A fiscal kind of warfare rumbles around tall ships

Maritime cities bid for visits to build tourism and prestige


As tall ships from around the world sail into Baltimore today on a goodwill tour, international intrigue roils beneath the decks.

Operation Sail was conceived to smooth diplomatic waters between the United States and other nations, but this year's tour of East Coast ports has turned into a bidding war for ships among port cities, which has made some nations uncomfortable and a few ships change course.

Cities including Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia refuse to pay ships, in part because it would be insulting to imply that symbols of national pride are for sale.

Other cities not affiliated with Operation Sail but still playing host to tall ship festivals, such as Boston; Newport, R.I.; and Wilmington, Del.; are offering payments. Boston has offered $25,000 and more.

As his crew scrubbed the three-masted ship Guayas anchored five miles from Baltimore's Inner Harbor yesterday, Ecuadorean Capt. Juan Serrano explained that his visit has nothing to do with money.

Serrano confirmed that Boston offered his ship $25,000 to appear at its July 11-21 tall ship festival, and he said Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy made a personal appeal to Ecuadorean officials.

But the Guayas turned down the request, Serrano said, because it had prior commitments to Operation Sail ports on the East Coast tour.

And he said his ship would not accept money.

"My country doesn't have too much money, but money is not why we do this," said Serrano, as crew members stood on rafts in the choppy waves to repaint the ship's hull bright white for its entrance to the harbor tomorrow for the festival, June 23-29.

"This is an opportunity for us to meet with new people and other cultures and for other cultures to get to know us," said Serrano. "We hear Baltimore is a very, very nice place, and we want to see it."

Behind the debate over whether to pay ships are issues of pride, tourism money and what some call "port envy" - the desire by some cities to boast that they have the tallest and most ships.

Also at work is a struggle between New York- and London-based sailing organizations over which ports should dominate tall ship events.

Boston has agreed to pay $200,000 to be the only U.S. port for a tall ship race held by the London-based International Sail Training Association.

But Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and most large East Coast cities have sided with the New York- and Washington-based Operation Sail, which refused to pay the fee to London and doesn't charge fees to its members.

Dusty Rhodes, an organizer of the Sail Boston festival, said Boston has signed up with a better organization than New York and other Operation Sail ports.

"Why would you want to be in the minors when you are already in the majors?" Rhodes asked.

Some Operation Sail directors have accused Boston - birthplace of the American Revolution - of betraying its heritage by selling out to the "Redcoats" instead of siding with the U.S.-based organization.

Others have gone so far as to claim that Kennedy betrayed the intentions of his brother, John F. Kennedy Jr., by working against the Operation Sail group the president helped found in 1961.

Boston loyalists call this nonsense. They point out that the International Sail Training Association has more than 30 member countries, not just Britain.

And they say that Sen. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut has been lobbying behind the scenes against Boston, trying to lure South American ships for a rival sailing event that New London, Conn., is holding the same weekend next month as Boston.

"It's like a wrestling match," said retired Army Maj. Gen. David Gay, organizer of an OpSail tall ship festival in New London July 12-15.

"We are not paying any appearance fees, but Boston is. ... This is not what President Kennedy intended."

Will Keyser, spokesman for Senator Kennedy, said it's "a lot of hyperbole" to claim that Kennedy is trying to undermine the sailing organization co-founded by his brother.

"The Sail Boston event is a huge, huge tourist and economic development spark for Boston and New England, and certainly Senator Kennedy has been supportive of it from the get-go," said Keyser.

Tall ship event organizers in Boston and other non-Operation Sail cities maintain that Operation Sail is not free from commercialism, either.

The Massachusetts-based Ocean Spray juice manufacturing company is paying $5 million to plaster its logo all over OpSail T-shirts and posters.

This money pays the salaries of OpSail staff members who help organize the events, although in Baltimore and other cities, volunteers lead the efforts.

The money also pays for tugboats, water for the ships, trash and sewage removal, security, dockworkers and local phone service for the ships.

OpSail does not pay money to the ships directly, said Veronica Uhryniak, assistant to the international director of OpSail.

The organization helps put ships in contact with corporations that want to pay the ships to hold private parties, said Uhryniak.

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