New London Preps For OpSail

Jul 6, 2012

The tall ships sail into New London this weekend for OpSail – the first time in 12 years that Connecticut has hosted the event. WNPR’s Harriet Jones visited the city to see how it’s getting ready.

Coming into New London on Eugene O’Neill Drive, you might glance across one of the city’s car parks and notice two painters hard at work on an enormous mural. Ten feet up in the air on a hydraulic platform. 

“I’m Troy Zaushney -- I’m Michael McNabney -- the mural’s name is The Hard Hat Painters.”

This is one of three murals created in the city through a state grant, to coincide with OpSail weekend.

“What it is, is some deep sea divers, hard hat divers, and there’s three of them. They are painting a fantastic underwater seascape. My father was a hard hat diver. And I grew up with pictures in the house of him, and I was always in awe of the suits and what they did down there. I kind of wanted to immortalize that at some point in my life.”

And now, it’s just a race to finish in time.

“Almost, almost. Next day or two we’ll be finishing up and the Governor’s going to come down and cut the ribbon on it.

And OpSail in town, was that planned that you were going to finish on the OpSail weekend?

It was very planned – that was our deadline, that we’re a little past, but we’ll be alright.

The last one in 2000 was great. It was fantastic. The tall ships coming in – it really is awe inspiring.”

One man in particular is hoping New London and all of Connecticut will be awed by events this weekend.

 “Hi, this is John Johnson, I’m chair of OpSail 2012, CT.”

Johnson’s rarely still for long, but sometimes you can catch him at his office at the Gallery at Firehouse Square.

 “Everything’s pretty smooth. I mean you’ve always got a few emergencies at the last minute, but so far, everything’s well under control.”

OpSail brought just shy of a million people into New London last time it was here in 2000, and it’s estimated they brought $14m worth of economic benefit to the city.

“Obviously it locates New London on the map and it brings considerable praise to the city, considerable public awareness of the city, considerable public awareness of the waterfront that the city of New London has.”

Just a couple of steps down Bank Street from Johnson’s office, Rosaura Dela Cruz runs her salon and spa, Rose’s Final Touch. She came to New London from the Dominican Republic seven years ago, and established her business just last year, so this will be her first OpSail.

“New London is very excited about it, and I’m expecting it to be a real great success for the city. Also a great opportunity for us business owners to kind of promote ourselves and our services to new people that come in the area. I love New London!”

Rose’s Spa is a new addition to the city, but the Muddy Waters Café is on its way to becoming a New London institution.

“Hi, we’re Barry and Susan, and we own Muddy Waters Café, we’ve been here for nine years. We have Sailfest every year, we kind of know what to expect for that. But with OpSail on top of it, nobody really knows. But we expect to be very busy.”

Barry Neistat says sometimes it’s tough for a small business to scale up to deal with this kind of influx.

“We’re a small place, this is a coffee shop, we do a lot of breakfast and lunch here. Our kitchen is relatively small, so there’s not much more we can do. A lot of grab-and-go, cookies and muffins and sodas – we’ll do a lot of that.”

And that sense of anticipation, not to say apprehension is everywhere in this city. Kimberley Abraham runs The Kitchen Gallery on Green Street.

"I don’t know what to expect yet, because I don’t know if these folks will be interested in art or not. But I’m going to be open and have my work up on the walls, and we’ll be sitting in the gallery. Maybe we’ll have some water in there for people who are overheated or something. Because it’s air conditioned in there, so maybe people will duck in for refuge.

Are you glad it’s coming?

Ah, I’m usually a sociophobe, so being around this many people can be difficult, but I am excited this year because the tall ships are coming."

Those tall ships will form a parade of sail Saturday morning from Niantic to New London harbor where they’ll be docked all weekend.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.