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VIDEO: The rituals and joys of Sailfest

New London — The physicists tell us that mathematical time is absolute. Twenty-four hours is 24 hours.

But don’t try to tell local folks that Sailfest Saturday isn’t a really, really long day. Fun? Without question. But … long.

Downtown New London early on a Sailfest Saturday is an interesting prelude.

The festivities didn’t officially open until 10 a.m., but Waterfront Park, closed off sections of Bank and State streets, the public parking lot on Eugene O’Neill — hosting the Doolan Amusements carnival — were all humming with preparatory rituals.

At 9:20 a.m., Ed Johnston was leaning against one of the tables of his Ring Around the Tosy booth, waiting for what he hoped would be hordes of customers wanting to buy his toe rings.

In relative terms — compared with the massive food preparation and tent erection going on at vendor stalls all around — Johnston doesn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting.

“Yeah, selling toe rings isn’t brain surgery. There’s not a lot to it,” he laughed.

A native of Lincoln, R.I., now living in Florida, Johnston has traveled the East Coast festival circuit with Ring Around the Tosy for 19 years. “It’s a nice life. It’s kicky, no one gets hurt. You get to meet a lot of people and make them laugh.”

In Waterfront Park, occupying the circular space at the end of one of the pedestrian spokes extending into the Thames River, three members of the Niantic-based Medley clan were the designated homesteaders holding down prime real estate pursuant to an optimal fireworks-watching experience later in the evening.

Doug Medley, his wife, Gena, and daughter Rebekah Medley arrived at the pier by 7 a.m. It wasn’t particularly early. Several beach and camping chairs were set up.

“Oh, no, we stopped at The Shack in Niantic and had breakfast before we came over here,” Doug Medley said. “You have to keep up your energy.”

Gena was reading a paperback Jack Higgins novel and said, “We’ve got books, a deck of cards, a radio … We just hang out and have a good time. We take turns all day in terms of walking around Sailfest or taking nieces and grandnieces on rides or to get ice cream. It’s actually pretty relaxed because, by tonight, they’ll be as many as 27 of us here.”

By early afternoon, the sun was climbing into a high blue sky, the humidity was mercifully low and the crowds were slowly starting to build.

Still, at his crossbow booth on the carnival midway, Bob Jones was mostly waiting on archers. But he wasn’t worried.

“I grew up in the business,” said the California native. “I’m used to how it works. It’s a nice day. People will show up, have a lot of fun. I have a lot of fun doing this.”

Chris Holdridge and Meghan Killimade were wandering down State Street toward Waterfront Park. Killimade, a local drummer, is scheduled to play the City Pier Stage today with her band The Paul Brockett Roadshow.

“We thought we’d just come down and check out the food,” she said Saturday afternoon, “before the big crowds get here.”

Holdridge nodded. “Come down. Check out food. Get out. That’s the strategy.”

As live entertainment began to kick in across four stages, a new sense of energy began to hum. Lines began to queue up at the Custom House Stage beer stand while Katie Perkins and her band belted out raucous country music.

A citizen astonished the crowded, family-centric Custom House food pavilion by skateboarding through in a high speed, serpentine pattern.

In the Hygienic Art Park, family members, friends and intrigued passersby delighted in a performance by the youths of Writer’s Block Ink.

“It’s a series of interconnected pieces in one bigger piece,” said Lillian Cook, the director of Groton’s Lion’s Den Dance Troupe, who works extensively with Writer’s Block. “It’s particularly impressive because they wrote and put this together in two days.”

Twitter: @rickkoster


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