An unprecedented half a dozen tall ships are coming to town for the weekend of April 23-25. Greenwich will play host to the tall ship armada for the first time as part of an extraordinary thank you to the town from the Hamilton Avenue School PTA.
The tall ships are just Act I of a three-act extravaganza called HarborFest. Act II is a harbor-side carnival with a ferris wheel, a ride called Merry Mixer, a giant slide and pony rides, and Act III features a WWII aircraft flyover, "Soaring with Eagles Tour."
The HarborFest event will be held at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park and in the area surrounding Greenwich Harbor. The festivities will begin on Friday, April 23 when the ships start arriving into the harbor, with a special "Parade of Ships" taking place on Saturday morning during a high tide of 15 feet needed to accommodate the ships.
The man behind the massive orchestration of HarborFest is event chair and vice president of fundraising for the Hamilton Avenue School PTA, Bob Macintyre.
"HarborFest is a thank you to the Town of Greenwich," said Macintyre, "for (the town's supporting) our school being two years over schedule and $14 million over budget. That money came out of the taxpayers' town budget. We're trying to be as grateful as we can to the public. It's a chance for us to give back to the community."
The event, said Macintyre is also "a celebration of the diversity of the Hamilton Avenue School community and of the nearly 100-year old school." The elementary school, located in Pemberwick, has a 400-student enrollment.
Macintyre, who has a passion for boating and sailing, said that HarborFest started as a carnival. "But I wanted to do something more special for the school," he said. "I reached out to the Coast Guard, and the idea grew from there."
With 110 volunteers, most members of the Hamilton Ave. PTA have signed on to ensure the success of HarborFest -- but Macintyre is still looking for more help.
"I'd like 125 (volunteers)," said Macintyre. "We're sending out invitations to all public schools, and the student councils will take part in the Parade of Ships. Nothing like this has been done in the Town," he said.
The tall ships taking part in the event are the 101-foot U.S. Merchant Marine Academy sail training ship, the "Summerwind" from Kings Point, N.Y.; the "Argia," an 81-foot, two-masted gaff topsail schooner from Mystic; the "Quinnipiack" a 91-foot, two-masted gaff schooner from New Haven; the "Christeen" at 60-feet from Oyster Bay; the "Pioneer," a 102-foot schooner from Manhattan's South Street Seaport Museum; and Stamford's 80-foot "SoundWaters," a three-masted gaff schooner.
Joining the parade will be the two 12-meters permanently docked at the Delamar Hotel, which will be leading the Parade of Ships. All but one ship, the "Summerwind," which requires deeper waters, have been given free docking space in Greenwich Harbor, four at the Delamar and two at Grass Island.
The ships will be open for deck tours and private charters for 10 or more on the Sound on Saturday, April 24. Reserved seats for the Parade of Ships will be available harborside, said Macintryre, at the RBS Greenwich Capital office building.
"Each tall ship organization" said Macintyre, "is donating services for the event -- a value of anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000. They have never grouped together like this for a fundraiser. It's an opportunity for their ships to be seen." The ships all offer educational programs.
The "air" segment of the event will occur during the Saturday Parade of Ships with several flyovers of three vintage WWII aircraft. The planes, based at Westchester County Airport, will be available over the weekend for rides (for a price) said Macintyre.
HarborFest's live music component includes a rock/pop concert by The Short Bus on the evening of April 24, and a children's concert on Sunday afternoon by the musical group Sweeney Tots. The concerts are free with purchase of a carnival admission ticket. Also on Sunday will be pony rides, with four ponies recruited for the day.
The event will feature "great eats and delicious treats," said Macintyre, with an "All-American Bar-B-Que" and "Pizza & Pastry" tents, and food and beverages provided by local establishments, including Garden Catering and Longford's Home Made Ice Cream Co.
Accommodations for the event are being provided, said Macintyre, by the Delamar Hotel, the "official" hotel for HarborFest that is offering discounted rates for the weekend. To make a reservation with these discounted rates, Macintyre said to mention the HarborFest weekend rate when calling the hotel.
And what if it rains? "I'm really not trying to think about the rain," said Macintyre. "We'll do the best to work with what we have."
For more information about HarborFest, Bob Macintyre can be reached on his cell phone at 203-550-0019. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Hamilton Avenue School.