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New London's Sailfest a Big Bang Gala

Fireworks, full moon cap a spectacular

Sailfest celebration

New London - A sparkling display of fireworks with a full-moon backdrop evoked cheers and set off car alarms Saturday during Sailfest.

This year's festival also boasted a pop-up gallery in an empty Bank Street storefront, a last-minute visit from the Amistad, political campaigning and greasy food galore.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley arrived in town for a short visit at around 2:30 p.m. He said he planned to "cruise around" the wharf and along Bank Street with his family, staff, Republican lieutenant governor candidate Penny Bacchiochi and former Republican Congressman Rob Simmons.

Upon hearing that the Amistad had made it to town, he exclaimed, "Amazing!"

He said he was glad the ship had sailed in but said he would have used a "softer touch" than Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and would not have threatened withholding funding.

Republican Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, a New London resident who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives' 2nd District seat, was also at Sailfest meeting with voters.

Of course, it wouldn't be Sailfest without what the festival website calls the "4th largest fireworks display in the Northeast," yet another crowd-pleaser in a festival known for crowds.

Locals and tourists packed Bank Street at around 9 p.m., the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation-sponsored Fireworks Extravaganza only a half-hour away. Some viewers, however, found a little bit of breathing room in some creative spots.

On the top floor of Water Street Parking Garage, a group of roughly 30 Rhode Islanders carried on a near-two decade tradition of tailgating at a prime viewing location.

"It's crowded down there," said Jay Voelker, of Coventry, R.I., who started the tailgating party 17 years ago when he and about five other friends first watched the fireworks from the garage rooftop. Now the group pays for extra parking spaces to accommodate the ever-increasing number of party-goers.

A small home-town festival in Groton offered another laid-back alternative to the Bank Street crowds for some on Saturday.

The Fort Griswold Celebration on the Thames had drawn roughly 200 people to the hill of Fort Griswold by 5 p.m., with plenty of space to spare between blankets as families continued to stream in toting coolers, tents and more.

The town Parks and Recreation Department first held the event in 1980 but didn't give it a name until this year, according to Program Supervisor Kate Bradley. She said that before, people just called it "the Griswold thing."

The department's Facebook page, also new this year, offered a bump in advertising, and three new vendors joined the event to bring the tally to nine vendors, she said.

"Everyone knows about Sailfest and we're hoping that in the next few years everyone will know what Celebration on the Thames is," said Bradley.

Several visitors to the fort on the sunny 80-degree day said they were longtime attendees of what Bradley described as part street fair and part community festival.

"We've come probably about how many years?" Christine Hopkins of Killingly asked her husband Patrick.

"Probably a dozen," he replied from his lawn chair stationed near the top of the hill.

The two said that what brought them were great fireworks and a fun, family atmosphere.

For a group of five 20-somethings awaiting the arrival of two additional friends, the firework-watching station at Fort Griswold provides an annual gathering point for the now-scattered group of friends who grew up together in Groton.

Members of the group said they'd been coming to the spot for as long as they could remember.

"We used to go with our families, now we go by ourselves," said Meghan Mizak, who now lives in Woodstock.


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