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From road race to wrap-up, Sailfest closes on a high note

Two days of perfect summer weather and a “well-seasoned” group of organizers helped make the 38th annual Sailfest a success this weekend, with no major problems reported by New London police.

“We talked to the vendors and everything was flawless,” said Barbara Neff, founder of Neff Productions and lead organizer of the annual street fair for nearly two decades. “After 19 years, I think we’ve got it right.”

City police reported four breach of peace arrests on Saturday, but no major incidents.

Neff’s assessment came just after the close of the fair early Sunday evening, as the operators of the Fun Slide were cranking the contraption flat for transport, and vendors at the pina colada booth near the Custom House Pier were packing up boxes of bananas.

Sunday morning began with the annual road race, which drew 230 runners, one of whom was Julie Cusak of Groton.

As if it weren't enough to be running in sweltering heat approaching 80 degrees for the annual Sailfest Charter Oak Federal Credit Union 5K Road Race, Cusack took on the extra challenge of pushing a carriage carrying 6-year-old daughter Millie and 3-year-old son Patrick.

"It was something to do," said Cusack, who joined a friend in the race. "I have an active lifestyle. It was fun."

The race pushed off about 9:15 a.m. in front of The Day and Citizens Bank on Eugene O'Neill Drive. Runners stretched and milled about at the start line after receiving their numbers from the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, which has helped organize the race for the past several years.

Manuel de Jesus Hernandez Brito, a New London High School student who won a contest for the design of this year's road race t-shirts, fired the starting gun, and runners were off to the cheers of spectators.

Mike McCarty and 11-year-old son Jake of Groton were two of the more serious runners, finishing toward the front of the pack. The 3.1-mile race was another opportunity for Jake, a middle school cross-country runner, to get some more experience.

"I just like running," said Jake, who already has competed in about a half dozen long-distance races.

Emberleigh and Tyler Luce of New London, two other serious runners, had the ambition of finishing in the top 10 for the race, having run up to the top of Mount Washington earlier this year as well as competing in other long-distance runs, including a half marathon.

They were decked out in full running regalia, including monitors attached to their arms that were meant to keep them on pace.

"Every run is challenging," said Emberleigh, who intended to enjoy some post-race delights at Berry's Ice Cream & Candy Bar on Bank Street.

Others would indulge in treats offered by the many other Sailfest food vendors, including Sweeties on Bank Street.

Owner Aaron Dronberger said the bakery did a brisk breakfast business that morning, and stayed busy selling cookies and cupcakes on a stick from a stand outside the shop.

“It brings a lot of people to town we wouldn’t ordinarily see,” he said.

On the Custom House Pier, amid the rock bands and local restaurant booths, one exhibit kept the “sail” in Sailfest. The schooner Amistad hosted about 1,500 people for free tours over the two-day festival, Captain James Peters said.

Visitors were allowed to go below deck of the ship, replica of a 19th-century slave ship. As it works its way out of financial troubles, the ship is staying in the city for most of the summer in preparation for major refurbishment at Mystic Seaport this fall, he said.

“Even as uncomfortable as it is below deck, coming down and seeing the confined conditions really humanizes the story,” he said.

The ship tours were run in partnership with the Hempsted Houses.

“The Amistad’s been a world traveler, but now it needs to focus on its home state,” Peters said.

Sheila Borden and Lisa Vinson, visiting their home city from Gallipolis, Ohio, for the weekend, said they were pleased the Amistad offered a more serious educational counterpoint to the otherwise lighthearted event.

“I was thinking of the history of what they (the slaves) went through,” Borden said.

Neff said some of the most popular new events this year were the raffle, which gave prizes of $2,000, $1,000 and $500 to three lucky fairgoers.

Another was the Latin and Gospel music stage in front of City Hall, where six Latin bands performed Saturday and six Gospel groups performed on Sunday.

“That was a huge success,” she said.

Twitter: @BensonJudy; @KingstonLeeHow

Editor's note: This version corrects the organization that assisted with the Amistad tours. It was Hempsted Houses.


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