As the America's Cup unfolds a new world of sailing challenges and the sailors themselves present more like characters out of a fantasy science thriller than traditional sailors, over in Connecticut they are celebrating our graceful sailing history.
Connecticut Schooner Festival
Schooners from around the region - Mystic Whaler, Brilliant, Malabar II, Virginia, Sophia Christina, Mary E, Schooner Mystic and Equinox - gathered to celebrate their historic ties with the region in the 'Connecticut Schooner Festival'.
All were welcome to join in, not just experienced sailors. Lucinda Johnson and Gladys Ramos, mother and daughter landlubbers, got into the spirit of handling a tall ship Friday morning as they helped to hoist some of the Mystic Whaler's 3,000 square feet of sails.
As the crew shouted 'Heave!' during the short trip from Mystic Seaport to City Pier in New London, Johnson and Ramos joined some of the 23 guests aboard the 83-foot schooner and responded with 'Ho!' as they pulled on lines that brought up the sails.
Johnson had won tickets for Friday's three-hour ride, which kicked off the inaugural Connecticut Schooner Festival. She invited her mother to join her.
'That was pretty cool,' Johnson, who lives in Ledyard, told The Day of getting her hands on the lines and pulling up the sail. 'Whatever they told us to do, we did it.'
Mystic Whaler was supposed to lead a parade of sail Friday for the start of the festival. But weather conditions and other events conspired to reduce the parade to only three ships — Mystic Whaler, followed by Brilliant and Malabar II.
But no one on board Mystic Whaler seemed to mind. And neither did the people lining either side of the Mystic River to see the ship off. Standing on docks and seated in lawn chairs on grassy areas, several dozen people waved and shouted to Capt. John Eginton as he motored down the Mystic River with sails set.
The overcast morning turned into a brilliant day as the schooner cruised out to Fishers Island Sound and then up the Thames River. Speed boats, kayakers, ferries, more than 100 boats lining up for the Fall Off Soundings race, and even a submarine, were part of the sights along the way.
On board, New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio chatted with other guests, including state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, and talked up the city's assets — City Pier, Waterfront Park, floating docks and good restaurants.
'We have to capitalize on our investments,' Finizio told The Day. 'We've got to get the people here to see what we have. New London is very much on the rise.'
On board without his cellphone, Finizio said he was the most relaxed he's been in months during the three-hour journey. 'I'm not from a boating family, but I love to be out on the water,' he said.
When the ship arrived at City Pier, Mystic Whaler's homeport, about 1 p.m., Eginton shouted a greeting: 'Welcome to New London and welcome to the Schooner Festival!'
The festival is a collaboration of Mystic Seaport and OpSail Connecticut to celebrate the region's maritime heritage. The five-day event began at Mystic Seaport on Wednesday and included a parade of lighted boats Friday night.
Soon, after the celebrations and some fun racing on Saturday - which was much easier to identify with than the America's Cup - it was all over and all the schooners left New London late Sunday morning for their home ports.