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They'll sail by the dozens into Maumee Bay in mid-July: barkentines, gaff-rigged schooners, caravels, and tugantines, a parade of masts and sails called Tall Ships Toledo.
“It's Ohio's bicentennial, and this is like the candle on the birthday cake,” said Stephen C. George, executive director of the Ohio Bicentennial Commission. “This event recognizes Toledo as a major U.S. city, just like the tall ships of 1976 brought the world's attention to Boston and New York harbors during the U.S. Bicentennial.”
Suit-clad bankers, park and port authority officials, and a fleet of public-relations specialists steamed into Navy Bistro yesterday to announce details of the summertime festival.
Cleveland will host a similar, smaller gathering, said Walter Edelen, president of the International Park Advisory Board; most of the boats also will parade past Huron, Sandusky, the Lake Erie islands, and Mentor. Speakers took turns hailing the event as “spectacular,” “magnificent,” “compelling,” and “highly anticipated.”
July 16 will open the Toledo event with a “Parade of Sails.” Twenty ships are committed to appear in the bay and sail up the Maumee River that afternoon. Most will later tie up to assigned docks alongside International Park; many will offer cruises or on-board tours in the following days.
Mr. Edelen, the son and grandson of Lake Erie sailors, said the prospect brings to mind images of Toledo's past as a major port, when the banks of the river bristled with masts and the Maumee functioned as an interstate highway.
The boats in those old black-and-white photos were workhorses, hauling coal and grain and ferrying commuters and partygoers from bank to bank right up to the turn of the 20th century.
Even though some of the “tall ships” have humble roots as fishing vessels or pilot ships, they're now spit-and-polish showboats, said Capt. Karl Busam, pilot of the Red Witch, a gaff schooner out of Sandusky.
All have engines tucked inside, to better navigate ports and rivers. Many are now given over to good works, serving as maritime history museums, “teaching ships” where tough city kids learn self-reliance and sailing skills, or corporate mascots and playthings for tycoons.
One boat, the replica HMS Bounty, played a starring role in a Mel Gibson movie about the famous mutiny.
The Toledo event will be financed with $210,000 set aside by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, $75,000 donated by Huntington Bank, “other monies” from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, and whatever extra the International Park board can scrape up, Mr. Edelen said.
Prospects for the gathering hit rough water a month ago when city officials priced improvements, security, and fire services beyond the reach of event organizers. By yesterday it was clear sailing - a representative from Mayor Jack Ford's office read a proclamation praising the bank for its contribution.
The tall ships hail from Russia, Canada, India, and the United States. Most bring along crews of 15 to 20 hands, Captain Busam said, though some are small enough for only two good sailors.
The event also has unique “homeland security considerations,” Mr. Edelen added. The port authority will close the port on the 16th when the river fills with sailing craft. Once the boats tie up to shore, the Coast Guard will enforce a 50-foot safety zone around all the vessels; foreign craft will be forbidden to untie until the festival ends.
The western bank of the river will offer dockage to pleasure craft, Mr. Edelen said, and will host a collection of small steam-driven boats built and sailed by hobbyists. A water taxi will shuttle visitors back and forth; entertainment, food, and family events will be featured onshore.
Visitors can expect to pay $12 to $15 for event tickets; organizers said they expect 40,000 to 100,000 people to turn out for the festival.
“If there's any money left over, it will go toward International Park projects,” Mr. Edelen said.
“This is pure romance,” Kelly Rivera, a port authority representative, said of the event's appeal. “It represents a time when there were passenger ships, the quietness of traveling under wind. Almost all of us have ancestors who came here on a ship. It's our heritage.”
“It's that mystique of the bygone era,” Captain Busam added. “All we know is engines, diesels, noise, ... and here is something that's driven by nature.”