New London — Nine U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships recently signed on to participate in the city’s Operation Sail events, bringing the total number of domestic and international ships to 22.
OpSail 2012CT announced the ships Thursday in a Flag Day event at Fort Trumbull State Park.
“The stellar support that the state, the congressional delegation, local governments and communities have provided to ensure the success of OpSail has not gone unnoticed by the Navy,” said Capt. Marc W. Denno, commander of the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. “It makes a difference. It makes us proud to call southeastern Connecticut home, and we definitely appreciate you reaching out to us and the entire Navy.”
The Navy is sending the USS Carter Hall and four Yard Patrol Crafts from the Naval Academy for the July 6-9 event, Denno said.
The Carter Hall, from Little Creek, Va., is a cargo variant of the Navy’s dock landing ships. At 609 feet long, it will be the largest vessel at OpSail. As part of the opening ceremonies, the Carter Hall will send a landing craft to “storm” the Hole-in-the-Wall Beach in East Lyme, Denno said.
The Coast Guard barque Eagle traditionally leads the fleet during the Parade of Sail. Four Coast Guard cutters — the Juniper, Sailfish, Ridley and Morro Bay — will join the Eagle, Lt. Amy Miller, of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, said Thursday. Many of the participating ships will be open for tours.
The Juniper is a buoy tender from Newport, R.I., while the Sailfish, of Sandy Hook, N.J., and Ridley, of Long Island, N.Y., are both 87-foot patrol boats. The Morro Bay, of New London, is an icebreaker.
Planes from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod will fly over the Parade of Sail, and a helicopter from the station will perform a search-and-rescue demonstration in the Thames River, Miller said. The U.S. Coast Guard Band will perform on the main stage before the fireworks.
“We are very proud of our service to the nation as America’s oldest seagoing maritime service, and we are honored to provide the public this wonderful opportunity to enjoy their Coast Guard assets up close and personal, and to showcase our history and heritage,” Miller said.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said OpSail 2012CT will probably be the “premier event in the state.” It is expected to draw thousands to New London’s waterfront to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the writing of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
The tall ships are scheduled to arrive in Niantic on July 6 to prepare for the next day’s Parade of Sail. Wyman and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will be on the Eagle as it sails into New London.
“I can’t wait. I’m really so excited about it,” said Wyman, who joked that she wanted to know if she could wear high heels since she can’t have them on when she goes aboard submarines.
John S. Johnson, chairman of the local OpSail, said he is not expecting any additional military ships to come but would welcome more domestic and international tall ships to the event.
“We’re thrilled with the ships that are coming,” he said.
Johnson said he currently has enough money for the event but will continue to raise funds to make the celebration bigger. He declined to give a specific figure for how much was donated.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, state and local officials and military officers gathered at the park for the announcement. Courtney, D-2nd District, said the flotilla will be “a sight to behold for the ages.” Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio thanked the members of the armed forces for their service, and Connecticut National Guard Col. John Whitford said the Guard will also showcase its boats and vehicles at OpSail.
The event will be a unique opportunity for local residents, who are accustomed to seeing submarines on the Thames River, to learn about the surface fleet and meet some of the “nation’s finest young men and women” who are serving in the military, Denno said. The Carter Hall completed a nine-month deployment last year when it supported U.S. humanitarian assistance and flood relief efforts in Pakistan, as well as operations in Afghanistan, he added.
The War of 1812 included much activity locally, including a British blockade of New London, a raid on U.S. shipping in Essex and the Battle of Stonington.
At Thursday’s event, a saluting battery from the submarine base fired four ceremonial shots, one for every 50 years that have passed since the war. A sailor from the USS California sang the National Anthem and the Silver Dolphins Honor Guard paraded the colors.