By JOHN S. JOHNSON
The Connecticut Schooner Festival will be a significant way our region can celebrate the state's rich maritime heritage, along with an important part of its history and the spirit of innovation that has defined Connecticut since it was founded almost 375 years ago. It also will be a way for all to have fun, first at Mystic Seaport and then in New London.
Nearly a year in the planning, the festival combines elements of education and entertainment, along with historical pageantry, thanks to a partnership with the Flock Theatre. The festival will launch Sept. 11 at the Seaport with the schooners arriving throughout the day. On Thursday, Sept. 12, a series of on-board education programs has been organized for students in the region.
The festival moves to New London for a series of waterfront activities. These include, music, the lighted boat parade, an opportunity to ride on a schooner and, of course, the big race on Saturday.
The festival couldn't have gone from a dream to reality without the dedication of the many people, organizations and educators who have given their time and talents. In that sense, the festival is a tribute to all who have helped plan and carry it out.
Some have asked why the focus on schooners, and that is a good question.
Schooners have played an important role in the development of our nation and in the defense of her liberties. Not only have they defended our shores during times of crisis, starting with the Revolutionary War and continuing through the War of 1812, but in peacetime they have helped as our young country developed a system of commerce, moving cargo to market. During our War for Independence, the mighty British fleet bottled up our ports, including New London's, and destroyed most of New England's fishing fleet. However, much of the American schooner fleet survived because of speed and maneuverability.
Since then, schooners have served as fishing craft, people and cargo carriers and more recently as platforms for teaching about the sea and the importance of protecting our environment.
For those reasons and others, the decision was made to focus on schooners and highlight much of what is positive about our region and state. This festival will say a lot about our state and is a reflection of Connecticut's successful "Still Revolutionary" promotion campaign.
It couldn't happen without many volunteers, the assistance provided by the state and many private-sector sponsors.
But in the end, it will be those beautiful schooners and the educational opportunities that will be provided to young people at the Seaport and along the waterfront in the city's historic waterfront district that will assure visitors have a great experience.
The Connecticut Schooner Festival is a chance to learn something about our past and have fun doing it. Hope to see you there.
John Johnson is the chairman of the Connecticut Schooner Festival.