New London — John Johnson, chairman of the Connecticut Maritime Heritage Festival, still displays a proclamation Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed in 2013, recognizing the second week of September as “Connecticut’s Annual Maritime History and Heritage Week.”
“It’s like a charter,” Johnson said of the document.
Originally dubbed the “Connecticut Schooner Festival,” the event, now in its sixth year, is set for a five-day run, starting Wednesday with a maritime careers fair for selected students and moving into high gear Thursday with a welcoming ceremony for the Navy crew of the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer of the same class as the USS Cole, the star of last year’s festival.
The governor and the lieutenant governor, Nancy Wyman, are among the dignitaries scheduled to attend.
Homeported in Mayport, Fla., the Lassen is named for Cmdr. Clyde E. Lassen, a Medal of Honor recipient who died in 1994. Lassen was honored for his rescue of two downed Navy aviators while piloting a helicopter in Vietnam.
“It’s not as famous a ship (as the Cole, target of a notorious 2000 attack by suicide bombers), but it’s part of the U.S. arsenal,” Johnson said.
Marcus Fisk, the festival’s chief operating officer, said the Lassen, “which has a storied operational background,” will have two helicoptors parked on its flight deck. The ship will dock on the north side of Pier 7 at Fort Trumbull State Park, where the welcoming ceremony is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Thursday.
A dozen other vessels are expected to put in at downtown piers Thursday and Friday and take part in a Parade of Ships along the New London waterfront, starting at 11 a.m. Friday. All of the ships, including the Lassen, will be available for free tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Adults seeking to tour the Lassen will be required to provide a photo ID.
The lineup of ships includes the Coast Guard cutter Albacore, a patrol boat stationed in New London; the Coast Guard cutter Bollard, a harbor tug from New Haven; the Fire Fighter from Greenport, N.Y.; the Liberator, a former Navy training vessel homeported at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy; and an array of schooners, including the Amistad, Brilliant, Columbia and Mystic Whaler.
In addition to the ships, this year’s festival will offer lots of entertainment, including “Music on the Pier” from 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Originally planned for Fort Trumbull, the concert of Americana music was moved downtown to the Custom House Pier. Scheduled performers include Lori McKenna, a two-time Grammy Award winner; the Mark O’Connor Band; Ruthie Foster; and Sierra Hull & Justin Moses.
On Thursday, “Swingin’ on the Pier” is scheduled at the Custom House Pier, with an instructor offering swing dance lessons and The Cartells performing from 7 to 9 p.m.
For a $10 admission fee, festival-goers can meet the captains and crews of the ships at a party from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Hygienic Arts. Winners of the festival’s annual schooner races, which will take place earlier Friday (and can be viewed from Ocean Beach), will be announced at the party.
The Coast Guard Dixieland Band will play from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Friday at City Pier, followed by The Can Kickers from 8 to 10 p.m.
At 8:30 p.m. Friday, the Flock Theatre will present its annual rendition of “The Burning of Benedict Arnold.”
Saturday’s agenda includes the Great New London Chowder Challenge, featuring competition among local restaurants and Navy entrants, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Coast Guard search-and-rescue demonstrations, a big hit among festival-goers last year, are set to begin at 1 p.m.
“Pray for good weather,” Johnson said.