There are sure-fire spoilers that summer is coming to a close. The nights get cooler and the sun rises later. Schools reopen and expatriate vacationers begin their journeys back from whence they came.
In Gloucester, the most indelible hint of advancing autumn is the Gloucester Schooner Festival. The festival, which this year will bring 30 schooners to Gloucester Harbor, dominates its Labor Day weekend spot on the annual schedule of events like no other jewel in Gloucester’s golden crown of summer attractions.
It begins Friday night with the Mayor’s Reception and the Gloucester Block Party on Main Street and extends through Sunday’s Mayor’s Race. Throughout the weekend, the city will be awash in the very vessels that first made Gloucester a revered international player and a schooner-fishing giant known in ports throughout the world.
The fishing schooners no longer sail out of here for the Grand Banks, but the Gloucester Schooner Festival has helped keep the traditions of the golden era of sail alive and relevant in America’s oldest seaport.
This year, the sleek and imperial 145-foot Columbia will return to Gloucester for the festival. Other schooners include Gloucester’s holy trinity — Adventure, Thomas E. Lannon and Ardelle — and a slew of popular boats such as the 92-foot American Eagle out of Rockland, Maine; Salem-ported Fame; Gloucester’s own 33-foot Green Dragon; Essex’s 31-foot Lewis H. Story and 32-foot Redbird; the 94-foot Harvey Gamage out of Portland, Maine; 112-foot Roseway out of Boston; and the 78-foot Lynx out of Nantucket.
A bookend of summer
Famous then for schooners, famous now for schooners. Even if it is for different reasons. The Gloucester Schooner Festival has become an immense draw.
“Now, after all these years and all of these other events and activities that take place here every summer, you get a sense of the incredible amount of energy and activity in Gloucester,” said Daisy Nell Collinson, chairwoman of the festival committee. “The city has really become a destination.”
Michael DeKoster, executive director of Maritime Gloucester, said the festival has a truly regional appeal and estimated as many as 8,000 to 10,000 people could travel to Gloucester this weekend to revel in the beauty of the extraordinary vessels and take part in the litany of activities that operate under the festival’s banner.
“Saturday is by far our busiest day,” DeKoster said. “But go out on the water on Sunday, as the Parade of Sail begins, and the harbor is just a madhouse of boats and Stacey Boulevard is just lined with people. It’s hard to estimate how many, maybe 5,000. It’s really incredible.”
“I’m expecting huge crowds,” Collinson said. “It’s become such an expected event, embedded in the calendar as one of the bookends of summer.”
It wasn’t always thus.
The first Gloucester schooner festival, in 1985, was viewed as a vehicle to conjoin — at least for one event — the American Schooner Association and the Nova Scotia Schooner Association.
It wasn’t even a festival. Organizers from the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce described it as a “rendezvous” and it appeared much earlier in the summer calendar than the time-honored Labor Day slot that has become the iconic, end-of-summer home of the Gloucester Schooner Festival as we now know it.
DeKoster and Collinson said this year’s edition of the festival will continue building on a theme of community engagement, with a goal of providing as much access to the schooners to as many people as possible.
The best example of that, begun last year, was the installation — with the financial assistance of the Dusky Foundation and the Beauport Hospitality Group — of the temporary schooner docks along the waterside of the city-owned I4-C2 parcel on Rogers Street, where many of the schooners tie up.
The docks have provided unparalleled access, allowing patrons to get an up-close view of the majestic ships and even provide the chance of a deck tour.
“Last year, we had about 2,000 visit the schooner docks,” DeKoster said.
Events on tap
This year, the parcel also will feature tents selling Gloucester Schooner Festival merchandise, a booth promoting the celebration of Gloucester’s 400th anniversary and the OLLIE van that features a virtual submarine and serves as an ocean learning laboratory for marine explorers of all ages by providing immersive experiences that help explain Earth’s oceans.
The schooner docks will be open all day Saturday. Maritime Gloucester also will hold its annual Heritage Day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event, which includes schooner sails, schooner deck tours and access to Maritime Gloucester’s lineup of exhibits, is free.
DeKoster said Maritime Gloucester also will demonstrate how its marine railway works at about 11 a.m., using the schooner Sylvina W. Beal, which is on exhibit at Maritime Gloucester. He said the Essex-built schooner will be lowered down the railway, dipped into the water and hauled back up.
