Maritime festival loses main attraction; organizers hopeful of a replacement

New London — Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival organizers were hoping Monday to secure another Navy ship’s participation after the Navy reassigned the 567-foot guided-missile cruiser that had been scheduled to appear at the four-day festival, which begins Thursday.

In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the Navy diverted the USS Philippine Sea, which was to dock at Fort Trumbull State Park for the duration of the festival, John Johnson, the festival chairman, said late Monday afternoon.

Johnson said he was confident the Navy would provide another ship.

“They’re working on it,” Johnson said. “I’m confident they’ll come through. The Navy is so dependable and has been so loyal to New London that I’m sure they’ll send a replacement that’s more than adequate.”

In recent years, Navy destroyers have been the festival's main attraction, drawing thousands of visitors.

Johnson said he understood Dorian’s effect had prompted the redeployment of the Philippine Sea, which he speculated could be needed in some rescue or backup role.

In advance of the storm late last week the Navy moved three ships homeported in Mayport, Fla., to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. The USS Sioux City, the USS Milwaukee and the USS Billings, all littoral combat ships — relatively small surface vessels designed for operations near shore — passed through New London Harbor on Friday.

Gov. Ned Lamont will attend the maritime festival’s opening ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at City Pier.

Organizers expect Eagle, the Coast Guard Academy’s training barque, to be moored at City Pier during the festival. Nearly a dozen other vessels will dock downtown and at Fort Trumbull. All of the ships will be open for free tours.

Festival events will include a Coast Guard search-and-rescue demonstration; a family “arts and fun zone” featuring a monster mural, face painting, balloon figures, children’s maritime-related book presentations and author signings and games; and a family “infotainment zone” zone featuring science, technology, engineering and math of the maritime services and fields.

The festival’s annual chowder challenge will take place Saturday. A concert by the Cartells is scheduled Friday, the Flock Theatre’s burning in effigy of Benedict Arnold is set for Saturday and a concert featuring Still Kickin’ with the Big City Horns is scheduled Sunday.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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