Majestic tall ships pack Inner Harbor

Crowd: Visitors from around the region converged on Baltimore's waterfront for a firsthand look at the sailing vessels from far-flung ports.

June 25, 2000|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

One of the largest tourist events to hit Baltimore's Inner Harbor in 20 years attracted huge crowds on its first weekend day, bringing transportation snags and long lines along with the wonder of landlubbers face to face with an international bevy of tall ships.

OpSail 2000, which began Friday, hit a few rough spots yesterday, as an estimated 150,000 visitors came from Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and all parts of Maryland to tour the majestic vessels.

A tugboat slammed into the Pride of Baltimore II clipper about 12:30 p.m., damaging the stern of the 12-year-old boat and shaking a group of tourists on board. No injuries were reported.

"We actually saw the tugboat coming toward us," said Katrina Jackson, who was on board with her nieces. "Someone said to hold on."

"I was scared it was going to sink!" said her niece, Taby Mercado, 9.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Toni Gay said the damage to the Pride appeared "cosmetic" after an initial inspection, but the vessel would be tested further tomorrow before the ship could resume carrying passengers.

A Baltimore man jumped from a pleasure boat into the Patapsco River near Fort McHenry at about 2:30 p.m. in what Gay said appeared to be an alcohol-related incident. A Coast Guard boat retrieved the man and returned him uninjured to his boat, she said.

It was a day wrapped in the crinoline of visiting square dancers and overlaid with stickiness; a day when some wore way too little, and others way too much. There were men dressed as pirates; women in impossibly ruffled, flowered skirts; winking sailors in white; languages from countries miles away spoken right next to your ear.

In the harbor, you'd find tank tops sticking to midriffs and hair snarling in the wind. Across the street, in the refined cool of the Renaissance Hotel, you'd find the top 10 chefs of Genoa, Baltimore's sister city in Italy, who had come to town to prepare a grand Genoese buffet. They were carefully folding beautiful suits into garment bags for the trip home in the afternoon.

Parking lots were full, some of them by 10 a.m. The busiest place by far was the Inner Harbor, which had become a cauldron of wall-to-wall bodies by noon.

Frustration for some

For some there, frustration defined the day. Water taxis, advertised as the best way to travel among the 30 ships on display, were jammed, with lines reaching 100 people at a time, even early in the day.

Betty Holmes had brought her husband and grandchildren from Lancaster, Pa., to see the ships, only to spend much of her time waiting at a Water Taxi stop next to the Maryland Science Center for a ride to Fort McHenry. Jeff Powell of Gaithersburg had brought his parents and his children - and was waiting for more than an hour at the same stop. They had gotten to town early and parked at a hotel, hoping to take the water shuttle to Canton and Fells Point.

"Now we're stuck," Powell said. "Now it's almost 11, and who knows what parking's like over there. This is silly, because we're not happy. We're not out spending money in the stores. We're waiting here."

Lines to tour the ships were just as long, though they moved faster.

Many people were quite content to wait. "There's not very many things that are worth fighting a huge crowd for, but this is one of them," said Anita Libengood of Laurel, as she tented a newspaper over her head to keep cool in line for the ship Guayas from Ecuador.

Bill MacIntosh, president of Sail Baltimore, which has coordinated OpSail, said that from his point of view, the first weekend day of the event went wonderfully, despite the long lines.

"It's hot, it's crowded, but that's what we want," he said. "People have stuck with it because, I think, they know they're going to be rewarded."

Unique event

Bill Garrison, office manager for Seaport Taxi, said that despite pressing all nine of its vessels into service, the shuttle just couldn't keep up with the crowds. Congestion from pleasure boats in the harbor also slowed the taxis' progress, he said.

"You could never build enough vessels for volume like this," he said. "This is a once-in-10-years event."

At Ed Kane's Water Taxi - which MacIntosh said had sold 100,000 packages for the nine-day event - the only answer came from a message machine. "We are extremely busy due to OpSail 2000," it said. "Please be patient and wait at your landing and we'll pick you up as soon as possible."

Not every venue was crowded. In Canton, the scene was downright relaxed, as visitors walked a long, rocking pier at the Baltimore Marine Center to visit the Maryland Dove, a museum ship from Historic St. Mary's City.

At the Clarence Du Burns Arena in Canton, sailors from Venezuela, Chile, Denmark and Indonesia faced off in spirited games of volleyball. The Venezuelans, from the 270-foot barque Simon Bolivar, whistled, chanted and rhythmically stomped for their team in a sea of royal blue and white uniforms.

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