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Published: Saturday, 9/15/2001 - Updated: 1 year ago

Ships from a bygone era fascinate visitors at Detroit's tercentenary

BY VINCE PISCOPO
BLADE STAFF WRITER

DETROIT - High atop the French schooner Bel Espoir II, a crew member has climbed up the rigging to the yardarm. Armed with a tourist's camera, he aims 80 feet down at the crowd, snaps a photo, and collects a $2 fee for his efforts. (Tall Treasures photo gallery)

Hard work, but not as hard as the everyday work on the tall ships back when they were a key source of transportation, a way to carry goods, or a defender of a nation. There's something about these tall ships that brings out the sense of nostalgia in people. Nostalgia was in the air this summer as some 22 tall ships made their way up the Detroit River to celebrate that city's 300th birthday.

Lee Merkle, a retired Blade photographer and sailing enthusiast, photographed the tall ships' part of the city's celebration. Vessels such as these, of course, have a lot of history on the Great Lakes. The brig USS Niagara, which took part in the celebration, as did a replica of the schooner USS St. Lawrence, Commodore Oliver Perry's flagship, were key fighting vessels in the War of 1812.

But the tall ships were not there to make war on this late summer day. As a 15-knot wind flapped the sails, the ships were open for public tours. Roughly 30 to 40 crew members man the ships; some of them are paid, some volunteer because they love to sail. All of them love to show off their own ship and explain to the public what's so special about it.

There must be something: More than 200,000 people toured the vessels during the three-day celebration, according to city statistics.



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