That will be followed by a lobster bake at The Gloucester House restaurant ($17 per ticket), the annual live concert on Stacy Boulevard, 6:30 to 10:30 p.m., and fireworks set for 9:15 p.m. The Boat Parade of Lights also is set to begin at 7 p.m.
On Sunday, the Parade of Sail brings the schooners past the Fishermen’s Memorial on Stacy Boulevard and out to the start line off Eastern Point for the Mayor Races for the Esperanto Cup and the Columbia, Ned Cameron and Betty Ramsey trophies.
“The best thing about it is the race is a real race, a spectators’ race,” Collinson said. “We’ve changed the course so that all of the boats can see each other during the race. That way everybody with a spot on the boats can see all the other boats.”
Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT
IF YOU GO
This weekend Gloucester hosts the 35th annual Schooner Festival. Here is the schedule of events:
FRIDAY, Aug. 30
All day: Arrival of participating vessels.
5 to 7 p.m.: Mayor’s Reception for invited guests (ticketed event), Maritime Gloucester, Harbor Loop.
6 to 10 p.m.: Gloucester Block Party, on Main Street from Pleasant to Washington streets.
SATURDAY, Aug. 31
All day: Viewing and deck tours at Schooner Docks at I-4, C-2 lot off Rogers Street.
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Maritime Gloucester Heritage Day. Annual celebration of Gloucester’s maritime heritage. Free; admission to Maritime Gloucester museum is half price. Rain or shine.
4:30 to 8:30 p.m.: Gloucester House Public Clambake. $17 for lobster, corn and cornbread.
6:30 to 10:30 p.m.: Concert on Stacy Boulevard. Live music and light effects on Stacy Boulevard with a break during the fireworks.
7 p.m.: Fireworks Viewing Party at Beauport, the Sleeper McCann House. Watch Gloucester’s annual Schooner Festival fireworks display from the terrace and lawn of Beauport. Bring blankets, chairs, picnics, and mosquito spray. Candles are prohibited. Adults and children over 12 only, please. $12 Historic New England members, $20 nonmembers. Registration is required. 978-283-0800
7 p.m.: Boat Parade of Lights. The annual Boat Parade of Lights begins at dusk at Jones Creek on the Annisquam River, travels down the river, under the drawbridge and into Gloucester Harbor, ending in Smith’s Cove.
9:15 p.m.: Fireworks Display over Gloucester Harbor. (following Parade of Lights, time approximate). The Gloucester Fireworks Committee is in need of more donations for the Labor Day weekend fireworks. Donations may be made to The Gloucester Fund, 45 Middle St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Please notate “fireworks” on your donation.
SUNDAY, Sept. 1
8:30 a.m.: Skippers Meeting. This meeting is required for all schooners sailing in the Mayor’s Race. Meet at Solomon Jacobs Park, immediately adjacent to the U.S. Coast Guard Station on Harbor Loop.
10:30 a.m. to noon: Parade of Sail as schooners proceed from Inner Harbor, past the Fishermen’s Memorial on Stacy Boulevard, to the race starting area off Eastern Point.
10:30 a.m.: Parade of Sail Viewing Party at Beauport, the Sleeper McCann House. Watch schooners sail to the Eastern Point Light breakwater to begin the Mayor’s Race for the Esperanto Cup. Coffee and light breakfast refreshments are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Bring blankets and/or chairs and other refreshments if preferred. The house is not available for tours during this event. $10 Historic New England members, $15 nonmembers. Registration is required. 978-283-0800
11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.: Shuttle Bus to Eastern Point Light, from Eastern Point Gate (Eastern Point Boulevard at Farrington Avenue to watch the start of the Mayor’s Race. Free courtesy of Cape Ann Transportation Authority.
1 p.m.: Mayor’s Race for the Esperanto Cup and races for Columbia Trophy, Ned Cameron Trophy, and Betty Ramsey Trophy off Eastern Point.
6 to 8 p.m.: Reception and Awards Ceremony for captains, crews and invited guests (ticketed event), Maritime Gloucester.
Monday, Sept. 2
Rain day: Recovery from postponements caused by inclement weather. ONLY IF REQUIRED.
MORE INFORMATION: http://gloucesterschoonerfestival.net/