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Thousands Turn Out for Schooner Festival

Posted on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 by Northshore

 Sails in the sun: The pen may be mightier than the sword, but a camera was definitely the medium of choice at Monday morning's Parade of Sail. If ever there was a case of a picture being worth a thousand words, this, you realize, is it, as edging through the traffic on Washington Street, you crest the hill and suddenly you're glad Gloucester Schooner Festival organizers waited out Sunday's fog and drizzle. Because there, under a perfect blue sky are the sails, filled with the last of this summer's sun and filling the Outer Harbor. At that very moment, the Columbia happens to stand at full sail, as if in a Fitz Henry Lane painting, one of the largest of 25 schooners that ride the wind and waves in a parade described by festival Chairwoman Daisy Nell Collinson as a “water ballet.” Over the next hour and a half, the schooners take star turns, taking away the collective breath of crowds gathered on both sides of the parade's grandstand at the Fishermen's Memorial on Stacy Boulevard. What looked like thousands stood under the fluttering flags for the highlight of the 33rd annual Gloucester Schooner Festival's event-packed weekend. A year in the planning, hosted by Maritime Gloucester and culminating in the annual Mayor's Race, this year's parade was — maybe because of the day's delay — accompanied by what seemed like unusually loud, lengthy and spirited rounds of cannon booms. “Listen to that!” exclaimed Daisy Nell over the public address system, responding to one particularly big boom. “Somebody’s got a trigger finger out there today!” Gloucester native Peter Greeke, among those standing four deep along the length of the waterfront, didn’t seem to mind the noise. Greeke, who grew up on the Boulevard and was there with his wife Billie Anne, said, “I think it’s fantastic.” While Billie Anne walked their dog, her husband reminisced. “How do I describe what I feel?” Greeke said. “It takes you back to how it was, to wait see the sails, to wait for the boats to come in, to wait for a father or a brother to come in. I grew up in the '50s; my father worked on the American Eagle when it was still a fishing boat. It’s nice to see it all come back, even if it’s just for a day, because we are a sailing harbor, we really are.” The American Eagle, as the crowds listening to Daisy Nell’s very educational narrative learned, is a 92-foot, 75-year-old auxiliary fishing schooner. Now a National Historic Landmark out of Lockport, Maine, it was built in Gloucester in 1930, and got a suitably welcoming round of applause as it plowed past the grandstand at the Fishermen’s Memorial, joining the participants in the festival’s annual Mayor’s Race on their way to to the starting area off Eastern Point. A big round of applause also went to the little pinkie schooner Ardelle, one of four participating schooners — including the Thomas E. Lannon — built by Harold Burnham's Essex shipyard.
"The boats are coming in fast and furious today," Daisy Nell told the crowds, as the American Eagle was followed fast on its heels by the Eileen Marie, whose skipper, Peter Houston, had —the crowds learned — this year “turned up wearing his old bow tie and with a new baby.”  The baby, the boat and the bow tie were in amazing company, “marvels of maritime history,” said Daisy Nell, such as the 1893 Essex-built Lettie G. Howard from South Street Seaport in New York, and Gloucester’s own magnificently restored 122-foot Adventure, built in 1926, captained by Stefan Edick, who also heads the nonprofit Gloucester Adventure Inc., and one of the last of the Gloucester fishing schooners, famous throughout the world as “Gloucestermen.” For parade spectator and former Gloucester fisherman Dana Lowe, schooners such as the Adventure have a sacred heritage. “They were made of wood, but the men who sailed them were made of steel,” he said. One of five fishermen whose fishing days ended when he survived a 1981 sinking at sea, Lowe stands watching the magnificent sails glide by and recalls in vivid detail harrowing moments before a Coast Guard helicopter miraculously managed to rescue him and the rest of the crew from a life raft rapidly taking on water.
Looking toward the grandstand and the throng of officials surrounding the statue of the Man at the Wheel, Lowe said, “Some of the guys I used to fish with, their names are there at that memorial.” But like everyone else —and what looked like record crowds had showed up for the morning event— Dana Lowe was just plain awed by the show of ships and sails that filled the Outer Harbor. “It kind of gives you a little glimpse of how it used to be."
Staff writer Joann MacKenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2707, or

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