Several centuries of maritime history will sail into Toledo this summer when a fleet of tall ships docks on the Maumee River as part of Ohio's Bicentennial celebration.
Replicas of ships from the War of 1812, a 17th century schooner, and the HMS Bounty, among others, will dock at International Park and the city's downtown waterfront July 16-20 for public tours.
The ships will rendezvous in Cleveland earlier in the month and visit Huron, Sandusky, the Lake Erie islands, and Mentor Lagoons before coming west to Toledo. The Red Witch, the Sandusky-based 77-foot schooner, will join the fleet.
Organizers describe it as one of the largest gatherings of tall ships ever on the Great Lakes.
“It's extremely unique,” said Patti Lock, who organizes tall ships festivals from her suburban Chicago office.
Thousands are expected to view the ships. They'll get a glimpse of life on the seas where sailors often spent months away from home in close quarters.
The ships are replicas of the originals with modern updates for navigation and operation. Galleys - a ship's kitchen - may have modern conveniences, but the sail plans, deck layouts, and hulls are virtually identical to the original ships.
Crews live aboard the vessels and sail them for excursions and festivals throughout North America and the world, in some cases. Toledo expects to host a ship from India, organizers said.
Visitors to tall ship exhibitions learn about life on the seas during the Age of Exploration and other periods of maritime history.
“I think people live vicariously through them. They think about what it must be like to live on board and that kind of life,” Ms. Lock said. “It's an age gone by and we can't truly appreciate what it is. We don't have it anymore. But it's something our ancestors lived every day.”
Margaret Ramsey, director of seaside operations for the Bounty, said she expects Ohio visitors to stand at the ship's wheel and pose for pictures.
“There's a lot of fascination with the men who have stood at her helm,” Ms. Ramsey said. “People usually want to touch the helm because it's been touched by movie stars.”
Built in 1960, the Bounty was used for Mutiny on the Bounty starring Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian. When Mr. Brando learned the replica was to be burned during filming of a final scene, he refused to continue working until a shell was built which producers did burn, Ms. Ramsey said.
“He's the reason the Bounty is still sailing today,” she said.
Organizers expect up to 25 tall ships to be part of the Ohio celebration which will include concerts, vendors, food booths, and other family-oriented events.
“We're not exactly sure of the numbers yet. We're still recruiting,” said Terri Bell, a vice president with IMG Expositions in Cleveland, which is helping to organize the event.
The tentative schedule for the ships begins with a few of them in Fairport Harbor during the Fourth of July weekend. The fleet will dock in the Cleveland area July 9 and be open to the public July 10-13. Some of the ships will head to Mentor, Huron, and Port Clinton during those four days, Ms. Bell said.
Put-in-Bay will host some of the vessels July 14 and 15.
“It's kind of the ships' day off,” Ms. Bell said. “They may sail around the islands. They may do some racing, which they really love to do.”