Sunshine, good winds for Downrigging Weekend
CHESTERTOWN — It was sunny skies with a good breeze and plenty to do for the Sultana Education Foundation’s 17th annual Downrigging Weekend.
“I came here for the weekend, but decided to extend my visit to Friday and Monday because there is so much to do,” Christian Wilson said.
Wilson was visiting from Bel Air and said this was his first Downrigging.
The annual festival, which celebrates the end of the sailing season and the start of readying tall ships for winter, ran for three days, Oct. 27 to 29.
Throughout the weekend, the tall ships could be seen embarking on two-hour voyages down the Chester River. Sunday was a bit damp, but the tall ships still set out on public sails as planned, though visitors who did not want to get rained on could opt out for a full refund.
Sultana Education Foundation President Drew McMullen said the public sails sold out Friday and Saturday. He said if not for the weather Sunday, there could have been about 1,200 people on the Chester River. Despite Sunday’s weather, he said this year’s festival was one of the best.
“The wind Saturday was perfect on the verge of being too much,” McMullen said. “A few sailboats did not want to come over from the western shore because of gail-force winds, but a lot still came over because this is their favorite festival. Chestertown makes them feel very welcomed.”
Lauren Morgens, captain of the Kalmar Nyckel from Delaware, said Downrigging Weekend is one of her favorite events to come to.
“My first Downrigging was 11 years ago in 2006. It was also my first sail as captain of this ship,” Morgens said Sunday. “It’s nice to come back.”
Morgens and her crew of 23 volunteers spent the time in between sails Sunday downrigging the ship for winter, and so it can make the journey back to Wilmington, Del. She said the crew had to take a few pieces of the ship apart in order to fit under the bridge for Interstate 495.
“We’ll be sailing back with ropes and sails in two of our bunks,” Morgens said.
Among the special visitors to Chestertown for Downrigging was U.K. Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch and his wife Vanessa.
Though the eight tall ships tend to be the focus of the festival, there was plenty more for visitors to do and see over the course of the weekend. Ranging from book talks to art gallery tours, Downrigging provided information on the history and health of the Chesapeake Bay in addition to the chance to get out on the water.
Over at the Sultana Education Foundation’s Holt Center, visitors could get to know some of the lesser seen animals native to the area.
As part of the Aquatic Exploration in the Wet Lab exhibit, children were able to handle turtles, fish and crabs. Katie Urbanski, an intern for the foundation, was on hand to provide information on the turtles and more creatures found in the Chester River.
Emma and Lucy Talbott, who were visiting from Arizona, got to hold and learn about a diamondback terrapin found by Chestertown Mayor and Sultana Education Foundation Vice President Chris Cerino.
There were many chances during the weekend for people to enjoy oysters. Those who don’t care to eat the raw variety, had the chance to learn the history of them.
MassoniArt welcomed Downrigging visitors Friday night with an oyster bar set up outside the gallery on High Street, which featured paintings of watermen by Marc Castelli. It quickly ran out of oysters shucked by members of the Kent County Waterman’s Association.
Also Friday, the Garfield Center for the Arts hosted John Boulware, executive director of the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City, for a lecture on the recovery and rebirth of the port of New York.
Chestertown-area resident Kate Livie, managing editor of Chesapeake Bay Magazine, provided history on the oyster during a book talk Saturday at the Bookplate. Livie is the author of “Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay’s Foundation and Future.” She spoke to an audience of about 20 on the economic and environmental merit of the oyster.
Also speaking at the Bookplate for Downrigging was Wendy Mitman Clarke, director of media relations at Washington College. Clarke spoke about her novel, “Still Bending Water,” depicting life on the Bay.
Now in its second year at Downrigging, Delmarva Dock Dogs was once again a hit among visitors. Across the Chester River bridge at Kingstown Farm, Home and Garden, dogs spent Saturday and Sunday jumping into a pool to the cheers of a crowd.
“She’s practiced in ponds and rivers,” Ray Raley said Saturday of his 1-year-old dog Maggie.
Maggie jumped an impressive 20 feet 8 inches into the pool. Raley and Maggie are from Ridgely. This was their first Dock Dogs competition.
Though the dogs who jumped the farthest won prizes, the ones who were a bit hesitant to jump into the pool often earned the most cheers and enthusiasm from the crowd.
Junebug, a 16-month-old border collie owned by Pat McNeal, was a bit unsure about jumping into the pool, but given the cheers from the crowd and encouragement from McNeal, she ended up jumping a solid 9 feet 1 inch and won the novice division of the competition.
Attendance seemed high as ever Saturday morning as people lined High Street for the Chestertown Lions Club annual Halloween parade. This year, the club partnered with Kent County High School to kick off their homecoming week.
New this year, Ferraris followed the parade down High Street and joined the annual show of classic cars and boats at Dowrigging. The display of Ferraris from the late 1960s to the early 2000s drew a large crowd of onlookers.
The festival wrapped up Sunday with more public sails and the Chester River Association’s annual Run for the River. Despite rain, runners still embarked on the 5K or half marathon past the tall ships and along the Chester River.
McMullen said he is unsure if the festival will try a lighted boat parade again next year. This year was the first time it was offered, but it was cancelled due to low interest.
“We offered $1,000 as a prize and didn’t get a single bite, so we’re still deciding about next year,” McMullen said.
As far as the future of the festival, McMullen said that it is tied to the Chestertown Marina.
“If the marina is in the middle of its reconstruction next year, the amount of ships we have next year will depend on that,” McMullen said. “We’ve been purposely turning away boats who have wanted to come for years. Once the marina is completed we can add more ships.”
This aerial drone shot courtesy of Shore Studios provides a bird’s-eye view of the tall ships at the Chestertown Marina during Downrigging Weekend.
Izzy Anderson, 10, holds a diamondback terrapin Saturday at the Sultana’s Holt Center. Anderson, a fifth-grader at Rock Hall Elementary School, had seen the turtle earlier in the year during a field trip with the Sultana Education Foundation.
Timber, a 1-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, jumps into the pool for his toy during Dock Dogs. Timber is owned by Allison Howard of Millington.
Paul Schragger followed by Matt Rajkovich make their way down the Kalmar Nyckel’s rigging after prepping the ship for its return to Wilmington, Del. Sunday.
A line of Ferraris parked at the foot of High Street attracts a lot of visitors Saturday. Following the Chestertown Lions Club’s annual Halloween parade, the Ferraris drove down High Street and joined classic cars and boats on display there.
Tall ships tied up at Chestertown Marina for Downrigging Weekend are visible in the background while a movie plays on a big screen in Wilmer Park Friday night as part of the Hall-O-Teen youth event.
Kate Livie gives a lecture on the history of oysters on the Eastern Shore as described in her book “Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay’s Foundation and Future” Saturday at the Bookplate.
Saffron a lab mix gets some air as she jumps into the pool during Dock Dogs Saturday. Saffron is owned by Rinn Siegrist of Massanutten, Va.
Sultana, a reproduction of its 1768 namesake, heads back to its home port at the Chestertown Marina after a public sail on Chester River Saturday during Downrigging Weekend.