recently agreed to a $300,000 in-kind agreement with the City of Tacoma to provide security, fire, medical and other needs. Doxtater, a veteran event planner, said the help that the city has provided (largely through the city manager’s office) has been unprecedented.
"I can’t imagine a better partner," he said. "They are so supportive. They’re doing things that I’ve never seen happen in festivals. They really are good communicators and good managers. They really care what we’re doing and they want to make it friendly for the community."
"They’ve taught us – we’re a fairly new organization – how to move through city government and communicate with who we need to. We don’t feel like outsiders at all. It almost seems magical what’s going on, that Tall Ships and city have so much energy. They just reach out and help us think of things we haven’t thought of."
Interest in the festival has been growing, he said. The organization’s Web site registers almost 10,000 hits per week. They’ve sold more than half of their available sailing tickets. (Most of the boarding passes are expected to be walk-up.) Organizers expect more than 700,000 people to attend – about what the University of Tennessee football team drew to its seven home games last season.
Organizers originally said they hoped to get 4,000 volunteers to sign up. They got about half of that, but Doxtater said they’re doing more with less. All 10,000 volunteer shifts will be filled during the event, he said.
"Early on, we were guessing as to how many bodies we needed for those shifts," he said. "But volunteers have started taking on more shifts. And that’ll be a good thing, because there will be more consistency throughout the festival."
Several local unions have also volunteered labor. The carpenters’ union is building stairs, ramps and other platforms for free. The electricians’ union is wiring the festival.
"It’s not the expenses as much as the quality," he said. "If we can have that quality of labor in a festival environment, well, that’s just outstanding."
And, Doxtater said, that shows the community is getting behind Tall Ships Tacoma.
"That’s the story for me: the community," he said. "So many volunteers are working so many shifts. The unions are involved. The city is involved to such a large degree. This community is amazing."