Good weather bolsters 2nd day of maritime fest
New London — The city's docks were filled with ships of every proportion, propulsion and purpose as a crowd gathered to kick off the second day of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival on Saturday.
Around 50 people already had lined up to tour the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole at Pier 7 in Fort Trumbull State Park before tours began at 10 a.m., said the ship's liaison, Lt. Jason May.
Known for the terrorist bombing it suffered in 2000 that killed 17 crew members, the Cole was a big attraction for the festival, now in its fifth year. By noon, the line stretched along the shore, and May said people were waiting roughly an hour before getting aboard the ship.
"So far we've had about 500 people on board," he estimated.
Those waiting also got access to two other ships: the large Coast Guard icebreaker Thunder Bay, and the Bollard, a 65-foot small harbor ice-breaking tug.
At City Pier, alongside a tent containing displays from Naval Submarine Base New London, a small group gathered around to watch a small submersible, tethered by a utility cord, dive to the bottom of the river and then leap up out of the water.
Controlled by Navy Diver I Jason Geissler, the remote-controlled vehicle is used by the submarine support facility to perform routine inspections of submarines underwater.
It also can be outfitted with a grabbing arm for when crews are working on a submarine and "we need to get something we dropped," Geissler said.
The crew of the 87-foot-long Coast Guard patrol boat Albacore also offered tours. The boat has many uses, including for fisheries management, search and rescue and a variety of other missions, according to Marie Millenberger, a Coast Guard Auxiliary officer.
By around 1 p.m., however, people on most tours paused to watch as the drone of a MH-60-T Jayhawk helicopter, part of a Coast Guard search and rescue demonstration, buzzed through the air. The helicopter hovered low over the water, carefully lowering a line down into the river to retrieve a rescue diver.
Festival Chief Operating Officer Bruce MacDonald said it was the biggest festival they have had.
"It was tremendous weather ... it couldn't have been better," MacDonald said.
The annual Great New London Chowder Challenge, pitting 14 restaurants, ships galleys and New London High School's culinary arts team against each other, also took place as part of the festival.
Fatboy's Cafe took first place, with Cross Hall Galley, the dining facility for Naval Submarine Base New London, taking second and New London High School's Whaler Cafe taking third.
The day's festivities wrapped up with the Burning of Benedict Arnold — in effigy, at least — to commemorate the burning of New London by British soldiers under Arnold's command on Sept. 6, 1781.
It was the fifth year that New London's Flock Theatre group has held the event. Members of the troupe, dressed in costumes to evoke the Revolutionary War time period, led a mob of onlookers to shouts of "Burn the traitor! Burn the traitor!" along the waterfront. The entourage stopped at the Amistad Pier to watch the dummy of Arnold in a redcoat go up in flames, before shouting "Long live New London!"
On Sunday, visitors will have access to continued tours of the U.S.S. Cole starting at 12:30 p.m. and other remaining vessels, while the schooners Columbia and Brilliant will participate in the Murphy Cup Challenge Race from Ocean Beach, arranged by the Thames Yacht Club.
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