Published July 13. 2013 8:00AM Updated July 14. 2013 3:21PM
New London — At 7:45 Saturday night, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a bulletin cautioning boaters that heavy fog would limit visibility in eastern Long Island Sound to less than one mile through most of Sunday.
But Saturday night's Sailfest fireworks still went on.
The fireworks that could be seen were much lower in the sky than normal and difficult to see from many traditional viewing locations. While crowds gathered at the waterfront, spectators began streaming out of the city long before the 20-minute-long show ended.
The fireworks were almost completely invisible from Fort Trumbull. Spectators could see the bottom of some of the explosions and a red glow behind the clouds.
At the city's south end, where hundreds of people normally gather to watch the annual fireworks display, the sidewalks were relatively empty and the streets fairly quiet.
The fog obscured the display at times, but other times the color of the fireworks flooded the sky. Crowds often cheered when the fireworks became more visible.
Sailfest Executive Director Barbara Neff said she spoke with Garden State Fireworks, the company who put on the display. The company then called the show's sponsors, the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Foxwoods Resort Casino, who made the decision to go ahead with the show.
After the show Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation spokesman Bill Satti released the following statement: "The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has been proud to be the sponsor of the annual fireworks during Sailfest weekend. For the last 20 years, we have been fortunate to have the weather cooperate, but unfortunately not this evening. The dense fog covering that dropped in over the past hour was beyond anyone's control, and truly unfortunate. We look forward to next year's festivities and good weather, to present to you once again the fireworks extravaganza that has been a tradition woven into the fabric of southern New England over the past two decades."
Leland Stewart and Maryellen Tudisco, who haven't missed a show in the past 21 years, were a little disappointed as they watched the fireworks in the fog. They laughed about how they had found a good spot for the fireworks — but then a tugboat blocked their view. After then they moved and the fog obscured their view. But they still were in good spirits and enjoyed Sailfest.
"We're going to make the best of it," said Stewart of New London. "The food is good as usual."
Sabrina Babey of Willimantic still enjoyed the show and said the fireworks looked like "colored lightning."
"Despite the fog, you can still see how the sky lights up with different colors like it's tie-dyed," she said. "It's like a magical wonderland."
Victor and Grace Olczyk of Colchester found the fireworks in the foggy weather disapointing, because they have enjoyed the fireworks for the past 15 years.
"I can call it phantom fireworks," he said with a smile.
Earlier in the day crowds packed the city's waterfront area for the 36th Sailfest, as families and friends sampled treats from vendors, snapped photos or tried their hand at winning a prize from the carnival games.
By the late afternoon, folding chairs —in assorted colors and kid and adult sizes — lined the waterfront as people eagerly staked out viewing locations for the fireworks, As they waited, they passed the time talking to each other, watching the sights or tapping on their phones.
Jenni Sweeney, Cassidy Bianca and Ashley Lane, friends from Old Saybrook who attend college around the state and in Pennsylvania, had nabbed waterfront seats to the right of Custom House Pier.
The friends had enjoyed burritos and grinders from Sailfest vendors and were enthused for the evening's fireworks.
"I think the fireworks timed to the music are just so cool," said Sweeney.
The friends said Sailfest brings them together each year to relax and just talk.
"You don't really have anything to worry about," said Bianca.
Rain earlier in the day didn't stop Sailfest goers Donna and Gordon Belske of East Hartford. They had unloaded their car in New London around 1 p.m., when it began raining, they said. But after a picnic lunch in their car, the rain let up and they headed out to enjoy Sailfest as they had for the past eight years.
Donna Belske said she enjoys watching the fireworks shining over the Thames River at night from spots at Amistad Pier. "It makes a beautiful reflection," she said.
Susan and Doug Degrasse of Westbrook were optimistic about the weather for the evening's fireworks. Susan Degrasse said cheerfully that her umbrella breaking during the day — along with the afternoon's emerging blue skies — signaled that the weather would hold up.
"We love the fireworks," said Susan Degrasse. "They're the best around."
Fried food, boat rides
When a light rain started in the early afternoon, mothers covered their strollers and food vendors along State Street speculated about how long it would take for the weather to clear up. But the crowds seemed determined to wait it out, clustering under overhangs to finish their ice cream cones. Shortly after 2 p.m., the shower had passed and the sun was out.
Parents took advantage of the overcast morning before the rain began to fall. Children grinned behind the water falling from the whale's tail on The Parade, waiting for their parents to snap a picture. Teenagers skateboarded down the streets, headphones in their ears. Adults considered the ships — the Mystic Whaler and A.J. Meerwald, among others — docked at City Pier and offering one-hour sails for $20-25.
The smell of fried food permeated the waterfront and people lined the benches along the pier eating the standard festival foods — pizza, gyros, fried dough, corn dogs. But there were more unusual offerings sprinkled throughout the town: bacon with chocolate, jambalaya and Middle Eastern dishes.
Children begged their parents to participate in the carnival games and amusement rides that lined the waterfront. At a strongman game advertising that "Kids always win," a little boy made several attempts with the mallet and eventually won himself a light saber.
"Dude, good choice!" said the attendant. The boy's older sister stepped up and, after only two tries, earned a sword to defend herself from her brother's attacks.
Nearby, families lined for a turn on the giant slide. A girl with ringlets, whose mother also had an infant to look after, began to pout when she learned that she was just under the height limit to go alone. But her face lit up when the family behind them offered to go with her.
The Customs House Pier, which features a beer tent, attracted an older crowd. While most people surveyed the food options, one couple leaned over the pier and dropped crumbs down to a family of swans.
But as the rain began to pick up, the crowds left the pier to look for shelter. Even the swans seemed uncomfortable, shaking excess water off their bodies and grooming themselves with their beaks.