Summing up Sailfest: We made the best of it

Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day U.S. Navy sailors, from left, Nikolas Pioro, Andrew Penner and Joshua Tavares Somildam with the prizes from competing in a marksmanship game on the carnival midway at Sailfest on Sunday. The three-day festival wrapped up Sunday afternoon.

New London -- Kerry Browne summed up Sailfest 2013 as falling somewhere between a stellar success and a fantastic flop, using an Italian phrase to succinctly convey her experience.

“Mezza mezza,” she said Sunday afternoon, packing up her abstract paintings, photographs, hand-dyed T-shirts and other items she’d been selling at her booth on Bank Street. “Yesterday the rain chased everybody away, and saleswise, it wasn’t as good” as past years. Still, she loves making the drive from her home in rural Sterling for the lively, friendly atmosphere of Sailfest, and plans to come back next year.

“It’s always fun to be here,” she said, as her last customer of the three-day event, a bicyclist who came to purchase one of her framed scenic photographs, pedaled up to her booth.

Browne’s middle-of-the-road assessment of this year’s event encapsuled the thoughts of other vendors, organizers and participants. Saturday’s rain and heavy fog, which obscured Saturday evening’s fireworks display, diminished what is usually the biggest day of the annual street fair, but crowds turned out to eat, sway to live bands and get spun by carnival rides in sunny, sultry conditions Sunday.

“The weather wasn’t the best, so some of the numbers were down,” said Sailfest organizer Barbara Neff Sunday afternoon. “We can only control so much. But today was a good day. The vendors were happy.”

While this year’s fireworks display was a disappointment, she said, she figures it’s better to just take the 20 good years of fireworks weather with this one bad year than start second-guessing.

“We would have been wrong whatever we did,” she said of the decision to hold the display despite Coast Guard warnings of heavy fog.

Earlier Sunday afternoon, analysis of the previous night’s fireworks was probably the furthest thing from Neff’s mind. With the intensity of an Army general leading troops on a life-and-death mission, Neff corralled 350 fairgoers into a line along Bank Street to break the world record for the longest high-five chain.

“Come on,” she called to her Sailfest volunteers over a walkie-talkie, urging them to hurry more people into position so the chain reaction of raised palm slaps could being. “I’m losing people. It’s hot out here.”

After a frantic half-hour of street choreography, the line was ready and the high-fives began, with each person calling out their number. After the last slap, Neff declared: “We have a new world’s record,” and the surrounding crowd erupted in cheers.

According to the website recordsetter.com, the previous record was set at Camp Alvernia in Centerport, N.Y., just five days ago, when 290 campers lined up to exchange high fives. Neff said a video of the high-five event on Bank Street and other information will be submitted to the Recordsetter Council for verification.

As the festival wound down Sunday afternoon, vendors and other participants gave a mixed bag of answers about how they fared this year.

“We made up in quality what we lacked in quantity,” said Monica Halverson, shipboard program coordinator for the A.J. Meerwald, as the tall ship’s gangplank was lifted off City Pier. The ship had taken seven groups on one-hour sails over the three days, but several trips weren’t filled to the 37-passenger capacity, she said. The ship took one group out to watch the fireworks from what should have been one of the best viewing spots, just downriver from the barge where they were being fired.

“But there were only a couple of moments when the fog lifted enough to see then,” she said.

Food vendors, though, seemed to benefit when the fireworks show fizzled.

‘‘When people saw the fireworks weren’t out, they came back to keep eating,” said Chris Leitkowski, owner of Gaspar’s Restaurant on Bank Street, which sold smoked ribs and chicken from a booth on the Custom House Pier. Both the restaurant and the booth stayed busy until late Saturday night, he said.

Greg Robinson, owner of Captain’s Pizza with his wife Dorrie and son Brian, had a similar story. The restaurant sold about 2,000 pizza slices from a booth on Bank Street over the weekend, and kept busy all weekend with sit-down customers in the 150-seat restaurant.

“The restaurant was packed until 2 a.m. (Sunday),” he said. The foggy fireworks, he added, “were a positive thing for us.”

j.benson@theday.com

Visitors to Sailfest XXXVI celebrate a 350-person high-five down Bank Street to break the record for the longest high-five chain Sunday, July 14, 2013
Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day Visitors to Sailfest XXXVI celebrate a 350-person high-five down Bank Street to break the record for the longest high-five chain Sunday, July 14, 2013
Visitors to Sailfest XXXVI join to high five down Bank Street and break the record for longest high-five chain Sunday.
Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day Visitors to Sailfest XXXVI join to high five down Bank Street and break the record for longest high-five chain Sunday.
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