Although Portland is known for its deep-water port and even takes its name from the collection of wharves and piers along Commercial Street, most residents have never walked its working waterfront.

But once a year, dozens of waterfront businesses throw open their doors and invite the public to go behind the scenes and explore the chockablock nooks and crannies of the wharves and piers.

“The pier owners and wharf owners realized that for the public, they have no idea what goes on down here,” said John Spritz, manager of the jobs collaborative Growing Portland and the organizer of Saturday’s third annual Walk the Working Waterfront event. “They drive past it, walk past it on Commercial Street, and it’s like a two-dimensional Hollywood set to them. They don’t understand there are businesses there, people working there, money is being made there. That’s what this tour is all about: Show the people, remind them, how the city got its name, and that it’s still there, working hard for them.”

The free event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with activities ranging from food and beer tastings to tours of various boats, such as the harbor master’s, the 16th-century Spanish reproduction El Galeon, and the city of Portland’s fire patrol vessel. Many of the tours will be given by the owners of the boats or businesses, Spritz said. But the really special thing about the waterfront event is access to buildings and boats that are usually closed to the public, he noted.

Brandon Bushey loads lobster traps onto a boat while working on Widgery Wharf on Friday.

Brandon Bushey loads lobster traps onto a boat while working on Widgery Wharf on Friday. Photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

For example, residents will be able to tour the Coast Guard’s flotilla of boats on Wright’s Wharf. On most days, Spritz noted, the boats are behind a big fence that keeps the public out. Tourists can always gawk at the city of Portland’s fireboat as they walk by the head of the Maine State Pier, but Saturday is the only day of the year they can hop aboard for a tour, Spritz said. The city’s oldest wharf, Widgery, is usually closed to the public, he said, but on Saturday people are invited to explore its shacks and fish houses.

Portland doesn’t have a lot of opportunities for people to get up close to its waterfront, Spritz said. There is no big park where they can go hang out. Some people may feel intimidated by the working nature of the waterfront, not wanting to get in the way of fishermen actually hauling in their catch, Spritz said. But on tour day, visitors will find most of the waterfront open, and many of its movers and shakers standing outside their businesses or boats eager to talk about what actually goes on inside, he said.

Visitors can see how lobster traps are baited and much more during the free event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

Visitors can see how lobster traps are baited and much more during the free event, which runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.

The event has drawn about a thousand people each year, Spritz said. The Portland Fish Exchange on the Portland Fish Pier has had as many as 150 people waiting in line to watch the fish coming in off the boats to get weighed, sorted and auctioned off. Portland Discovery Land and Sea Tour is offering a one-time harbor boat tour of the waterfront – a new addition to the event – that will leave at noon from Long Wharf. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $10 for children.

For more information, go to portlandmaine.com/walk-working-waterfront/ or visit the information booth at the head of Union Wharf for a map that will you special access and discounts on goods and services.