Wiscasset is celebrating its nautical heritage with its first Schoonerfest, featuring boats, concerts, and races on water and land in the third week of August.
The Recreational Pier, near the final resting place of massive four-masted schooners Hesper and Luther Little, will be the heart of the Aug. 18-22 town-wide festival, with an ongoing rotation of bands, concerts and sea shanty sessions.
On Friday, Aug. 19, a canon salute will begin a special SOS (“Schooners on the Sheepscot”) program that will have a parade of large vessels, including one craft built and launched on the shores of Wiscasset more than 80 years ago.
On the hill and closer to downtown, Wiscasset Middle High School students will roam the streets in 19th century costumes and tell stories curated from town books, journals, letters and newspapers. And musical destinations also will include the concert platform on the Town Common as well as the Sunken Gardens just a block away.
“Long before anyone had ever thought of (the famous Red’s Eats), the Sheepscot River waterfront was a destination for people all over the world,” explained Peter Wells, one of the Schoonerfest 2021 organizers.
Most notably, in the 20th century, the decaying remains of Hesper (201 feet in length) and Luther Little (204 feet) were traffic-stopping sites – majestic vessels grounded permanently in the 1930s and which survived, in bits and pieces, until 1998.
“But Wiscasset has a much richer nautical history,” Wells added. “Maine’s third-deepest harbor was a global center of shipbuilding, commerce and shipping back to the 18th century.”
Although historical accounts vary, when President Thomas Jefferson called for a shipping embargo in 1807 to protect U.S. nautical resources against Great Britain, the port of Wiscasset – at the time, still a port in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts – was so densely packed with ships it was possible for residents to walk across the river to Edgecomb by walking from one docked ship to the next.
“That’s the spirit of Wiscasset we hope to capture,” Wells said. Just as people competed in sailing and rowing competitions two centuries ago, so will Schoonerfest 2021 host sailboat and rowing races. And just as Wiscasset was every bit a town of families in the 1800s, so will the celebration tend to the interests of children, with face-painting, bail-bucket races and lobster corn hole games.
A triathlon will end at the Recreational Pier on the final day of the program.
The Schoonerfest 2021 festival – the first in what is planned to be an annual event – has partnered with the developers of Geocaching to provide a 21st century digital hide-and-seek game.
Schoonerfest is also working with local eateries and food trucks. Water Street Kitchen and Bar will have a beer and wine garden on the other side of the railroad tracks that abut the restaurant.
Wiscasset Creative Alliance, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is Schoonerfest’s parent and partner, and the list of sponsors already includes Ames True Value Hardware, Berkshire Design Group, Chewonki Campground, First National Bank, Sherri Dunbar-Dunham Realty, and Water Street Kitchen and Bar. Levels of support run from $1,000 for an “Admirals of the Fleet” endorsement down to a $10 “Wee Matey” contribution.
The town is providing services, including emergency services.