Amistad welcomed more than 3,000 during New London visit

New London — The schooner Amistad remained in New London until about noon Monday while it waited to fuel up before making the seven- or eight-hour journey back to New Haven.

“It was too difficult to arrange for fueling on a Sunday after a festival,” said Jesse Doucette, chief officer of the Amistad.

The 10-member crew also wanted to get a good night’s sleep on the vessel after a long weekend, he said.

The schooner received more than 3,000 visitors on Saturday and Sunday at Sailfest, Doucette said. Hanifa Washington, executive director of Amistad America, told visitors the story of 53 Africans who were nearly forced into slavery in 1839. While traveling on the schooner, they took control of the ship but were captured in the Long Island Sound and later jailed in New Haven. Ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court ruled they were free and could return to their homeland.

“We were just really welcomed by the town; everyone was just very kind and thanked us very much for getting here,” Doucette said. “We thought it was just an excellent festival.”

Amistad came to New London after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Amistad America’s initial decision to skip Sailfest had him reconsidering future state funding. It was also revealed last week that the state will not disburse the most recent round of funding until an audit is completed.

During the festival the vessel had been tied to a floating dock because a floating structure and large fenders at City Pier made it too difficult to use Amistad’s gangway, he said. The vessel was moved to City Pier to fuel up Monday.

Doucette said he hoped there would be enough wind to sail back to New Haven and planned to arrive back at 7 or 8 p.m. The vessel will not be open for tours in New Haven initially because the crew is preparing it for an annual U.S. Coast Guard inspection on Thursday, he said. It will be open for tours in New Haven starting on Saturday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

j.somers@theday.com

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