OpSail seeking to get its bearings back

New London — Reeling a bit in the wake of their longtime leader’s abrupt resignation, OpSail Connecticut members are moving on.

Days after John Johnson stepped down as chairman, remaining members of OpSail’s board of directors met Nov. 1, elected David Crocker, owner of Crocker’s Boatyard and New London’s harbormaster, as interim vice president and voted to explore the feasibility of partnering with a group interested in staging a tall ships event in the city next year, according to Marian Galbraith, the OpSail secretary.

Board members are scheduled to meet again Tuesday to take up such agenda items as the organization’s financial state, whether to proceed with an audit and, possibly, the election of officers, Galbraith said Friday. Of less urgency, she said, is the need to secure a new office and retrieve records and OpSail-owned artwork from its previous headquarters — Johnson’s Gallery at Firehouse Square on Bank Street.

“Right now, all we’ve got is a post office box. We do not have a physical location,” Galbraith said. “We will no longer be at 239 Bank St.”

Nevertheless, she said, “a smooth transition” is underway.

OpSail’s signature event, the annual Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, takes place in September.

Upheaval within the organization surfaced Oct. 28, the night Johnson emailed Galbraith that he was thinking of resigning due to what he later told The Day was some OpSail board members’ reluctance to endorse a proposed agreement with Tall Ships America, the Newport, R.I.-based nonprofit interested in New London as a 2020 port of call. Tall Ships America is seeking to line up Northeast coastal locations for a series of events being planned in connection with Maine’s bicentennial celebration.

Johnson had notified media that an OpSail-Tall Ships America contract-signing would take place at a news conference Oct. 29. The news conference was called off that morning.

Johnson then announced he was leaving OpSail and planned to form a new nonprofit — Tall Ships New London 2020 — to pursue funding for the tall ships event. He suggested Friday that his new group, which has yet to materialize, and OpSail could collaborate on the effort with Tall Ships America.

“Let OpSail handle all the onshore stuff, the security, the logistics, and we’ll handle the entertainment side of it,” Johnson said.

Johnson and others have said the budget for a tall ships event in New London could be as much as $700,000 or more. Funding would come from corporate sponsorships, private donations and a state grant. Johnson said he was hopeful the state could ante up $250,000.

In the current fiscal year, the state provided OpSail with $80,000 in support of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, according to Galbraith. Half of the sum has been received, she said.

In addition to Crocker and Galbraith, the members of OpSail’s reconstituted board include Robert Amrein, Ed Chale, Peter Hary, Linda Mariani and Lee Palombo, as well as ex-officio members Michael Passero, the New London mayor; Keith Hedrick, the Groton City mayor; and Chris Zendan, the Naval Submarine Base’s public affairs officer.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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