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Maritime heritage festival will have to do without (live) ships

New London — Known for the ships it draws to the city’s waterfront and to Fort Trumbull State Park every September, the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival will proceed without ships this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A 9/11 observance is one of a few live events being planned for the 2020 festival, which will otherwise take place online, according to Eleanor Mariani, who chairs the OpSail Connecticut board of directors' event planning committee.

The festival is scheduled for Sept. 10-13.

OpSail Connecticut, a private nonprofit, has staged the maritime festival here every year since 2013, typically featuring a Navy vessel. Last year, the USS Sioux City, a littoral combat ship, filled in for the USS Philippine Sea, a guided missile cruiser that had been scheduled to appear before being reassigned at the last minute. Guided-missile destroyers visited in previous years.

Mariani said the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic prevented the OpSail board from lining up a festival fleet.

The Naval Submarine Base has been informed that no Navy ship will be able to participate in this year’s festival, according to Chris Zendan, the base’s public affairs officer and an ex-officio member of the OpSail board.

Due to the coronavirus, the Navy has restricted what it calls “quality-of-life port visits,” said Don Sewell, community outreach director for the U.S. Fleet Force Command in Norfolk, Va.

The restrictions are in effect until further notice, Sewell said.

Festival organizers are looking into virtual presentations modeled after last month’s Virtual Fleet Week New York 2020, in which the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard took to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The event included video tours of ships, including the tallship Eagle, the Coast Guard Academy’s training barque, which is a festival mainstay.

Videos posted on social media as part of Fleet Week were viewed by more than 170,000 people May 20-26, far more than toured ships and witnessed aircraft demonstrations the previous year, the Navy said in a news release.

Mariani said musical performances and children’s activities also could be part of the festival’s virtual offerings.

“Who knows, by September we might be able to have some live music,” she said. “We’re playing it by ear.”

The OpSail board has turned to Barbara Neff, executive director of Sailfest, another annual event disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, to help organize festival events.

Sailfest, which had been scheduled for July 10-12, was canceled in May. The region’s largest annual summer event, it typically draws thousands of people to New London for food and entertainment, including a fireworks display sponsored by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe.

Some virtual Sailfest events will take place, including a July 11 fireworks show.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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