New London — Fort Trumbull played center stage for OpSail 2012CT festivities Saturday, welcoming thousands of spectators, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and a stage full of dignitaries, music that spanned centuries and some of the world's most majestic tall ships.
People staked out spots in the Fort Trumbull lawn or on the breakwater rocks early in the morning, and many stayed throughout the day for activities that ranged from the much-anticipated Parade of Sail to the nighttime fireworks.
Dan Colangelo, 11, and his father Bob Colangelo were among the first in a long line of people who waited to board the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle Saturday afternoon. They waited for more than two hours, as delays in the earlier events timing stretched into afternoon.
"He wants to go on the Wolf, but I don't," Dan said of his father and the 74-foot schooner dwarfed by Eagle and the Brazilian Navy vessel Cisne Branco at the same pier. His father shrugged and said he loves all ships and would visit whichever ones were available.
Alas, only Eagle and the Cisne Branco were open for tours Saturday at Fort Trumbull.
The ships will be open one hour later than originally scheduled today: Eagle and the historic replica schooner Amistad will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Fort Trumbull, while Cisne Branco, also at Fort Trumbull, will be open from noon to 6 p.m., according to OpSail spokesman Bruce MacDonald.
Eagle will welcome visitors again from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, MacDonald said.
USS Carter Hall, to be open for tours from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at State Pier, will be open a half-hour later than originally scheduled to accommodate religious services, according to John Johnson, chairman of the local OpSail committee.
The Cisne Branco, whose name means "White Swan," is called "the pride of the Brazilian Navy."
Unlike many other tall ships that are survivors of earlier seafaring days, the Cisne Branco is a modern vessel, built in Amsterdam in 1999 for the Brazilian Navy.
Docked directly across the Fort Trumbull pier from each other, the two vessels towered above the admiring public on shore.
"It's like a cruise ship," Greg Totten of Jacksonville, Fla., said, standing on the Cisne Branco deck looking at photos of its accommodations below deck. Greg and Yolanda Totten's son, Charles, sailed on Eagle last year with the Coast Guard.
"So we had to come and see the competition," he said of the Cisne Branco. "It's impressive."
Lincoln Brun, 28, is a Marine corporal in the Brazilian Navy and has been aboard the Cisne Branco for three months and is responsible for security. Tourists roamed freely on deck, posing for photos at the ship's wheel or standing aside the rigging. A small gift shop offered T-shirts and other souvenirs for sale.
Brun said the vessel's tour includes three stops in Brazil at Maceio, Fortaleza and Belem and six ports of call in the United States — New York, Norfolk, Baltimore, Boston, Newport and New London.
The tall ships drew everyone's attention at Fort Trumbull, but there was plenty to do while waiting first for the Parade of Sail and later for the ships to open for public tours. Numerous historical societies and local museums had tents on the Fort Trumbull lawn offering information, displays of historic artifacts and children's activities.
They will be open today as well along with tall ship tours and concerts throughout the day.
Malloy opens OpSail
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy gave short but spirited remarks outside Fort Trumbull to formally open OpSail.
The governor, newly landed from his trip aboard Eagle, spoke on the important role Connecticut played in the War of 1812 and the armed conflicts that proceeded it. He was joined on the raised platform by a contingent of local and state dignitaries, including Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
"Without Connecticut, we might have English accents," Malloy joked to the crowd of spectators gathered atop the fort hill.
Malloy said the nation was "somewhat less than organized" at the outset of the 1812 war and experienced indignities such as the burning of the White House and the destruction or capture of 27 U.S. ships in Essex Harbor — the largest American maritime loss until Pearl Harbor.
"Here we are so many years later, stronger and better for it," Malloy said. "In many ways, we are the country the world turns to now to make sure the seas are safe."
The opening ceremony featured a U.S. Coast Guard color guard in 1812-era uniforms and rifles.
John Johnson, chairman of the local OpSail committee, served as master of ceremonies.
"May God bless Connecticut. May God bless the United States of America," Malloy said, turning to face Johnson. "And God bless you sir ... for holding all of our feet to the fire to make sure this came about."
Malloy's last scheduled stop in New London was Union Station.
Todd O'Donnell, chairman of the Shore Line East Coalition/One Last Stop, publicly thanked the governor for adding 23 weekend trains to New London for OpSail weekend. Shore Line East service to New London is normally Monday through Friday only.
O'Donnell and New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio also thanked Malloy for putting $260,000 in the state budget to start weekend Shore Line East service to New London in April.
"We are a tourism-driven economy, and we need this," O'Donnell said.
The governor said he was glad to help.
"I love New London," Malloy said. "I always have, I always will."
At that moment, a screeching train pulled into the station.
Malloy added: "Some of its greatest days I think are ahead of it, not behind it."