PORTLAND – Sometimes waiting for a sailing race to begin requires patience.

That was the case Saturday at the 31st annual MS Harborfest Regatta.

“We are just waiting for the wind,” said Jody Cady, regatta fleet organizer.

About 50 boats, sails luffing, spent the next hour criss-crossing the starting line, waiting to see if this would be one of the few MS regattas to be canceled because the weather didn’t cooperate.

Finally the wind came up, the gun signaled the start of the first division and the boats set out at a stately 5 knots an hour toward Portland Head Light.

The regatta is one of the highlights of the three-day harbor festival that raises money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The festival has raised more than $100,000 in the past.

Cady said until the recession hit, about 100 boats would participate, but the numbers have dwindled to about 60 registrations this year.

The festival began with an auction and party Friday, and continued with a sailboat parade, race and party Saturday.

It concludes Sunday with a 5-kilometer road race from Fort Allen Park on the Eastern Promenade at 9 a.m., lobster boat races at 10 a.m. from Portland Yacht Services and a tugboat muster and boat races at 1 p.m. from the Maine State Pier.

Boating participants return year after year. “It is one of the most fun races of the year,” said Gail Rice of Freeport, a freelance writer.

Rice and her husband have been crewing or racing their own boat in the Portland regatta for 15 years.

This year they were on their 34-foot sloop, Imagine.

Jeff LePage of North Yarmouth was racing his 33-foot sloop, Opportunity, with a crew conscripted from his neighborhood.

“It’s a little crazy, it’s fun,” said LePage.

Michele Cloutier of Portland skippered her 27-foot cabin cruiser, the Tax Break, full of newspaper reporters and photographers and other media.

She also kept in touch by cell phone with her partner, David Thomas, who was crewing aboard the Tamarack, a 43-foot boat owned by Bob Kellogg.

Cloutier said the Harborfest gives her a chance to help out with a good cause.

Staff Writer Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

[email protected]