With the arrival of a graceful four-masted topsail schooner from Spain and a weekend festival visit involving 15 smaller ships, Baltimore is showing off its hospitality to the nations that operate the world's large sailing vessels.
The Juan Sebastian de Elcano, a 370-foot Spanish Navy training vessel built in 1927, tied up yesterday along the west wall of the Inner Harbor for a five-day visit, which includes public tour hours every day but Saturday.
And at 7 p.m. tomorrow off Fort McHenry, 15 Class B sailing vessels -- including the Lady Baltimore, Clipper City and Night Hawk which have their home ports here -- will fire cannon salutes in connection with Flag Day festivities taking place ashore, then parade into the harbor to begin the first Fells Point Maritime Festival.
The festival continues from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at the docks and community square at the foot of Broadway.
Think of it as a kind of dress rehearsal. For Baltimore's Operation Sail organization is hoping that this festival and a visit next month by a Soviet tall ship, the Kruzenshtern, will attract up to a dozen of the world's tall ships to call here in 1992.
Next year, of course, is 500 years after "Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen-hundred ninety-two," and New York City will host huge anniversary events that are expected to bring the largest collection of sailing ships to the United States since the bicentennial festivities in 1976.
"We've been sending letters out to all these countries inviting them to come here, too," says Fran Johannson, co-chairman of Operation Sail and next year's Summer of Sail '92 events. The volunteer organization has been in existence since it organized the memorable bicentennial visit of tall ships to Baltimore.
"Actually, the captains love coming here already," says Johannson, noting that Baltimore over the years has continuously hosted both sail and power ships from many nations.
The Elcano, for example, last visited Baltimore in 1987. It was also here in 1976 along with the Kruzenshtern, a 342-foot full-rigged ship, whose visit to Baltimore this year is scheduled for July 12-22.
This weekend's festival in Fells Point was created after the American Sail Training Association requested that Baltimore be the finishing leg of a safety rally voyage. Norfolk, Va. was the starting point and St. Mary's City was leg two earlier this week. The association trains young cadets aboard a variety of schooners and other sail vessels.
In addition to the Baltimore, ships participating in the event include the Maryland Dove reproduction from St. Mary's City; the schooners Harold K. Acker and Mable Stevens of Cobb Island; the Gazela and the New Way, both from Philadelphia; the Black Pearl from Newport, R.I.; the Federalist of Alexandria, the Norfolk Rebel and Noreen from Norfolk, and Washington's Patricia Divine.
Shoreside events in Fells Point include opening celebrations and a crab feast ($25 per person) beginning at 7 p.m. tomorrow.
A 17th century maritime atmosphere will be re-created during day-long celebrations Saturday and Sunday, including a variety of food, music and other entertainment. In addition, free public visits are scheduled aboard the ships for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. both days. The Fells Point Business Association is the land-based sponsor. For more information, call 327-8360.
At the Inner Harbor, the Elcano will be open free to visitors from 3 to 7 p.m. today; 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. tomorrow; and from 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call Operation Sail at 752-8632.