A lunch-time crowd of several hundred people broke into applause yesterday as a majestic Canadian schooner struck its sails and edged toward an aging pier in Old Town Alexandria. A junior high school band began playing the Canadian national anthem.

Some said they had waited for hours to see the Bluenose II, a 180-foot replica of the Canadian Grand Banks vessel that dominated international fishermen races more than 50 years ago.

And some, like Justin Vick of Annandale, said they were just lucky enough to spot the ship's towering wooden masts above the Potomac waterfront restaurants and decided to investigate.

"I come down here all the time. I saw the ship so I thought I would just come down," said Vick.

"I think this is going to be interesting."

The Bluenose II came to Alexandria as part of the second annual Alexandria Red Cross Waterfront Festival, which opens to the public at 10 a.m. today.

The festival's purpose is to raise money for the charity.

"Last year about 15,000 people attended the festival, but it rained all weekend," said festival president Rob Whittle. "This year, if the weather holds out, we are hoping to double that figure."

But as Red Cross volunteers and festival exhibitors began to set up booths and tables under large tents yesterday, the skies darkened and rain began to fall.

The National Weather Service is predicting a soggy weekend.

Nonetheless, festival organizers were optimistic.

Besides the Bluenose, six other sailing vessels, including two replicas of 10th century Viking ships, will be on exhibit at Alexandria's north pier, located directly behind the Torpedo Factory Art Center complex at North Union and Cameron streets.

A simulated air-sea helicopter rescue, a City Council canoe race on the Potomac, fireworks, almost continuous live music and a 6.2-mile footrace are also planned for the festival, which ends tomorrow.

"Through celebrations like this people can really get together and collectively appreciate one another," said B.C. Mays, a festival organizer.