New London — After two years of behind-the-scenes planning for OpSail 2012CT, event leaders were on hand Saturday morning at the Port 'N Starboard in Ocean Beach Park to speak with the Next Wave of integral personnel — volunteers.
"Whatever jobs you volunteer for, and we're grateful you're here, those jobs are essential to the success of OpSail. We can't do it without you," said Frank McLaughlin, OpSail secretary. He was speaking to more than 100 prospective volunteers who showed up for an organizational meeting and training seminar to learn more about the mechanizations of the two-day event commemorating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.
OpSail takes place July 6-9 in Niantic and at New London's State Pier, the Waterfront Park and Fort Trumbull, and it also incorporates Sailfest, the city's annual summer celebration. At least 11 tall ships have agreed to participate, and in addition there will be live entertainment, fireworks, vendors and carnival-style attractions.
"We've done OpSail (in 2000), we've do Sailfest every year, but this is much larger," said Chief Ron Samuel of the New London Fire Department. "There are a lot of things that have to be coordinated, and there are going to be a lot of people attending."
New London Main Street sponsored the training session. Ultimately, more than 200 volunteers will be required to help keep OpSail rolling smoothly. A variety of event professionals were introduced early in the session, and each briefly outlined an area of volunteer responsibility. Categories included parking and transportation, berthing and ship liaison needs and media/information. Also: hospitality roles ranging from history and heritage attractions to entertainment/VIP assistance.
The atmosphere throughout the three-hour session was congenial in that coffee-and-sweet-rolls fashion, and organizers were clear that they wanted the volunteers to enjoy the OpSail experience.
"Thank you for being here," said Joseph Geraci, a member of the OpSail board of directors. "And now that you ARE here, we're locking the door."
After the introductory remarks outlining the different volunteer disciplines, attendees were asked to select an area of interest so the assembly could break into smaller committees for further discussion and instruction.
McLaughlin, who will oversee the transportation and parking volunteers, prefaced the committee meetings by admitting his group was perhaps not as sexy as working with entertainers and VIPs. "Glamorous jobs have glamorous rewards," he said. "Attend my committee meeting to find out what they are!"
As the committees worked with group leaders to outline responsibilities and get questions answered, retired Coast Guard Capt. Scot Graham, a government service-port security specialist who'd addressed the meeting earlier, commented on the scope of security detail for OpSail.
"Before we could get to this point today, it's been two years of planning and evolution," Graham said. "This event has been officially designated not only a Marine Event but an Event of National Significance. Because of the makeup of OpSail, the potential participation of shoreline events and civilian events and attending VIPs, you can't just assume this is a normal Sailfest.
"A post-9/11 mentality means the risk equation here has been expanded — and that means resources and budgets. New London, the Coast Guard, the Navy, fire and law enforcement, regional cooperation — everyone's done a wonderful job. And that's going to include volunteers."
One of those volunteers, Camisha Moore of New London, left the meeting as the newly designated coordinating director for the group who will be helping out with talent and entertainers.
Moore said it wasn't so much the idea of famous people, though, that made her volunteer for the job. "I like challenges and I like being in charge," she laughed, adding that she's volunteered at the Garde Arts Center and the Lyman Allyn Art Museum.
"This is a different experience. There's a lot to assimilate and organize, and I think it will be fun to get it all figured out and see how it works."