A line with no fish at the end left some visitors to the weekend Waterfront Seafood Celebration hanging around Maine Avenue with empty stomachs.
Visitors who paid $5 were supposed to be entitled to seafood samplings from five restaurants and tours on 17 boats. Some of the restaurants prepared "nibbles" for 500 people, others for 1,500. But more than 15,000 showed up Saturday.
By 5 p.m. hungry people had eaten the entire food supply the restaurants had stocked for the whole weekend. Flagship ran out of rum buns, Channel Inn/Pier 7 ran out of deviled crab, Capital Yacht Club ran out of seafood creole and Hogates' seafood brochettes (swordfish and scallop kebabs) were coming off the grill raw.
"There was no concerted consideration as to crowd size," said Louis Priebe, spokesman for the sponsors, the Waterfront Washington Association and Catch America. Some restaurant managers had said they would be surprised if 6,000 people showed for the entire weekend, despite an influx of Solidarity Day marchers.
On Saturday night the restaurateurs regrouped. Some worked late getting ready for Sunday, which brought an estimated 25,000 people, more food and more long lines.
But there was more to do than stand around in food queues at the festival, proceeds from which will go to the National Kidney Foundation. Local bands played while area artists brought their paintings to sell alongside tables of jewelry, blown glass, stuffed rag dolls and gemstone trees.
And there were those 17 vessels to tour, including a 210-foot Coast Guard cutter. The former presidential yacht, Sequoia, was docked nearby for people to look at from the pier, as were handsome sailing and motor yachts.
If it wasn't one boat's teak deck, it was another's thick mahogany paneling that excited Tad and Genny Roth to the point of seriously contemplating giving up their Arlington town house and moving aboard. "We found a couple of 37-foot sailboats that look appealing," Ted Roth said while waiting between food lines. "We're chatting about it."
Stan Hunter, a visitor who said he is used to eating live octopus in Korean restaurants, found the food "less exotic" than he had expected. "In Korea they cut tentacles off the octopus while it's still alive," he said. "When you eat them, the suction cups stick to your tongue."
If there weren't any exotic fish for him to eat, at least there were some to see in a small display from the National Aquarium.
"What is that thing in the middle there?" inquired a very British man about a square, red slipper lobster. "It looks like an overgrown roach. Can you eat the damned thing?"
A young girl jumped when an attendant picked up a spiny lobster so that she could have a closer look. She slowly tiptoed back and even touched the long, spotted stick-like legs, admitting later that it was a pretty scary-looking animal.
There was a pregnant crab, a crab eating a shrimp (so fast that the shrimp seemed to melt before your eyes), a large, ugly South American turtle and a red-bellied piranha that kept its distance from the turtle, which, said the attendant, would have eaten it had it swum into its territory.
"Don't they eat people?" someone asked Charles Yancey, a volunteer from the National Aquarium. "Piranhas only eat people in the movies," Yancey said. "In the Amazon people swim with them all the time. The only time they'll bite you is when they're nervous." Then, as an afterthought: "Well, they'll go after anything when food is scarce."
No one wanted to put his or her hands in the tank