Group behind OpSail2012 sets sail for New London schooner festival

New London - The group that organized OpSail2012, which brought thousands into the city to see sailing and military vessels, is planning another waterfront event.

The Connecticut Schooner Festival in September would include an educational component at Mystic Seaport, a schooner race off Ocean Beach Park and an exposition of Connecticut-made products at the city's Waterfront Park.

A pageant, staged by Flock Theatre, would focus on the region's historical ties to the water. There also would be a giant sand sculpture downtown, a chowder challenge featuring city restaurants and a lighted boat parade.

"We always need something like this in New London, and in southeastern Connecticut and the state, to put the spotlight on our maritime heritage,'' said John Johnson, chairman of the Connecticut Schooner Festival committee. "What better way to do that than with schooners.''

The festival is scheduled for Sept. 11-15. Johnson said his group has committed to making it an annual event through 2017.

"You ask why do this?'' Johnson said. "I say why not do it? I'm out of the maritime marine industry. Anything to promote the marine and maritime economy will only benefit people within my community and the state."

The committee plans to raise $235,000 to put on the event and has corporate sponsors that include Ocean Beach Park, Hall Communications, Pfizer Inc., Charter Oak Credit Union and The Day.

So far, the group has raised $120,000, Johnson said, and will continue to hold fundraisers and accept donations through its website,

The committee also has asked the state to match $1 for every $2 the committee raises, up to $75,000.

Proceeds from the chowder festival would be donated to a restoration fund for the Charles W. Morgan, an 111-foot square rigged ship that offers educational programs at the Mystic Seaport. The Morgan is the last remaining wooden whaleship and the oldest American commercial vessel still in existence, according to the Seaport's website.

The festival would begin Sept. 11 at the Seaport, with dockside programs for youngsters that would draw on the maritime experience of those sailing in the schooner race.

Dan McFadden, director of communications for Mystic Seaport, said the collaboration with New London grew out of OpSail, in which the Seaport's 61-foot schooner, Brilliant, participated.

"We're looking forward to continuing the relationship with New London,'' McFadden said.

The 91-foot schooner Quinnipiack, a nonprofit educational vessel, would sail up Long Island Sound from New Haven and offer educational experiences for local children.

Johnson said 12 schooners have confirmed they will attend the festival. The race would take place on Saturday and could be seen from the shores of Ocean Beach. He said a grandstand would be set up at the beach and a dinner would follow at Port 'N Starboard banquet hall.

Johnson said he hopes the festival would reach across the state and that other ports, such as Bridgeport and New Haven, would consider hosing events at their waterfronts.

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