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Sailfest: Fried dough, politicians and more

By Amy Renczkowski

Publication: The Day

Published July 11. 2010 4:00AM
Tim Cook / The Day
Entertainers Gavin Killea, left, and Matt Swett watch their step as a bicyclist buzzes between them as they stroll along Waterfront Park during Sailfest.

Some scenes from Sailfest on Saturday:

A family reunion

On State Street and along City Pier the smells of fried food wafted over the Sailfest crowds Saturday afternoon. Gigantic signs advertising fresh-cut fries, gyros, funnel cakes, roasted nuts and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches attracted festival-goers.

A Del's lemonade stand near the Custom House Pier stage had two tip cups: one for New York Yankees fans and one for Boston Red Sox fans. The Red Sox were winning the tip battle.

Farther down Bank Street, Brooklyn, N.Y., artist Sarah Olson was drawing caricatures. Donna Pescatello, 64, a proud grandmother of eight, brought her youngsters to have their pictures drawn.

Pescatello said she has been to every Sailfest since 1985. Though she lives in Deltona, Fla., she grew up in New London and returns to take her grandchildren to the summertime festival every year.

"I like to see what New London has done. There's something new each year but the old stuff is still here," Pescatello said. "I love it."

This year's Sailfest is special for her. She was holding a family reunion for the first time on Pearl Street later that afternoon.

"We're all going to be together for seven days in New London. We'll go around, see where we grew up," she said.

Potato Boat debuts

Near the Custom House Pier stage, a bright yellow RV stood out from the crowd. Written on the side of the 1970 Dodge Lifetime was "The Potato Boat." Outside the motor home, a clipboard described the menu of twice-baked potatoes topped with steak and cheese, broccoli and cheese, barbecue pulled pork and bacon, sour cream and chives. Sweet corn and drinks were also available.

This is the first year The Potato Boat has been in business. Co-owners Claudio Miceli of Waterford and Jim Handy of Norwich spent almost a year converting the RV into a mobile restaurant with pizza ovens inside, a food basin and commercial sinks.

On Saturday afternoon some people were lining up for the massive twice-baked potatoes and sweet corn, but Miceli said he was hoping that business would pick up.

"We're just waiting for the big rush," said Handy.

Donations amid spending

While vendors were selling everything from homemade jewelry and glassware to clothes, purses and hot sauce, volunteers from the Children's Cancer Society set up a booth soliciting donations. The nonprofit organization helps children's families affected by cancer.

This is the fourth year the society has collected donations at Sailfest. They placed themselves under a shaded tent on Bank Street and held out plastic buckets for donations.

"People have been very generous, even with this bad economy," said Peggy Harold, the society's executive director. "The ones that have the very little are the ones that give the most."

Sails are back

While Sailfest has become a bigger and bigger draw for people across southern New England over the years, it hasn't really lived up to its name - there has been a noticeable lack of sails.

Enter the Peacemaker. Soaring 126 feet over the Custom House Pier and open to the public, the tall ship is perhaps the most obvious addition to this year's festival. Although her 10,000 square feet of sails are furled while the ship is docked, the towering masts, intricate rigging and multiple decks are an impressive sight.

"This is one of the best events we've been to," said Zakar Meuller, 25, the ship's engineer and assistant captain. "We had close to 7,000 people on board yesterday."

The Peacemaker is owned by the Twelve Tribes, an international association of fundamental religious communities. It was built in the late 1980s but sat abandoned in Georgia for 12 years before the Twelve Tribes undertook a complete restoration in 2000. A core crew of eight runs the ship full-time; Meuller has lived on board for five years.

While looking for a dry dock in the area to complete some repairs, the crew made a few contacts in Mystic with the Amistad crew, who in turn directed them to Sailfest organizers. The boat will remain docked at the pier for several more weeks, as most of the crew is now on shore leave.

"We'll remain open to the public for the most part," Meuller said. "This ship doesn't go anywhere without her crew."

Candidates say hello

Sailfest, with its large crowds, is a popular spot for those who are running for office.

Republican Peter Schiff, who is running for U.S. Senate, was among the candidates spotted at the festival on Saturday. Campaign workers were handing out literature for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democratic candidate for Senate, and other candidates.

On Friday, Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon greeted festival-goers.

Cool drinks are hot

As temperatures soared to 80 degrees by 10:30 a.m., Sailfest visitors weren't shy about grabbing free samples of Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and coolattas as they walked by.

Samantha Riley, 11, of New London, managed to gulp down six small cups of blue raspberry coolattas.

"People are asking, 'Can I take two? It's really hot,'" said Michelle White of Big Fish Productions.

The warm weather means business was good for the vendors selling giant-size smoothies and frozen drinks, such as Jungle Juice, a company based out of Granby. There are plenty of flavors to try like pina colada, orange creamsicle and their most popular, strawberry banana.

'A nice gathering'

Gail Riley, 46, arrived at Sailfest with her daughter at 10 a.m. sharp. In the 34 years she's lived in New London, she's never missed a Sailfest. She lives on Tilley Street and can walk to the festival.

"It's fun. There's a crowd of people, and the games ... there's lots of activities," Riley said. "It's nice to see so many people coming down. It's a nice gathering for New London."

Riley and her daughter, Samantha, 11, were over at the Balloon Lagoon carnival game early Saturday morning. Samantha broke enough balloons with a dart that she won an Eric Cartman South Park stuffed animal. Cartman is the last one she needed to complete her collection. On Friday night, she won the other three in the series.

"I like all the games and rides," Samantha said, smiling widely while holding onto her stuffed animal. "It's really fun. A lot of my friends come down here."

Cell phone: off

His back to the billowy clouds rolling across the mouth of the Thames, Daniel Lee White swapped stories with other die-hard fireworks fans staking out their viewing spots on the Amistad Pier Saturday morning.

"We got beat out last year and ended up smushed into that corner, which was really unfortunate," he said. "I wasn't going to let that happen this year."

White and his fiancee, Kerri Kanelos, woke up at 6 a.m. to drive down from Providence and claim their spot, almost dead center at the end of the pier. By 10:30 a.m., it seemed as though his efforts were worth it; a small crowd armed with lawn chairs had begun to gather.

"We work in shifts to hold our place," he said. "But we've been coming here for years, and you start to recognize some of the same people, so we watch each other's stuff."

White, whose father owns the Book Barn in Niantic, said he's been coming to Sailfest since he was a little kid.

"I work a lot, and I like to just sit here and relax; I turn my phone off, no one can call me," he said. "The fireworks just really get me, and this is one of the best displays."

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