New London — Many people taking their first ride on a sailboat can't believe how fast one can go.
"And they're amazed at how quiet it is,'' said Kit Will of Brewer Pilots Point Marina, which was offering one-hour rides for $12 aboard the sleek racing boats Stars & Stripes from City Pier Friday, the first day of Sailfest.
The two 52-foot carbon Fiberglas boats, which were built as training vessels for yachtsman Dennis Connor's America's Cup team, can reach speeds up to 18 knots, or about 20 miles per hour. An average sailboat travels about seven knots, or about eight miles per hour.
On Friday afternoon the city's waterfront was starting to get busy for the three-day festival that draws thousands of visitors. Food vendors were firing up their grills and preparing the likes of falafel, pad thai noodles and New Orleans bourbon chicken. Along with the two Stars & Stripes boats, the Amistad, Mystic Whaler and A.J. Meerwald were snug against City Pier as strollers admired the wooden hulls and tall masts. All three boats were offering public tours and sails.
Small pleasure boats, one with a dog for a crew, buzzed in and around the bigger boats. Ferries carried passengers to and from Block Island and Long Island.
"It's nice to see all this,'' said New London resident Marcus Torres, who rode his bicycle to the pier with his daughter and three neighborhood kids. "Usually it's a ghost town," he said.
Torres, who grew up in New London and looks forward to the annual three-day festival, plans to return to the pier today to "eat, walk around and stay for the fireworks."
"I always bump into old friends,'' he said. "It's like a family reunion."
Aboard the Meerwald, a 115-foot restored oyster schooner, a group of teenage campers were getting ready for a final sail with their families after five days traveling to New London from Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
"The things I love more than anything else is this boat and my Sunfish at home,'' said 17-year-old Raymond Girini of Oakland, N.J., one of the campers. He decided to stay on with the boat, which can carry 44 passengers, for two more weeks as a volunteer.
"They're all great people,'' he said of the crew. "We all look out for each other. When they go on a break, we miss them."
Sailfest continues through Sunday.