Tall ships sail away

Departure: Thousands line Baltimore's harbor to bid farewell to the international fleet that spent a week here under OpSail 2000.

June 30, 2000|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,SUN STAFF

Sails flying or furled, the tall ships left Baltimore in their wake yesterday after a weeklong festival of seafaring that brought hundreds of thousands to the waterfront and filled local tills and tax coffers with millions of dollars.

With the city's own clipper, Pride of Baltimore II, leading the way under full sail and with her cannon firing salutes to the foreign visitors, the Parade of Sail stretched from the Inner Harbor to the Key Bridge.

It was a magnificent end to OpSail Baltimore 2000, a reminder of Baltimore's past as a port for international commerce and a pointer to its future in the new world of globalization.

The Inner Harbor came to a virtual standstill, as all eyes turned to the departing fleet, watching tugs inch the larger boats away from their moorings and into the channel, where they set sail for New York City and the Independence Day celebrations.

Workers, families, tourists all took time out to view a spectacle billed as "the largest tall-ship event in history."

The harbor's west wall was thronged, as Danmark, a 253-foot, full-rigged ship from Denmark, and the Guayas, a 258-foot bark from Ecuador, were waved off.

At Fells Point, hundreds more turned out to bid farewell to the tallest of the tall ships, Esmeralda, red, white and blue Chilean pennants fluttering from her four 158-foot masts.

"For those of us who really love the water, it is just an absolute privilege for us to be part of something like this," said Bill Hudson, a member of the Fells Point Yacht Club and president of Spirit Marine Enterprises Inc.

"For those of us who love the city, the visitors bring in much-needed dollars.

"More and more, we see people in the whole Chesapeake region appreciating the beauty of the bay."

Around the Korean War Memorial in Canton, and across the water on the lawns of Fort McHenry, two of the best observation points, more thousands clustered to wish the flag-bedecked fleet bon voyage.

Fort McHenry was particularly bustling, as more than 15,000 spectators ignored the morning's overcast skies and headed to the shores to view the parade.

Paul Plamann, a park ranger since 1967, was on hand when the tall ships visited the Inner Harbor in 1976.

"This is one of the largest single-day events here at Fort McHenry in a number of years, probably since '76," he said.

Boats line channel

The Inner Harbor was cleared of all but official boats, but beyond Fort McHenry, spectator vessels, power and sail, rolled on the waters around Key Bridge and stretched out to the Chesapeake Bay on each side of the 300-yard-wide channel.

Down that channel, the tall ships made their slow, majestic way. Esmeralda, a 371-foot barkentine, falling into line behind the Pride, followed by the 158-foot Clipper City, and then the 80-foot Ukrainian schooner Bat'kivshchyna, ahead of the Danmark, a magnificent sight with all her square sails unfurled.

Deliberately, the organizers put the smaller boats between the queens of the fleet, sprinkling the most impressive vessels along the entire course of the three-hour parade.

It was a piece of maritime choreography that would have impressed the producers of the Bolshoi Ballet.

One by one, the ships peeled off their piers or edged out of their moorings to join the parade with chorus-line precision.

Their sails were a kaleidoscope of shapes: mighty quadrilateral mains and mizzens, jaunty triangular jibs, lofty square gallants, oddly cut topsails, all patterned against a sky that changed from leaden gray to broken blue as the sun vied repeatedly with threatening storm clouds.

Baltimore hospitality

The under-funded but still beautiful Bat'kivshchyna was able to take her place only after her engine was repaired and her fuel tanks filled - for free.

It was just another of the many ways in which Baltimore embraced the visiting mariners.

Through their stay in Baltimore, the captains and crews were entertained, given guided tours and welcomed everywhere.

Each boat had a volunteer liaison with Sail Baltimore, the mayor's permanent commission on visiting ships.

Robert G. McMichael, a retired mechanical engineer, was liaison to Colombia's magnificent 249-foot bark, Gloria.

Daily, he ferried the Colombian captain and crew from their Key Bridge anchorage to the Inner Harbor aboard his 47-foot Concorde flying-bridge motor yacht, arranged shopping expeditions for them and ferried supplies to them.

As he captained one of seven media boats yesterday, McMichael joked that he held the world record for the number of trips between an anchored Colombian ship and the U.S. mainland without being investigated by the U.S. Coast Guard or Customs.

"Gloria, Gloria," he shouted, as the ship he had visited so often passed by, leaving him with an unwanted souvenir - slight damage to his own boat from the repeated buffetings it took against the white-hulled bark during its week in Baltimore.

Dancing in the rigging

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