Organizers up the ante for this weekend's 30th MS Harborfest in Portland

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PORTLAND — Seafarers and landlubbers alike will converge on the Eastern Prom this weekend for the 30th Annual MS Harborfest.

Festivities begin Friday night with an auction at the Portland Co. and continue Saturday with sail boat races, live music food and local vendors.

The festival wraps up Sunday with lobster boat races and tug boat muster.

But the festival is not only about celebrating all things nautical — it’s about raising money to find a cure for multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often debilitating disease that attacks the central nervous system.

The funds raised will go to programs, services and advocacy for the 4,000 people in Maine diagnosed with MS and their families.

Gretchen Johnson, who is on planning committee, said she is expecting this year’s festival to be the best one yet, not only in terms of events, but also in terms of fundraising.

Last year, Johnson said the Harborfest raised about $75,000 for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This year, the group hopes to raise more than $100,000.

“I’m confident we will get there,” Johnson said.

To help achieve that goal, the group has been soliciting donations from area merchants for Friday night’s live and silent auction, which will be held at Portland Co., 58 Fore St.

A silent auction will begin at 6 p.m. and a live auction will take place at 9 p.m. Music, food and beverages will be available.

Michele Smith, who leads the auction committee, said there are a variety of items to keep people bidding throughout the night.

Among them: A men’s Tag Heuer watch from Springer’s Jewelers, an eight carat gold woman’s necklace from AJ Correa & Sons, a Thos. Moser rocking chair, and an evening cocktail cruise for four aboard a private sailboat with Linda Greenlaw.

“We’re really excited,” Smith said. “We feel like we have more items available for this auction.”

Saturday will feature the MS Regatta, with more than 100 sailboats over 20-feet long. Smith said boats will line up at Handy Boat in Falmouth and parade at 10:45 a.m. down to the waters off the Eastern Prom, where they will begin racing at 12:30 p.m.

Land-side, there will be a variety of activities (including a pirate scavenger hunt), local vendors and music at Fort Allen Park, where the racing action will be broadcast.

The seafarers take center stage on Sunday afternoon with the tug boat muster, which features racing, bumping and pulling among the high-powered boats designed to maneuver cruise ships and oil tankers when they come to port.

Sunday will also feature the second annual lobster boat races at 10 a.m. Last year, more than 50 lobster boats participated in the lobster boat races, the first Portland event in more than 25 years.

“It was a hugely, hugely popular event,” Johnson said. “They have almost a cult following.”

With the planning in place, organizers are banking on a little help from Mother Nature to make the 30th anniversary one to remember.

“It’s been a fun event to be a part of,” Johnson said. “Weather-permitting, it will be our best year.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings