OpSail attendees face long, hot waits

Lines: Thousands seek relief from the heat as they stand in line for up to an hour to board the tall ships.

June 26, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Heat, crowds and long lines dominated OpSail yesterday.

Thousands of visitors, many clutching bottles of water in one hand and children in the other, slowly made their way through a sea of people who came to Baltimore's Inner Harbor to see the majestic tall ships.

On the Inner Harbor promenade, visitors ducked around smiling groups, who posed for photos with the ships as backdrops. Two-fisted drinkers - a lemonade in one hand and a water bottle in the other - were everywhere, and people mopped their foreheads and slathered on sunscreen as temperatures climbed into the low 90s. Vendors of food, beverages and souvenirs reported nonstop sales.

Police estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 people flocked to downtown Baltimore yesterday for OpSail 2000, many traveling from out of state.

The wait to get on many of the international ships reached an hour. Some visitors said the only vessels they boarded were water shuttles - but no matter, they said, they enjoyed what is one of the biggest tourist events to dock in the city in two decades.

"It's very crowded. It's too hot and the lines are ridiculously long. But it was very nice to still come out to see them and just walk around," said restaurant operator Richard Davis, 29, of Gibson Island.

He and his friend, Blanka Formanova, 23, of Rockville, said they might return on a weekday when crowds are expected to thin.

Waits for water shuttles were a sore point. Some complained they waited longer than it took to get on some of the tall ships.

But Ed Kane, who owns Ed Kane's Water Taxi, said waits generally were shorter yesterday than Saturday "because 12 hours learning" from Saturday's hour-plus waits taught him to get nine of his 13 taxis running before 10 a.m. and the rest within a half-hour. In comparison, he said he had seven out at 10 a.m. Saturday and didn't have his entire fleet running until 11:30, and never caught up.

His "conservative and favorable estimate" of waits at Harborplace and near the Maryland Science Center was 20 minutes or so.

"I've been down here since the beginning of this harbor, and there was never a day like [Saturday]. The only other day like today [Sunday] was yesterday," Kane said.

He ticketed more than 8,000 passengers on Saturday and expected to have at least that many yesterday, with each passenger averaging four trips.

"I wish this whole thing would be over soon. My whole staff is getting worn out," he said.

Paul Graves, a director of Living Classrooms Foundation, which owns Seaport Taxi, said his shuttles were running at capacity both days, though yesterday was slightly less busy.

Queues at the ships varied.

Lou Townshend, 62, an Odenton parking lot contractor, spent 15 minutes waiting to board the Osterschelde, the Netherlands ship, studying the rigging.

"I've got a little boat I have to rig," he explained.

It's a model boat, with 27 sails, and, as he is trying to work out the rigging details, the ropes interest him more than the deck.

Families said they waited just 20 minutes to tour the Guayas, Ecuador's vessel.

"I liked the wheel," said Steven Darrow, 11, of Bel Air.

His grandmother was among a generation that remembered the first time the tall ships came to Baltimore.

It was 1976. Looking around her, she recalled that the Inner Harbor, as it looks today, barely existed then, and now she could barely see what was there for the mass of people packing it.

A five-man folk band from the Guayas took a few hours away from Inner Harbor to play at the Latino Festival at Patterson Park, where a small crowd swayed to the beat of a goatskin-covered drum.

"It's special for us to feel the music. They are very good," said Nicaraguan native Teresa Baldwin at the festival.

Over at the Esmeralda, the Chilean ship docked at Fells Point, the wait was nearly an hour.

During the wait, visitors could read literature handed out by members of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington about the ship being used as a floating torture chamber and prison by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who came to power in Chile after a 1973 coup.

On the dock in front of the ship, about 35 activists held a memorial service yesterday for Michael Woodward, a priest said to have been killed on the ship in 1973.

The protesters said they were keeping pressure on Chile to hold Pinochet and others in his regime accountable for political deaths there.

"We have short-term memories as human beings in our culture. We think it's important to remember some things," said the Rev. John Oliver, minister of Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Catonsville.

Unlike past protests at other ports, the group was not protesting the Esmeralda's participation in the international tall ships event, but was using it to keep Pinochet's former regime in the public eye.

"We didn't think it would be right for this ship to be treated as another tourist attraction," said Sarah Anderson, director of the global economy program at the institute.

City police kept a close eye on the service, which closed with the placement of bright-colored flowers around Woodward's picture.

Elsewhere in Fells Point, small ships ruled.

A short walk from where La Esmeralda was docked, it was hard to tell if adults or youngsters were having more fun as they played with a Prince Frederick company's little wood boats and pool.

"I think it's a toss-up," said Don Haller, 39, of Aiken, S.C., who directed his niece's two-masted ship. "This way, and let it catch the wind. You'll see, it will really go fast," he told 5-year-old Ashley Manning of Annapolis, and her boat zipped across the pool.

"I'm really proud. It's going so well," he said.

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