This past Friday through Sunday, Nov. 1-3, was Downrigging Weekend in Chestertown. The weather couldn’t have been better. And this year, two new elements– a renovated marina and a dozen bluegrass bands–were added to the festival.
The combination of tall ships and bluegrass music might not seem obvious, but it certainly worked for Downrigging! People came from far and wide to enjoy watching – or better yet, sailing on – an array of tall ships including Kalmar Nyckel, Lady Maryland, Virginia, Pride of Baltimore II, Lynx, and the host vessel, Chestertown’s own Sultana. The bluegrass side of the festival brought a dozen bands to the stage, including local favorites the High and Wides, who shared a bill Saturday night at the Garfield Center with the Dirty Grass Players from Baltimore. The musical highlight on Friday evening was the Pam Ortiz Band in a program of nautically-inspired songs.
This year for the first time, the Chestertown Marina’s upgraded facilities were able to host the entire festival. Tents on the marina property offered food and drink, and two other tents became concert halls for the bands. Attendees were also free to stroll along the docks and view the tall ships up close and personal, and to check out a fine array of wooden boats on the plaza next to the restaurant. Many people found their way to nearby Wilmer Park for an unimpeded view of the ships as they made their way downriver and back. Local businesses appealed to the festival-goers, as well – for example, the exhibit of Mark Castelli’s paintings of watermen and boats at the Massoni Gallery, or the nautical theme of the singalong at Music Life.
At the town council meeting Monday, Mayor Chris Cerino said the success of the festival can be measured by the number of attendees who patronized businesses and restaurants in town. He estimated that local businesses took in close to $100,000 over the three days of the festival. Restaurant reservations were hard to come by all weekend, and downtown parking was at a premium. But it was all worth it.
The schooner Sultana is a full-scale reproduction of an earlier Sultana. Built in Boston in 1768 for the British Royal Navy, the original Sultana sailed the coastline of Colonial America from 1768 until 1772, helping to keep the King’s law, especially the various trading agreements and tariffs. Yes, the Sultana was used to enforce the hated British “tax on tea” that helped spark the American Revolution! Now the modern Sultana sails the Chesapeake Bay, helping to educate today’s citizens about the Bay, its history and ecology, and the issues it faces.
Work on Sultana began in 1997, under the leadership of master boat builder John Swain. It was launched four years later in 2001. And since then has hosted thousands of students, teachers, as well as ordinary folk on day trips as well as week-long trips on the Chester River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Bay’s many tributaries. The Sultana Education Foundation that operates the ship runs year-round programs that include classes, lectures, workshops, field trips, movies, and more.
Dan Menefee contributed to this story