By Grace Apostol
From Thursday, Oct. 27 through Sunday, Oct. 30, the annual Sultana Downrigging festival hosted by the Sultana Education Foundation commenced for its 20th year in Chestertown, Md.
President and Head Staff Member Dan McMullen helped to begin Sultana in 2001.
“It was just happenstance,” he said. “Sultana was launched in 2001, and the Pride of Baltimore had a scheduled visit to Chestertown and we arranged for the boats to go sailing at the same time and everyone thought it was the greatest thing ever so we thought let’s do it again next year. It was so popular that we got a third and it’s kind of been going that way now.”
According to McMullen, the event began to be called downrigging in 2002.
In 2022, Sultana Downrigging has eight boats named the Sultana, Sigsbee, Lynx, Virginia, Pride of Baltimore II, Godspeed, Kalmar Nyckel, and Maryland Dove.
Most of the ships, as mentioned above, have been sailing to Chestertown for more than a decade and have the festival in their voyage schedules.
“[We have] eight this year, which is about as many we can fit, unless we can get really clever, and we are already pretty clever,” McMullen said regarding the probability of adding more boats in future Downrigging festivals.
Two new ships, of the eight, for this year’s festival are the Maryland Dove and The Godspeed. One of the crew members on board for the Maryland Dove, Roy Miscarry, has been sailing up to Maryland for about ten years and was present at the Downrigging festival.
“The company, the comradery, I learn a lot and I love learning about the history, and a bunch of people do this because they want to,” Miscarry said regarding why he loves working on the Maryland Dove. “The volunteers don’t do it for money, they do it because they enjoy it.”
Besides the ships, the festival also hosted national touring bluegrass bands and local food vendors across Chestertown.
Events committee member of the festival, Shelby Strudwick, commented on the beautiful weather of this year’s festival weekend, despite the previous year’s weather.
“Last year we had three inches of rain on Friday, and people were still rocking out in there, it was packed,” she said.
According to McMullen, when it came to ticket sales, the event sells about 3,500 a year, with around 8,000 to 10,000 spectators visiting the circumstances, free and not. About 60% of these visitors are from outside Chestertown and commute to the festivities.
“It’s not even the same event,” McMullen said. “It’s much, much bigger…Now you can make a day of it.”
From Thursday through Sunday, events are held each day, ranging from concerts by the Bluegrass bands, food sold by Chestertown vendors, tours of the ships, fireworks, sailing on the boats, and much more.
“You look around and mostly people are smiling,” McMullen said regarding his favorite parts of the festival weekend festivities. “One of the things we love to do at Sultana is building social capital, like relationships, and people spend a lot of quality time together without a screen here and outside and they are seeing friends they haven’t seen for a long time and that’s my favorite part.”
For more information, please visit the Sultana Downrigging website at https://downrigging.org/faq/.
Photos courtesy of Grace Apostol
Photo Caption: The Docks by the Chester river hold boats ready for Sultana Down rigging.