Norwich Harbor filled for annual River Fest

By Merja Lehtinen – ReminderNews
Norwich - posted Mon., Jun. 6, 2011
A team of River Fest dragon boat competitors prepares for a race on June 4. Photos by Merja Lehtinen.
A team of River Fest dragon boat competitors prepares for a race on June 4. Photos by Merja Lehtinen.

Spirits and flags flew high on Saturday, June 4, as River Fest filled the Norwich Harbor with dragon boat races and replicas of the Nina and Pinta.

The Greater Norwich Chamber of Commerce, headed up by Executive Director Nancy Gray, along with its 400 member businesses, were the official organizers of the event. Foot traffic ambled to the waterfront from downtown Norwich, as well as across the harbor bridge.

Bright blue skies were a magnificent backdrop to idyllic scenes of crew teams, small ships, docks and ducks. Michelle Miller and Corey Watford, of Groton, said they arrived at River Fest early, by 8 a.m., to see the first races. “I told Corey we were coming to be outside with our children, age 6 months and 4 years, on a beautiful day as today,” said Michelle Miller.

Alice and Robert Card, of Norwich, were taking in the festival and races from a front row park bench with a great view of the Nina and Pinta, as well as the entire American Wharf Marina. They moved to Norwich because they found the people to be so friendly when Alice Card’s mother lived there and they visited her from out of state. After living out west and in Worcester, Mass., they found “Norwich is so much more friendly compared to Massachusetts,” said Robert Card.  

Nicole and Jonathan Krueger, of Norwich, pushing their son Dominic in his carriage, said it was the first time they ever attended River Fest or the races. “This is great. I have lived in Norwich most my life and never came before,” said Jonathan Krueger.

Two teachers and Norwich residents, Laura Craig who works for E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, and Greg Esta, who works with the developmentally disabled, said they were enjoying their day especially due to the presence of the Nina and the Pinta, the two authentic replica small ships visiting Norwich Harbor for another week. “This is real history,” said Esta, as he looked around. 

Hundreds of other festival-goers milled around the Good Times Restaurant food stand, sponsored by the Chamber, where breakfast, and later burgers and hot dogs, went fast. Small tents covered waiting teams of competitors or housed various Norwich companies, social services and outreach programs displaying brochures.

Eighteen teams competed in the day-long dragon boat races, which began shortly after 8 a.m. and ended by 3 p.m. Each of the teams would get to compete at least three times, and the best of their three times would determine the winner. Rowers lined up in three groups, and were cheered on by supporters, as Ted Phillips used his bull horn to guide them down the docks and planks in single file.

Paula Provost and her family of supporters from Franklin and Sprague sat on a blanket while waiting to compete again on the Revenue Rowers team. Despite a slow start, Provost said her team had every intention of winning. “We are not here to lose,” she said. Not only was her team competing against other businesses, but she said the 40-year-olds were determined to teach the 20-year-olds a thing or two about fitness and the determination to win. Apparently, their attitude worked: by day's end, the Revenue Rowers reported the lowest time, winning the overall event with a best race of little over 55 seconds.     

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