With a car show and battle of the bands, the present day Astoria Regatta Festival at times bears little resemblance to its early incarnations.

It began as a series of boat races staged to celebrate the end of the fishing season. And while the races still play a large role in the festival, it has evolved into an expansive five-day fete with music, crafts, live theater and fireworks.

But with parades, boat races, reunions and other events focused on rekindling the North Coast's rich past, the 2005 Astoria Regatta Festival enters its 111th year with a renewed emphasis on its historical roots.

"The Regatta is about taking time to celebrate our history," 2005 Regatta President Nancy Kennell said. "This year we are trying to emphasize and get back to tradition."

And leading the way will be the 2005 Regatta float, a Northwest festival juggernaut that has won first-place awards at 10 out of the 11 events where it has appeared since April.

Sailboats, rubber duckies and cardboard boats will all race at this year's festival.

"It has been outstanding. The awards kind of speak for themselves," said 1997 Regatta President Chuck Godwin, who served as the float's chief builder and driver. "The people are dancing in the streets."

The float was inspired by the festival's theme, "The Journey's End," which signifies the arrival of the Lewis and Clark expedition at Fort Clatsop. It's built, operated and designed entirely by volunteers.

Dressed as a firefighter, William Reed, 3, waits for the parade to start at last year's Kiwanis Junior Parade. This year's Kiwanis Junior Parade is at 7 p.m. Thursday.The float's scene is set along the banks of the Lewis and Clark River, with flora and fauna from the Fort Clatsop site. Revolving panels tell of the explorers stay and their adventures. And it features two canoes carrying the Regatta ambassadors and the Regatta queen.

"It's a way to honor and celebrate Lewis and Clark's accomplishment," Kennell said. "It's very detailed, genuine and authentic."

The Regatta will further explore the area's historical legacy with a pair of reunions and the return of a classic boat race.

The theme of this year's Regatta is 'The Journey's End.'Pier 39 will host the first reunion for former Columbia River Packers Association/Bumble Bee cannery workers Saturday, Aug. 13. And former members of the Anchor Club, which assisted the Regatta Association for more than 60 years before they merged 10 years ago, will hold a get-together at the Sponsor's Luncheon Thursday, Aug. 11.

On Saturday Aug. 13, the festival will host gillnet boat races, a historic event resurrected at last year's Regatta after a more than a 10-year absence.

The races are part of an effort in recent years to return the Regatta to the Columbia River, which is where the festival began more than a century ago. And that trend inspired Bob Lennon to create the Cutter Ketch Classic.

Entering its third year, it showcases boats with more than one mast. Rather than stage a race, this event allows spectators to observe boats otherwise unseen at other Regatta boating events.

"My whole idea was to create a spectacle of sails," Lennon said.

While this year's Regatta will reaffirm tradition, it will also dramatically expand the festival's most popular event, the Regatta Square Beer Garden and Street Dance.

"It's even bigger and better than before," Kennell said.

This year's Pirate's Den, which features various betting games, will include Texas Hold 'Em for the first time.

The square's selection of food, beverage and craft vendors will be four times as large as last year, with more than 40 vendors.

In past years, the Hot August Nights car show has overlapped with the Regatta. But the scheduling conflict was avoided this year. Kennell predicts they will have more than 200 cars at the L.C. Classic Car Show, and many will remain for the square's nightly festivities.

Activities for families will once again expand at this year's festival, starting with the return of Ya' Gotta Regatta, a series of cardboard boat races that debuted in 2004.

The Astoria Aquatic Center hosts the event, which last year drew more than 150 people.

"It was surprisingly good for a first-year event," said Aquatic Center Supervisor Erin Estes. "The place was packed."

Estes said that the boats that looked like they'd do well didn't, and those that weren't so pretty did the best.

"You just don't know how your boat is going to do," she said. But everyone had a great time. "The crowd was just in hysterics."

With the overwhelming success of last year's Ya' Gotta Regatta, the 2005 edition will span two days.

On Friday, Aug. 12, the aquatic center will host a dive-in movie, where moviegoers can float in the pool while watching "Jaws." Swimmers' fears will be put to the test, but thankfully, the pools are kept shark-free.

The boat races will be held on Saturday, and later that evening is a battle of the bands.

Other family activities at the Regatta include a children's parade, boat parade, the Grand Land Parade, fireworks and the Ducky Derby.

Like past Regattas, the festival's main goal is to bring the community together.

"It's a time when all of the community comes together to celebrate. It has something for everyone." Kennell said. "It becomes like a big reunion."

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