Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Wilmington, North Carolina: Too Much of a Good Thing

The logo on this t-shirt from the local brewery looks a lot like our ship, doesn't it?

We were completely unprepared for the intensity of our 10 days in Wilmington, especially after the long sea passage. As we motored up the Cape Fear River around sunset, people lining the waterfront screamed out "Welcome to Wilmington!!" The people in town were really looking forward to our arrival, it seemed, and couldn't wait to come tour the ship.  They loved us.  They loved us a little too much.

There was a rhythm and ribs festival going on in the field next to where we were docked, and we were slammed with people.  Three thousand people in the first day.  The kind of crowd we had only seen before as part of the boat festivals like the Tall Ship Challenge in Philadelphia.  But Philly is a big city.  Wilmington? Wilmington? It's something of a smallish town in a rural area.  Where were all the people coming from?  Ah, must be because the festival is offering discount combo tickets to their event coupled with an El Galeon tour. The rush of people will calm down on Monday. (I thought to myself.)

But it didn't.  We were insanely crowded even during the week.  The publicity surrounding our visit must have been extraordinary.  People told us in some cases they had driven several hours to see us, and then waited an hour more in a line that snaked around the dock. While the income was fantastic for the ship, crowds are always frustrating for us as tour guides.  We didn't have time to really help people understand the ship or the historic context, couldn't tell our stories or get into conversations with visitors.  We were reduced to just traffic control, which gets both wearing and boring pretty fast. The people were very proud of themselves and their town whenever I told them that we had more visitors in Wilmington than we had in New York City. (Of course, I didn't tell them that our attendance was rather dismal in New York because we were marketed badly, or my friend James' theory that there just wasn't anything to do in Wilmington and we were benefitting from the lack of competition.)

Maybe it was the tiredness from dealing with the crowds, but my memories of Wilmington are just fragments. Spectacular sunsets. The going-away party for our popular ship's photographer. Buying t-shirts from the local brewpub for half my friends on the crew, because the logo looked coincidentally like our ship.  The local photographer who gifted us a poster-size print of a photo she had taken of the ship's arrival at sunset a day or two before.  A bright pink sailboat docked at our almost-empty brand new marina. Wandering the historic Cotton Exchange. A pretty top in bright tropical colors that I saw in the window of a consignment store on the main street. The very nice optician who helped us find a replacement for Dan's prescription sunglasses and arranged to have them sent to us since they wouldn't be ready before the galeon sailed for the next port.

But all those visitors, every day! The relentless pace was wearing us down. And although it was nice to be back in the South again, the heat was wearing also.  I was looking forward to sailing again, even the single overnight trip to Charleston -- and to Charleston itself, always a favorite city.


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