Bad weather but good times at Downrigging
CHESTERTOWN — Visitors to Sultana Education Foundation’s annual Downrigging Festival are used to cold and wet weather — there was even a threat of hurricane one year. But just as in years past, the celebration of tall ships continued to be a success despite the need for raincoats.
Among those participating in the tall ship and wooden boat festival that serves as a fundraiser for the Sultana Education Foundation were the state tall ship of Delaware Kalmar Nyckel, the pilot ship reproduction Virginia, the War of 1812 replica privateer Lynx, the Living Classroom Foundation’s Lady Maryland and host vessel schooner Sultana, along with the skipjacks Elsworth and Sigsbee.
Docked at the newly renovated Chestertown Marina, the tall ships offered free tours during open houses on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26, 27 and 28, as well as ticketed sails all three days. Sultana Education Foundation reported that more than 800 people sailed over the weekend. Also, the rain is credited in part for the standing-room only crowds at many of the events located in town.
The weather saw Friday’s planned fireworks postponed until Saturday evening. The town’s annual Halloween parade, which coincides with Downrigging Weekend, was postponed from Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. Sunday saw much improved weather, including blue skies.
Sultana Education President Drew McMullen said that despite the weather, this year’s Downrigging Weekend was a success. Most of the sails reportedly took place, with hardy visitors dressed in layers and ready to explore the Chester on the tall ships.
“We had a great turnout both on the water and at the downtown events,” he said in a statement Monday. “A special thanks goes out to all our fantastic community partners and visiting vessels, whose flexibility and energy really made the festival work regardless of the rain.”
Forbes Horton brought his family over from Annapolis Sunday on a 35-foot Duffy lobster boat. This was their first time coming to Downrigging Weekend, but not their first boat ride to Chestertown.
The family previously came over in the summer of 2017. Horton was impressed with the marina renovations he saw Sunday compared to the state of the facility — which he described as “scary” — when he last pulled into the docks at Chestertown. He had heard about the marina being redone and thought he would bring his family over for Downrigging Weekend, despite the weather.
“We like the new dock over there. That’s pretty sweet,” Horton said of the renovated marina.
Horton’s sons Hendrix, 9, liked the schooner Virginia and Max, 7, picked the Lynx as the one he would want to sail home.
“It was really rough on the way over, but we’re really glad we came,” Horton said.
With so much of the activity focused at the marina, Downrigging Weekend served as an unveiling of sorts for the renovated facility.
Chris Cerino, Chestertown’s mayor and vice president of the Sultana Education Foundation, campaigned on the need to renovate the marina and sought a second term last year to see through the project he spearheaded.
“Our contractors really stepped up for the town to complete the majority of the Marina in time for Downrigging. Although we still have work to do over the rest of the fall and winter, I hope it’s provided the Chestertown community the chance to see the full potential of the Marina complex now that it’s been revitalized,” Cerino said in an email Monday.
McMullen is excited for what the expanded marina could mean for the future of Downrigging Weekend.
“Although it was challenging planning for the event while the Marina work was being completed, now that the facility is in place, we are excited to grow into the new space and make the event even bigger and better next year,” he said.
Sultana Education Foundation added a new building of its own two years ago on South Cross Street. The Holt Education Center played host to the Department of Natural Resources Scales and Tales program, during which visitors got close views of owls, hawks and snakes, offered a variety of children’s activities and held presentations including Pres Harding’s “A Boy in a Boatyard.”
The foundation reported more than 400 visitors to the Holt Center just on Saturday for Scales and Tales and “A Boy in a Boatyard.”
Also offered were food, beverages and performances, including the Chestertown Ukulele Club, under the Fish Whistle food tent at the marina. Chester River Wine and Cheese Co. offered a wine tent and donated a portion of its proceeds back to the Sultana Education Foundation.
There also were talks at the Book Plate and concerts at the Garfield Center for the Arts and the Fish Whistle restaurant.
The Kent County Arts Council sponsored four performances of “The Unlading,” a short play by Robert Earl Price, at Janes United Methodist Church over the course of the weekend.
KCAC Director John Schratwieser said about 350 people attended the performances. He said the church was nearly full for the first three runs of the play; it was standing room only for the final performance.
On Sunday morning, runners were invited to help preserve local waterways by joining the Chester River Challenge 5K and Half-Marathon.
Isabel Junkin Hardesty of race sponsor ShoreRivers, which will be opening a new office at the Chestertown Marina, said turnout for the 5K and half-marathon was higher than last year, with more than 190 participants. She thinks the improved weather Sunday morning boosted attendance.
“We’re looking forward to doing an event next year out of our new office in the Chestertown marina building, right in the middle of Downrigging festivities,” she said in an email Monday.
Across the Chester River, Kingstown Farm, Home and Garden again hosted a DockDogs competition on Saturday and Sunday during Downrigging Weekend. Visitors watched as handlers tossed a variety of training dummies and balls into a swimming pool. Dogs were then judged based on the length of their leaps into the water.
Earleville resident Laura Board brought her German shepherd Jasmine to the DockDogs competition. Jasmine had not participated in a DockDogs event before, but Board, who was there with her family and had other dogs competing, decided to give her German shepherd a shot.
“This is her first time and my first time,” Board said. “”I wasn’t planning on doing it, but really, why not?”
This was Kris McClellan’s first time at Downrigging Weekend despite having had a family connection to Chestertown. The Norfolk, Va. resident has been a volunteer crew member for about a year on the visiting Virginia.
“My sister went to Washington College, so I’ve been meaning to come for years,” McClellan said of Downrigging Weekend, as he helped visitors aboard the Virginia during the Sunday morning open house.
McClellan said the sails Saturday certainly were wet. Still, he thought everyone enjoyed themselves.
“Everyone seemed happy, which is the main thing. I think the folks who come to this kind of event — a lot of sailors — they know what to expect. It was a good time,” McClellan said.
The Kalmar Nyckel, center, is seen from the platform bridging the Virginia, left and the Lynx, which were tied up side-by-side at the Chestertown Marina.
The Chestertown Ukulele Club performs in a tent at the Chestertown marina Sunday morning as part of Sultana Education Foundation’s Downrigging Weekend.