OpSail chief gives a jab to Newport over conflict

New London - Newport's nice, but New London's better.

So went a salvo Monday from organizers of OpSail 2012 Connecticut, the tall ships event taking place July 6-9, the same weekend as the Ocean State Tall Ships Festival in Newport.

"New London is smaller, has less traffic congestion, is rich in history and I would say is easier to reach," John Johnson, the OpSail chairman, said. "To our neighbors, we say come pay us a visit."

In a press release, Johnson, tongue firmly in cheek, issued a David Letterman-esque list of the Top Ten reasons to choose New London over Newport. Several have to do with OpSail's celebration of the War of 1812's bicentennial and the price-is-right nature of OpSail events: They're free, Johnson noted, as is passage over the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, which carries Rhode Islanders into New London.

On the other hand, a three-day "boarding" pass for the tall ships in Newport will cost $25. The Newport Bridge toll is $4 going and coming.

"Now I don't want anybody getting bent out of shape about us teasing Newport," Johnson said in a phone interview. "… But we hope Rhode Island responds. There's nothing like competition."

While New London is the last stop on a national OpSail tour that began in April in New Orleans, the Rhode Island event was rescheduled for the July weekend because of a late-June conflict with an America's Cup World Series event in Newport.

Organizers of the New London and Newport tall ships events have lamented their scheduling on the same weekend, a circumstance that forced them to compete for ships. A total of 22 ships, including U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels, have committed to New London, while at least 15 tall ships are expected in Newport.

Johnson said fundraising for OpSail 2012 is "pushing the $850,000 to $900,000 mark," including a contribution from the state, which promised to provide $1 for every $2 event organizers raised. "Our target was $1.5 million and we're going to get very close to that," he said.

Johnson would be tickled if the New London-versus-Newport angle got some play.

"We'd like to have the Fairfield County press pick it up," he said. "People in the Greenwich-Stamford area drive right by us on the way to Newport. A lot of people in our own state don't take New London seriously."

With the tall ships festivals playing out over an entire weekend, might it be possible to visit New London and Newport?

"There's so much to see at both events, I don't think you can," Johnson said. "You need to pick one or the other."

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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POLL

Which rival tall ships event will you attend July 6-9, OpSail 2012 in New London or the Ocean State Tall Ships Festival in Newport?

OpSail, I've got to support my hometown.

40%

OpSail, it's close by and parking will be much easier.

26%

Ocean State Tall Ships, there's just more to see in Newport.

14%

Ocean State Tall Ships, I don't mind a longer drive if it means spending the day in Newport.

7%

Why choose between the two? I'll just go to both.

12%

Number of votes: 458