New London — With food venders from far and near dishing up grilled cheese and cheesesteaks, fried clams and fried dough, gyros and alligator nuggets, there was a little reverse feeding going on Friday during opening day of Sailfest at Waterfront Park.
Midshipmen from the four Naval yard patrol boats docked at Custom House Pier walked dozens of boxes of food from their ships to a waiting truck to be donated to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Labor/Food Center and the Covenant Shelter.
"It was extraordinarily generous,'' said Mel Foti, an OpSail/Sailfest volunteer who helped the young sailors connect with the local food banks.
Lt. Justin Sposter, who is in command of the four yard patrol boats on which students at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis train, said there was extra food beyond what was needed to feed the 100 or so midshipmen and five officers on the boats.
"We had more than enough,'' he said Friday afternoon. "We didn't want to throw it away."
The sailors donated about 30 cases of salad, juice, milk, cereal and other foods. They also will be volunteering Sunday at the Homeless Hospitality Center.
The 108-foot boats pulled up to the pier Thursday night and will participate in this morning's Parade of Sail. They will be leaving Monday morning, heading to Philadelphia.
'It's going to be very busy'
Sailfest got off to a warm start, with some locals putting final touches on preparations.
Todd O'Donnell, co-owner of the train station, was weeding the curb in front of Union Station. Robert and Maria Bareiss, volunteers for Bike Share New London, sat under a tarp waiting to loan out a dozen green-and-gold bicycles for free.
Musket blasts echoing off the Water Street parking garage Friday afternoon provided a kind of prelude to the coming noise and excitement of the tall ships parade and fireworks display scheduled for today, as if calling everyone's attention to the coming spectacle.
"Everybody wants to watch us fire the muskets," Bob Lasprogato of Westport said as he lookedg out from under the tri-cornered hat that topped his Revolutionary War soldier uniform. "They like the noise and the smoke."
Lasprogato and fellow Sons of the American Revolution member Bob Rivard of Lebanon, also in uniform, had stationed themselves at the Nathan Hale Schoolhouse on the Parade Plaza all afternoon for the opening day of OpSail and Sailfest, offering tours of the building along with weaponry demonstrations.
A few dozen feet away, Danny Joseph manned the fried dough booth, anticipating large crowds today and Sunday.
"I think it's going to be very busy," he said. "But we'll have plenty. We're overstocked, actually."
On City Pier, Jamie Morgan and Clifford Williams, both of New London, were partaking of their first treat of the weekend: a strawberry-banana smoothie.
"We just walked in," said Morgan at about 4:30 p.m., as Williams took a sip of the tall, pink concoction. "We come for the smoothies, the chicken-on-a-stick and the fireworks."
Between City Pier and the Coast Guard Pier, as the Fun Slide and the Water Gun Fun game awaited their first customers, the Ferris wheel already had riders.
"We hit the ATM, and then we hit a ride, and now we're going to get something to eat," Mary-Ellen Gates of Groton said as she got off the Ferris wheel with her niece Brittany Lehouillier, who was visiting from Concord, N.H.