New London festival celebrates maritime history in Connecticut
New London – Sheila Delehanty of West Haven has never been on a boat in her life, never mind a 295-foot-long sailing ship with a 149-foot high main mast and miles of rigging that seemed to be coiled in every nook and cranny of the ship.
“That’s something else,” she said, stepping off the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle onto City Pier with 4-year-old daughter Ava and a smile on her face. Delehanty would later explain to friends how the ship was built in Germany as a training vessel before World War II and seized after the war by the U.S. as a war reparation.
The Eagle was back in the city Saturday as part of the two-day Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, the annual event to “Celebrate the Sea” with a mix of entertainment, food, ship tours, water taxi rides and some maritime history lessons.
Despite brutal heat Saturday, visitors came out to line the shady sides of Bank and State streets at noon for the second annual Mermaids and Sea Monsters Parade, a line of dancers, bands, students in costume and Coast Guard cadets, among other participants.
Derek Nappier of Waterford chose a shady spot under a tree near Parade Plaza to sit with his family. He said he’d never attended the festival before and expected more people but was glad, because of the heat, that there were not the kind of crowds that came out for Sailfest, the city’s largest annual festival.
“It’s not what I expected but mellow in a good way,” Nappier said. “This is a good day to get out, see some boats, get some food and have something for the kids to do.”
Melissa Root, president of OpSail Connecticut, the nonprofit that runs the festival, said the event is a good chance for the public to get a hands-on experience with the state’s maritime history and interact with some service members. The best thing about the weekend event: it’s free.
The Eagle, whose home port is now New London, is joined on the New London waterfront this weekend by the SSV Oliver Hazard Perry, the largest civilian sailing school vessel in the U.S. and the first ocean-going fully rigged ship to be built in more than 100 years. Also in attendance is the Ida Lewis, the Coast Guard’s 175-foot buoy tender, and the Merchant Marine Academy’s Capital Training Ship Kings Pointer.
On Sunday, the festival will feature a maritime skills challenge “feats of strength and skills” between members of the Navy, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. At 2 p.m., a Coast Guard helicopter will perform a search and rescue demonstration. There will also be a free fishing clinic from 1 to 4 p.m.
The event is sponsored by the state Department of Economic and Community Development’s Office of Tourism and a host of local sponsors. For more information visit: www.ctmaritimefest.com
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