Festival makes heritage accessible

New London — Gray skies brought some rain on the third day of this year's Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, but not on this parade.

In an act of historical vengeance Friday night, members of Flock Theatre and the Colchester Continentals Fife and Drum Corps led a raucous mob shouting "Burn the traitor!" from Shaw Mansion down Bank Street to the waterfront. There, Mayor Michael Passero called on the crowd of hundreds to "Remember New London!" before taking a torch to a stuffed effigy of Benedict Arnold.

Arnold, who originally was from Norwich, was first an American general but then switched sides and became a general for the British during the Revolutionary War. He led a British force in an attack on New London and Fort Griswold in Groton on Sept. 6, 1781, during which much of New London was burned.

Earlier in the day Friday, a variety of schooners and Coast Guard vessels docked at the City and Custom House piers for the sixth annual event, where they were available for free tours.

At Fort Trumbull State Park, more than 500 people filed through metal detectors throughout the day, waiting in groups of 20 to 30 to board the USS Lassen, the hulking guided-missile destroyer that arrived Thursday from its homeport in Mayport, Fla.

Though scheduled to take part in the festival, the schooner Amistad, which has been undergoing maintenance at Mystic Seaport, had to cancel because of docking issues, according to festival organizers. Another ship, the Fire Fighter, a historic fireboat homeported in Greenport, N.Y., showed up late Friday morning, docking at the Custom House Pier.

The 141-foot Columbia, an exact replica of the historic Gloucester fishing schooner of the same name, swept to victory over the 110-foot Mystic Whaler in the festival-sponsored Morgan Cup schooner race in New London Harbor.

All of the ships participating in the festival, including the Lassen, will be open for tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

A Lisbon couple, Ken Mahler and Christine Strick, were among the final group to tour the Lassen late Friday afternoon, arriving via a powerboat boat and a dinghy they keep in Noank.

“It’s a wonderful thing having these moorings here,” Mahler, a Mystic Seaport Museum retiree, said of the accommodations for boaters at the state park. “This would be a much better place for the Coast Guard Museum.”

The $100 million museum has been proposed for a downtown New London site.

Inspecting a rescue helicopter parked on the Lassen’s deck, Bill Patrone, a New London resident, said that after serving with the Seabees, the Navy’s construction force, he’d always wondered what it might feel like to serve on a big ship.

“I’m kind of glad I wasn’t on a ship,” he said after touring the Lassen. “I don’t know if I’d have liked it for months at a time. ... I didn’t realize the destroyers were as big as they are.”

In addition to the ships, the festival has featured entertainment in the evenings, although the forecast for inclement weather Thursday night prompted a swing-dancing event to be moved from the Custom House Pier to the Hygienic Art Park on Bank Street. A public party for the crews of the ships was scheduled Friday evening at the Hygienic, to be followed by musical and theater performances on City Pier.

Saturday’s activities include “The Great New London Chowder Challenge,” a competition involving more than 20 restaurants and Navy chefs; Coast Guard search-and-rescue demonstrations off City Pier, starting at 1 p.m.; and “Music on the Pier,” a concert of Americana music, from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the Custom House Pier.

Day Staff Writer Benjamin Kail contributed to this report.


If you go

The festival continues this weekend in downtown New London.

Saturday, Sept. 8:

Public ship visitations, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., New London waterfront.

Great New London Chowder Challenge, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., restaurants compete for best chowder.

U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue demonstrations, 1 p.m., Thames River.

Music on the Pier Americana concert, 2:30-8:30 p.m., Custom House Pier, New London.

Sunday, Sept. 9:

Ship visitations, noon to 4 p.m., New London waterfront.

For information, go to www.CTMaritimeFest.com.


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