Maritime festival again setting sail with corporate, state support

New London — Organizers of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival announced the planting Monday of 150 U.S. flags along the downtown waterfront, compliments of Orsted, the Danish developer partnering on an offshore wind project and a related upgrade of State Pier.

The organizers hope to soon announce the ships expected to participate in this year’s festival, set for Sept. 12-15.

“We’re going to have a better show than ever,” said John Johnson, the festival chairman.

Johnson said the festival welcomed Orsted to a list of corporate sponsors that also includes Eversource, another partner in the offshore wind/State Pier development. He said the state is providing about $75,000, as it did last year.

Festival organizers had hoped to make an announcement this week about a Navy vessel scheduled to appear at the festival but was unable to do so. Johnson said a 600-foot “surface” ship is expected to participate.

The USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, docked at Fort Trumbull State Park during last year’s festival. The USS Cole participated in 2017.

Johnson said this year’s festival fleet will include the Kings Pointer, a 224-foot training ship operated by the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point, N.Y. The Eagle, the Coast Guard Academy’s training barque, will dock at City Pier for the duration of the festival, he said, as will the usual array of historic schooners.

The festival also will feature a "Meet the Crew" party, a chowder competition, Coast Guard search-and-rescue demonstrations, concerts on Friday and Sunday, family activities and the Flock Theatre’s annual burning in effigy of Benedict Arnold.

Johnson said the festival’s board of directors is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. July 30 with representatives of Tall Ships America, the Newport, R.I.-based group that organizes tall ships events across the country. The meeting, which will be open to the public, will take place at the offices of Opsail Connecticut, 239 Bank St.

A year ago, Johnson said the tall ships group was eyeing New London as a potential 2020 port of call for a planned East Coast procession of tall ships commemorating the Pilgrims’ 1620 landing at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. Such a tall ships visit would have served as the 2020 maritime festival. Johnson said Monday that he decided months ago that festival officials would be unable to make a bid on behalf of New London because of insufficent state support.

The festival would need the state to contribute about $200,000 to such an effort — a third of the overall cost, Johnson said.

“I could have raised the other $300,000 to $400,000,” he said.

Kris Von Wald, executive director of Tall Ships America, confirmed that she will attend next week’s meeting in New London but said she couldn’t discuss her organization’s pitch in advance.

Another member of the organization’s staff, Erin Short, director of the Tall Ships Challenge race series, said Tall Ships America is no longer involved in planning a 2020 event commemorating the Pilgrims’ voyage. She said the group is instead focusing on a 2020 event marking Maine’s 200th anniversary of statehood.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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