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Staten Island, New York, United States

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Big Staten Island Festival Weekend Part 1: Maritime Festival

What a great weekend to be a Staten Island resident. THREE big festivals to check out; the Maritime Festival at Atlantic Salt, Maifest at Snug Harbor, and Art by the Ferry throughout St. George. I managed to sample all three. But, I want to share the Maritime Festival first.

The Gazela, adding a 19th century touch to our urban landscape.
My bus stop to the ferry is across the street from Atlantic Salt. On Thursday morning when I started out for work, I saw the Gazela's masts poking up through the fog.

The Gazela, a wooden square-rigger, comes out of Philadelphia. She was built in 1883, part of the Portuguese Cod Fishing Fleet that worked the north Atlantic. She has two small dories on her, which were each used by a single fisherman, pulling long lines baited with many hooks. Basically, if this method was being used all along, there would still be plenty of cod in the Atlantic. The huge drag net method of fishing on motor-powered trawlers that replaced it caused overfishing and did a lot of ecological damage. The Grand Banks had to be closed to fishing in 1992. The Gazela has been repurposed as living history and is associated with the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild. Learn more here www.gazela.org.

Friday night was a fundraising event for the Noble Maritime Museum, held down on the Atlantic Salt wharf. Atlantic Salt is an impressive feature in the landscape of my neighborhood. During the winter a massive bucket crane piles salt into a gigantic snowdrift which dwarfs the bulldozer working it. I can hear the engines working throughout the nights during busy times. But, back to the party . . .

The evening started with a tour of the Gazela, docked at the wharf (the ever-present salt mountain covered with a huge tarp), and conversations with the crew. 
A good percentage of the crew is female, I was happy to see. We were shown the working parts of the ship (engine room, galley, etc.), but could only glimpse the below-deck areas where the crew lives.

The party featured Portuguese food, lots of pork and fish. There were special mojitos (yum) and plenty of wine, etc.

One of the reasons I was so eager to go to the event was the promise of dancing to a live band. Sure enough, a real wooden dance floor had been set up  on the gritty (literally) wharf - a good sign - worthy of  changing into my dance shoes.

About halfway through the evening a Coast Guard vessel pulled up to dock, its searchlight seeking the right spot. There was quite a crew on board, for a smallish vessel. They seemed to be shy, though, not leaving their posts to join our party.

Hello Sailor! The Coast Guard crew behind me.
Once I get up to dance, there's not much sitting. I came back to the table several times to eat a little more, only to find my plate had been whisked away. But, I would get distracted by another song and another potential dance partner anyway. Many of my artist friends also dance and we know each other well enough to know who is game for which dance style. My date was a tango partner/friend and plied with enough malbec, I managed to get him on the floor to dance some rock and roll. We waddled away after the party, bellies full of dessert, legs tired and big smiles on our faces. I think it's safe to say we all had a blast.

This morning, on a day as gray as the day she pulled in, I got up to watch the Gazela set out with the tide. The crew had told me she would be hoisting her sails and I was looking forward to that. I was disappointed in that respect, but she was still a stately sight to behold.

If I was between temp gigs, I think I would have joined the crew. I don't have that much holding me here and an adventure like that doesn't come to my doorstep every day. I imagined myself learning new skills, forging new friendships, seeing life from a new angle, making small watercolors while onboard.

I guess I was hearing that old siren song.

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