OpSail 2012 Connecticut organizers and elected officials visited the Coast Guard barque Eagle on Thursday to bid farewell to the ship.
The Eagle leaves port at 10 a.m. today to journey to New Orleans for the War of 1812 centennial event. The OpSail 2012 event kicks off with an April 17-23 stop in New Orleans and continues on with visits to New York City, Norfolk, Baltimore, and Boston before concluding in New London from July 6 to 8.
cadets loaded supplies on the ship on Thursday and prepared for their sail aboard the vessel. Capt. Eric Jones advised the cadets to be aware of their surroundings and take heed of the crew instructions.
“They have a lot to teach you, but you’ve got to be willing to learn it and listen to everything they have to say,” he said. “If you do you’re going to find this all very rewarding.”
Rep. Joe Courtney said OpSail 2012 is the culmination of years of planning. He also joked that British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama “did a little trash talking” about the events of the war 200 years ago in a recent meeting, and that the Eagle was serving a role in the country’s legacy.
“This is obviously the beginning of what I think is going to be a very special year for southeastern Connecticut,” said Courtney.
Mayor Daryl Finizio said OpSail 2012, which is merging with New London’s annual downtown Sailfest festival this year, will be the largest event in Connecticut this year. He said the Eagle’s participation will be a way to put New London on display for the country.
“The Eagle is America’s tall ship. We’re also proud to call it New London’s tall ship,” said Finizio. “And we are so very proud of all of you and your continued service to our nation.”
John Johnson, chairman of the OpSail 2012 Connecticut committee, said the role of New London and other Connecticut coastal towns in the War of 1812 helped lead to its selection for inclusion in the event. Recently, the state also offered to raised for the event up to a $500,000 match.
The planning process has not been without its difficulties. A competing event in Newport, R.I. is attracting some schooners, and high fuel costs are also making it more difficult to bring in larger tall ships.
“This thing is so cost-oriented,” said Johnson. “It’s so affected by the situation the whole world’s in.”
However, Johnson said about a dozen ships, both private and government vessels, will take part in the parade of vessels up the Thames River. The Brazilian Navy has committed their training ship, the Cisne Blanco, to the New London celebration. Johnson said that next week he will announce another ship that has committed to coming to New London.
“It’s a go,” said Johnson. “It’s 100 percent a go.”