By James Niedzinski
---- — ROCKPORT — The Navy is once again landing in Rockport.
Celebrating a history between Rockport residents and that branch of the service, the annual Rockport Naval weekend starts today and there is plenty to do.
The modern festivities began in 2007, but the relationship between the navy and Rockport began much earlier.
Rockport was on the list of places visited by The Great White Fleet in the early 1900s, when the fleet was circumnavigating the globe at the time, said retired Rockport Police officer Roger Lesch, who is among the Navy weekend coordinators. Then, more ships visited again after World War II, with residents getting the chance to tour the ships that visited Rockport’s harbor — and Lesch was one of them.
Lesch, who later joined the Navy in the 1960s, said he fondly remembered details of the armed forces visit, they had given out sugar cookies.
“You remember things like that,” he said.
Lesch now co-chairs the Rockport Navy Committee along with Sharon Grandmaison, and is looking forward to this years festivities.
Due to security, deployment and other issues, larger ships have not visited Rockport in recent years, but Lesch said he still remembers when they came to town.
“You get that smell of what a Navy ship smells like,” he said, Lesch had been deployed on an Navy oiler. “Even Boston has a hard time getting ships.”
One of the events that is planned over weekend, however, is the annual kickball game with Rockport children and midshipmen on Evans Field. Even the field itself has historical significance tied to the navy.
In 1928, Visery Evans bequeathed the field to the town in her will. Part of the will states “It is my desire the town permit the soldiers and sailors of the United States to have the use of this field without charge, whenever the ships of the United States Navy are in our harbor,” according to a document from the Sandy Bay Historical Society.
This year, sailors from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, the USS Constitution in Boston and the Navy Band in Newport, R.I., have been invited, with 24 midshipmen and six advisers also set to stay in Rockport throughout the weekend, a smaller amount than previous years.
Phyllis Krenn said she has hosted midshipmen and naval advisers since the Rockport Navy weekend began, with her husband having served in the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Krenns live near the harbor on rear High Street and said they have formed long lasting friendships with those who stay at their house. This year, Krenn said she is hosting senior advisers, not midshipmen.
“We don’t have to entertain them too much, we all stay up past our bedtime,” she joked. “We’ve enjoyed it thoroughly, it’s an absolute delight.”
The midshipmen and advisers will travel aboard three training crafts developed by Pedrick Yacht Designs. The vessels are used to train midshipmen in seamanship, the rigors of the ocean, navigation and teamwork.
Grandmaison said one of the benefits of the armed forces coming to Rockport was the high level of community involvement, as the midshipmen do not just meet with a specific group of people in town.
However some events, such as when midshipmen will meet with veterans at the Kindred Den-Mar nursing home, are not open for everyone.
The midshipmen and advisers will arrive tonight. Tomorrow, sailors and others will play a game of kickball on Evans Field starting at 10:15 a.m. followed by public tours of the boats on T-Wharf from noon to 4 p.m. and a softball game with Rockport police officers and firefighters at 6 p.m.
Sunday, there is a pancake breakfast from 8 to 10 a.m. at Brackett’s Ocean View Restaurant on Main Street and more boat tours from noon to 4 p.m.
A new addition this year will be the Northeast Navy Pops Ensemble, they will be performing a free concert at the Rockport High School auditorium Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
For tickets, call Grandmaison at 978-290-1393, or visit rocnavcom.org; a free Cape Ann Transportation Authority shuttle will leave Dock Square at 12:45 p.m.
The Northeast Navy Pops Ensemble is comprised of talented musicians from around the country and provides musical entertainment for audiences of all ages. The versatility of the band allows them to play a wide variety of musical styles, including modern and traditional concert band music to patriotic favorites and popular hits of today.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.