Tall ships to sail to harbor in June

Ships' crews to mark festival with songs instead of cannons

March 09, 2000|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

It will look like the British invasion of 1814 all over again. But the armada of tall ships sailing into Baltimore this summer will be larger. And their cannons will remain silent in deference to the two-toed sloths napping in the National Aquarium.

A million tourists and more than 10,000 small boats are expected to crowd Baltimore's waterfront June 21-29 to watch 27 tall ships from around the world take part in the largest sailing festival in the city's history.

Ships from Indonesia, Denmark, Colombia, Germany, Ireland and 12 other countries will anchor in the Inner Harbor, Fells Point, Canton and Locust Point for eight days as part of a tour of seven East Coast ports, organizers of the Operation Sail 2000 event will announce today.

"I think it's going to seem like the Baltimore harbor of more than 100 years ago, with a forest of tall masts ringing the waterfront," said William R. MacIntosh, president of Sail Baltimore, a nonprofit group helping to organize the festival.

More than 1,800 sailors from around the world -- some of whom will stand in their ships' rigging and sing as they cruise into port -- will take part in dances, concerts, tours, parties, crab feasts and cultural events.

One thing the foreign ships are being encouraged not to do is fire their ceremonial cannons in imitation of the British bombardment of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

"I don't think the two-toed sloths and other creatures in the National Aquarium's rain forest would appreciate cannon fire in the Inner Harbor," MacIntosh said.

Among the ships the public will be able to tour are the four-masted, 371-foot-long Esmeralda from Chile; the Italian navy's Amerigo Vespucci, a replica of a man-of-war from 200 years ago; and the three-masted Danmark, which the Danish government entrusted to the United States during World War II to prevent Nazi Germany from seizing it.

A crew of 110 Indonesian sailors is cruising the three-masted Dewaruci from the Indian Ocean to visit Baltimore and the other ports on the tour, Miami, Norfolk, Va., New York, Philadelphia, New London, Conn., and Portland, Maine.

Most of the ships are steel-hulled craft built between 10 and 70 years ago for ceremonial purposes and to teach sailors in foreign navies how to sail.

Exceptions include the wooden-hulled, 27-year-old schooner Harvey Gamage, which will sail to Baltimore from Bath, Maine; and the 51-year-old wooden ship Soren Larsen, which a crew of 34 will sail from Auckland, New Zealand.

The investment banking company Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown is donating $200,000 to help pay for the event as a gift to Baltimore to mark the company's 200th birthday, said Mayo A. Shattuck III, co-chairman of the company, which was founded in Baltimore and bought last June by German-based Deutsche Bank.

"To have the ships sail into the harbor is symbolically important for us, because our company's founder, Alexander Brown, built a fleet of clipper ships to move merchandise from Europe to America," Shattuck said.

The ships will gather on May 25 in San Juan, Puerto Rico and head north up the East Coast.

As they sail up the Chesapeake Bay from Norfolk, thousands of recreational boats are expected to cruise alongside, said Capt. Dean F. Scarborough of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Police. A flotilla of 125 Coast Guard and police boats will keep order by preventing sightseers from entering a safety zone 500 yards ahead of the ships and 200 yards on either side, Scarborough said.

People in Baltimore will be able to tour the ships for free, visit an educational tent beside the Inner Harbor, watch maritime film festivals at the National Aquarium and Harborplace Amphitheater and attend an international food and music festival at Market Place near Port Discovery.

The largest number of sight-seers is expected on June 29, when the tall ships will form a parade heading from Baltimore toward New York City.

"Some of these ships have masts that are so tall, they won't fit under the 130-foot-tall Delaware Memorial Bridge," said Scarborough. "So they will have to take a less direct route from Baltimore to New York, sailing all the way down the Chesapeake Bay."

After visiting New York, the armada will continue its voyage north up the East Coast, reaching Portland in July.

Lt. Toni Gay, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, said the festival could draw even more recreational boaters onto the Chesapeake than the swarms that watched the sailboats in the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1998.

The New York-based, nonprofit Operation Sail was founded by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 in an effort to foster good will among nations by inviting them to participate in noncompetitive sailing events every few years.

In past years, groups of ships in the event stopped by Baltimore, even though it was not an official host city.

In 1992, 12 tall ships visited the city. In 1986, seven large ships and 15 smaller craft visited. And in 1976, seven tall ships visited Baltimore over a period of 11 days as part of the nation's bicentennial.

Back in 1814, the British sailed an armada of 16 warships into the Patapsco River, about two miles south of Fort McHenry, to bombard the city's defenses -- which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the national anthem.

The British didn't have to worry about disturbing the animals in the National Aquarium -- the reason the sailors in this year's event are being asked to hold their fire.

But Jill Galloway, spokeswoman for the aquarium, said the sloths won't be disturbed.

"They can go ahead and fire away," Galloway said, laughing. "The animals in our rain forest will certainly hear it, but it won't hurt them."

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