The Astoria Regatta returns, celebrating local maritime heritage with activities for sailors and landlubbers alike.

Musical performances, a parade, car show, brewfest, teen dance, pancake breakfast and of course sailboat races fill out the four-day celebration now in its 108th year.

In the Regatta's early days, boats of all kinds, from punts and canoes to sailing yachts and motorboats, challenged one another on the Columbia River - today it's just sailboats that vie against one another. Several local racers are joined by boats from Longview, Wash., and Portland for the weekend's races, which cover a course roughly 15 miles long that starts and finishes below the Astoria Bridge, according to Mike Campbell of the Astoria Yacht Club, the race organizer.

Races are scheduled to begin 2 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday, with starting times dependent on wind conditions.

Sailboat races are governed by handicapping rules established by the Performance Handicap Racing Fleet. They give each make and model of vessel its own ranking based on its speed and sailing capabilities, which allows boats of varying size and speed to take part in one race.

"It's the only way you can race dissimilar boats against each other," Campbell said.

The lower Columbia offers most of the same challenging conditions as it did for skippers past. The prevailing northwest winds are usually dependable, but the shifting tides make things tricky, something that can give local skippers the edge.

Experienced sailors, for example, will avoid the main shipping channel, where the current is strongest, and try to skirt along the edge or even over the sand bars toward the middle of the river - "anything to pick up a knot or two on the competition," Campbell said.

"Just locally here in Astoria there are some real talented sailors who can put together a good working crew," he said. "Some have been sailing here for quite a few years."

Much of the tactical sailing happens on the upwind legs as the sailors try to pick the best opportunities to tack - turning from one side of the wind to the other. The downwind stretches, though, are fun for spectators when the crews raise their boats' colorful spinnaker sails. The best viewing areas for the races are off the Port of Astoria and the Hammond Mooring Basin.

The Regatta again includes the Grand Land Parade, beginning at noon Saturday on 17th and Commercial streets and heading west on Duane Street to Eighth and east on Commercial. Sailors have their own parade with the Twilight Boat Parade at 7 p.m. Saturday. The best location for watching the brightly lit vessels is the 17th Street dock.

A new event this year is the Brewfest, Friday and Saturday at Baked Alaska at the foot of 12th Street. Twenty Northwest breweries will vie for top honors 7 p.m. Friday as judges taste and award the best brews. Beer lovers can sample the contestants' offerings and make their own picks following Friday's competition and again on Saturday beginning at 2 p.m. Admission is $5 each day and includes a souvenir mug and first glass of beer.

Another new event, or rather a returning one, is the teen dance. Supported by the Connections program and organized by the Regatta's Young Ambassador Crew, the dance takes place Saturday 8 p.m. to midnight at the Masonic Temple at 1572 Franklin Ave. A DJ will provide the music.

Continuing the nautical theme is the North Coast Chorale's performance of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, "The Pirates of Penzance," 8 p.m. Friday at the Liberty Theater, featuring artists Katherine Matschiner and Phillip White in the lead roles.

On Saturday the North Coast Philharmonic Orchestra performs the Regatta's "Welcome Aboard" concert with a variety of folk songs, Broadway tunes and works of American, Russian and German composers. The featured violin soloist is Jennifer Sours, a member of the Clark College Orchestra who has also performed with the Metropolitan Youth Symphony and Portland Youth Philharmonic.

Advance tickets for Regatta musical events are available at Thiel's Music Center in Astoria.

The festival usually draws visiting naval vessels, and this year's event features a stop by one of the U.S. Navy's newest ships, the U.S.S. Shoup guided missile destroyer. The ship will be open for public tours over the weekend.

The vessel, which arrived in Astoria Wednesday, was commissioned last June in Seattle. The 509-foot Arleigh Burke-class destroyer has a crew of almost 400 and carries of arsenal of Tomahawk and Sea Sparrow missiles, torpedoes and a 5-inch rapid-firing gun, as well as two Seahawk helicopters.

Other Regatta events include: Memorial dedication at Maritime Memorial Park under the Astoria Bridge, 11 a.m. Friday; Welcome Aboard dinner at the Red Lion, 400 Industry St., 6 p.m. Friday; Pancake breakfast at First Presbyterian Church, 11th Street and Grand Ave., 8 to 11 a.m. Saturday; Regatta Softball Tournament at Tapiola Park, 9 a.m. Saturday; Classic Car Show at Columbia River Maritime Museum, 9 a.m. to dusk Saturday; Salmon Barbecue at Doc's on 12th Street, 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday; Ducky Derby at West Mooring Basin, 11 a.m. Sunday; Mutt March parade, noon Sunday, foot of 36th Street; Sweet Adeline Quartet, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Liberty Theater.