We may be a little town, but we have a huge heart.
Every year since 2001, on the last weekend of October, Chestertown celebrates tall ships and bluegrass music and neighborliness. We call it “Downrigging.” This year, the weather looks like it will be a spectacular backdrop to the weekend’s festivities so c’mon over!
Downrigging benefits The Sultana Educational Foundation. It’s a fully immersive cultural experience that showcases some of the region’s most graceful sailing vessels, wonderful music and good food, and plenty of family activities. The action takes place in town and along our historic waterfront. In the evenings, there are fireworks and the ships are aglow with lights that create a magical and mesmerizing effect, the stuff of memories. Coinciding with the return of our avian friends from the Canadian tundra fields and with fall colors at their peak, Downrigging is the town’s signature event with a worthy purpose: promoting the Chesapeake Bay’s historic, cultural, and environmental resources, our common and irreplaceable treasures.
This year’s event features seven graceful tall ships: Chestertown’s very own “Sultana;” the “Ajmeerwald” out of Bivalve, New Jersey; the “Kalmar Nickel” out of Wilmington, Delaware; “Lynx” out of Nantucket, Massachusetts; The “Maryland Dove” out of St. Mary’s City, Maryland; “Pride of Baltimore II” from Baltimore; “Sigsbee” also out of Baltimore; and “Virginia” out of Norfolk, Virginia. There are tours and public cruises, as well as a majestic parade.
In addition to the tall ships who are rightfully the centerpieces of the weekend, there is a Music Village where visitors can enjoy some toe-tapping bluegrass music. This year, there are ten different groups to entertain visitors and plenty of local food and beverages, too. Did I mention oysters? There will be oysters!
Want more? Well, away from the waterfront, there are several book talks featuring works by local and regional authors, art exhibitions, history lectures, nature walks, knot tying, and exhibitions of lovingly restored wooden boats, as well as a display of models made by local craftsmen. There’s even a Halloween parade!
Downrigging doesn’t just happen. It takes plenty of behind-the-scenes planing and effort, generous sponsors, hard-working volunteers, and dedicated event staff. It’s a community working together to bring lots of visitors to town; it binds residents and businesses together; it reminds us what is most precious: our common good fortune. Like I said, we’re a little town with a big heart.
But here’s what I enjoy most about Downrigging: the friends who come to rest on our front porch; the people who pass by and stop to chat or just admire our small historic home; the stillness of late evening when the day’s frenzy is past, or the early morning sunlight that filters through the elms and maples ablaze with fall color. The single kayak paddler moving silently through the morning mist that drifts across the surface of the river. Moonlight dancing on the water.
In other words, I like the poetry of Downrigging. Don’t get me wrong: the crescendo of the days is something to behold, but the peace that falls early in the morning or late in the evening surrounds all the buzzing activity, cushioning it, giving context to why we love our little town with a big heart.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. His new novel “This Salted Soil,” a new children’s book, “The Ballad of Poochie McVay,” and two collections of essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”), are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is Musingjamie.net.