July 19, 2006

Fleet Week Deemed A "Fantastic Success"

After last week's visit of 150 sailors from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, who arrived in six yard patrol training vessels and docked at Mitchell Marina, the Navy had a message for Greenport residents: We'll be back.

So said Greenport Mayor David Kapell, who reported at last Thursday's village board work session that the first-ever Fleet Week was a "fantastic success."

The event, a three-day celebration that included dancing and a barbecue in Mitchell Park, public tours of the yard patrol boats, and a spin on the carousel by the midshipmen, was not tourist-based. "It was a terrific local event," said Kapell, with scores of residents lining the streets to greet sailors heading to shore. "It was just the best small-town scene."

And, he added, the visit opened the doors of opportunity, with the Navy expressing interest in returning with its new fleet of 18 to 20 44-foot sailboats, rather than sailing to Newport, where they are charged for dockage.

Another advantage to setting sail for Greenport, said Kapell, is that once they're in port, sailors can step off their vessels straight into the heart of the village: "It's a magical arrangement."

In other areas, said Trustee Jamie Mills, sailors might have a five-mile walk into town.

Fleet Week was also low-key, with less orchestration required on the part of the village than what is required for other events, such as visits by Tall Ships. And the three-day festivities were inexpensive, too — with just the cost of the $1500 barbecue, which, Mills reminded, was offset by ticket sales to the public who were invited to join the sailors for a picnic dinner.

Perhaps most touching, said the mayor, was that the visit by the fleet brought Greenport's maritime history into sharp focus.

Kapell held up photos of vessels called minesweepers built by Greenport Basin & Construction Co., now Greenport Yacht & Shipbuilding, during WWII. The Navy yard patrol boats sport the same hull as the minesweepers. And so, when the Navy vessels pulled into port, Greenport's rich maritime past merged with Mitchell Marina's bustling present: "That's what Greenport was and is," he said. "The boats are coming home."

Mills agreed the event was a winner. "The visit by the midshipmen from the Naval Academy was a resounding success," he said. "The sailors had a good time. I saw many Greenporters enjoying the festivities and the number of visitors walking our streets and frequenting our stores was at a level that was comfortable."

And good for business: Perry Angelson, owner of The Loft, The Harbourfront Deli and The Coronet, said not only was the event good for business, but an even bigger score for families. Angelson said his own children, as well as visiting relatives, joined the throngs in Mitchell Park for the barbecue. "When you have many people and children in the park, it makes for a pretty picture," he said.

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