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When the fleet of Tall Ships sails into Toledo this week, the schooners, barquentines, and brigs will be presenting history in a way textbooks simply can't capture.
The billowing sails, wooden hulls, and synchronized crews will be a magnificent sight, making their stories more alive and memorable than any paintings, documentaries, or written accounts of the ships in their heydays.
With their arrival, parade, tours, and up-close views, the ships will serve as a reminder that Ohio's 200 years of statehood are inexorably tied to the Great Lakes and the waters beyond. From Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's victory in the Battle of Lake Erie that saved Ohio from becoming part of Canada to modern industrial transportation issues; from the early exploration of the lakes by voyageurs to the modern role of boaters in the area's year-round status as an outdoor playground, the Great Lakes define much of Ohio's identity.
The Huntington Tall Ships Toledo festival will be a way to celebrate all of that, said Chris Gillcrist, executive director of the Inland Seas Maritime Museum in Vermilion, Ohio. “Having the Tall Ships come to Ohio during the state's bicentennial is an important measure to help spread the word of Ohio's rich maritime history.”
Just ask Ryan Solomon, the assistant to the city manager in Monroe, who plans to volunteer at least one full day as a liaison for one ship's crew. He's a powerboater by recreation but a sailor at heart, at least for this weekend.
“It's an opportunity to get in touch with the past to basically see how the sailors were able to use incredible teamwork and the technology that was present at that time to basically explore the oceans, as far as the empires went,” he said.
But Mr. Solomon said visitors who view the ships on the water and stroll alongside them at the docks from Thursday through Sunday don't have to brush up on maritime history to have a good day. “I don't think people have to really even enjoy history to appreciate these ships,” he said. “Just that beauty of seeing them sailed down the Maumee River, it's probably something that won't be seen again for many, many years.”
The ships' arrival is planned for 12:30 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, when they will turn into the Maumee River from Lake Erie. They'll pass under two railroad bridges and the Craig Memorial and Martin Luther King, Jr., bridges before they dock along the length of International Park from the fountain at the boat basin to beyond the S.S. Willis B. Boyer museum ship and right up to the Anthony Wayne (High-Level) Bridge.
A few vessels, such as the replica of the Christopher Columbus ship the Nina, will dock on the downtown side of the Maumee River near the Owens-Illinois basin and the American Maritime Officers/Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority dock by the Mel Pelfrey Building.
Whether the Tall Ships will even have some or all of their sails open all the way between Lake Erie and downtown for the Wednesday “Parade of Sails” is uncertain.
“It's wind and weather-dependent, because they're having to stop and go underneath the bridges,” said Patti Lock, an event organizer contracted by IMG, an international sports marketing and entertainment agency that was hired by the state to produce the event.
“They're going to be motoring,” she said, adding that sails could be flown farther up river if the winds are coming from the north or off the lake toward downtown, she said. “It's the captains' options.”
Although most of the Tall Ships will stay for the four-day festival, four of the “Parade of Sails” participants on Wednesday won't be sticking around. The Windy II will leave Wednesday night and three others- the Madeline, the Pathfinder, and the Serenity - will depart at 9:30 a.m. Thursday for other Ohio ports.
There will be no up-close viewing or public boarding of the tall ships Wednesday because the Coast Guard has set aside the rest of that day for inspections. The festival officially opens at 9 a.m. Thursday, with tours of the ships beginning at 10 a.m. and ending at 5 p.m. Dockside viewing, which is handicapped accessible, will remain available until 7 p.m.
Besides the Tall Ships, visitors will be able to see the Edward M. Cotter, a fireboat from Buffalo, as well as 13 steamboats that are part of a gathering of members of the Mid West Steamboats Association. The steamboats will be docked along the river at COSI Toledo and Festival Park and will participate at noon Saturday in a water parade salute to the Tall Ships along with the Associated Yacht Clubs of Toledo.
At least 20,000 people a day are expected for the festival, which is an Ohio Bicentennial Signature Event. Crowds are expected to be heaviest on the weekend. Comfortable shoes should be worn, and no black heels are allowed on persons planning to board ships.
“If you come early in the morning, you're going to get on a ship,” said Kelly Rivera, festival coordinator for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. She acknowledged, however, that visitors could be waiting in lines to get on board ships.
“I think there's going to be lines at the ships, but we've built in a lot of daily, all-day-long entertainment and vendors, and we have other events going on in the park to keep people entertained,” she said.
Two ships, the Red Witch and the Appledore IV, will be offering day sails of 90 minutes. The number of advance reservations from Toledoans didn't surprise Roger Nugent, the executive director of BaySail, the Bay City, Mich.-based management company for the 48-passenger Appledore IV.
“It's just people's natural inclination to want to get out and see their city from the water,” he said. “You also get the opportunity to be on a traditional sailing ship, a Tall Ship. It's a unique opportunity.”