Perfect day. Perfect setting. Perfect event.
That's how many of the thousands of spectators who lined both sides of the Maumee River from downtown Toledo to Point Place described yesterday's arrival of the Tall Ships, as the vessels began their four-day visit to the city with a river parade as part of the Huntington Tall Ships Toledo festival.
Some people, assuming large crowds and heavy traffic, arrived early.
Robert Koontz and his wife, Sue, of Findlay, and their grandchildren, Brandon and Trista Kesselring, of Williamsport, Md., were sitting on the river's eastern bank near the Toledo Sports Arena at 9 a.m., almost four hours before the first ship arrived.
“We didn't know what to expect,” said Mr. Koontz, who took the day off from work.
For many, like the Koontzes, it was a long day. So they brought coolers filled with sandwiches and soft drinks, chairs, and umbrellas to fend off the sun. which was especially fierce due to a spectacularly blue cloudless sky.
Although most people used the riverbanks as their vantage point, others angled for a more creative view. Some workers stood on downtown rooftops. A pair of window washers, positioned high above the water, took their time working their way down the Toledo Edison building. Loren Underwood chose the Martin Luther King, Jr. Bridge, which was closed to vehicular traffic.
“It's easier to see the ships straight down the river, and I'm away from the crowd,” said Mr. Underwood, who called himself a tall ships aficionado.
The largest crowd filled International Park and The Docks restaurant complex, where most of the ships will be on display today through Sunday. Others will be docked at the Owens-Illinois Boat Basin near Promenade Park.
At 12:43 p.m., the King bridge's lift spans went up and the first ships made their way toward the east bank. The spectators, armed with binoculars and still and video cameras, were as curious as they were awed, so Ron Andrus, master chief petty officer at the Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center in Perrysburg Township, stood at the north end of The Docks river walkway answering their many questions.
When the lead vessel, a tug boat, started spewing long streams of water, he explained that it was a traditional welcoming sign for ships visiting a harbor. Another tradition followed: a cannon canonshot from shore that brought screams, cheers, and some tears from toddlers. The first Tall Ship, the Red Witch, responded with a cannon canonblast of its own.
Some ships used their sails, other didn't. The sails were for show, as all of the boats required their motors to navigate the river, Mr. Andrus said.
He said ships commonly fired their cannon canononce when entering a harbor to let their hosts know their guns were empty and a reply shot from the local fort meant it was OK to proceed.
The third ship into the harbor was a replica of one of Christopher Columbus' fleet. Which one? Mr. Andrus asked the crowd.
“The Nina,” Gary Orlow answered correctly.
How did he know?
“I guessed,” Mr. Orlow said.
The patios at The Docks' restaurants filled early and stayed busy. Takeout snacks were offered at two of the venues. Leonard and Sally Myers, of Defiance, lunched at the Navy Bistro after viewing the first wave of five ships, which ended at 1:30. Frequent visitors to the city, they were impressed by the event and the downtown's waterfront - especially from the east side.
“It's a very nice view of the skyline,” Mrs. Myers said.
Toledoan Mel Holman, a veteran power boater, also was impressed.
“This is quite an attraction,” he said. “It's putting Toledo on the map.”
AlthoughBob Meade, a quartermaster at the reserve center, was on duty helping to dock the ships. But he brought along his wife, Holly, and 6-year-old son, Bobby, to enjoy the show. Mr. Meade has steered aircraft carriers the length of two football fields, but would give anything to be at the helm of a tall ship.
“It looks like a lot of fun, but I know it's a lot of hard work,” he said, noting that modern ships are directed by satellites while the tall ships sailed at night by the stars.
During the 90-minute break before the second group of ships arrived, the crowd swelled on both sides of the river. Traffic filled up Summit Street, from Monroe Street to Cherry Street. Downtown restaurants were packed. Employees at Jimmy John's sub shop on Adams Street said they ran out of bread by mid-afternoon. Many people avoided downtown all together.
Jerry and Kathleen Hiltman found a knoll on Summit in Point Place.
“I grew up in Point Place and thought this would be a good place to see the ships come in. There's something romantic about the sails and the water,” Mr. Hiltman said.
Jim and Donna Gerber, of Petersburg, Mich., sought a place where their disabled daughter, Brenda, could watch the ships from their van. They found a spot at Ohio Blenders Co., next to Jamie Farr Park.
“This was history and we wanted Brenda to see [it],” Mrs. Gerber said. “The people here were very nice and said as long as we watched the [railroad] tracks and didn't block their workers we could stay.” They could have very well kicked us out.”
At Promenade Park, filled with day trippers, vacationers, and office workers on lunch breaks, the view was equally fine.
Chris Kastle and her husband, Tom, singers, sailors, songwriters, and storytellers from Chicago, entertained the crowd, which stretched from the Wyndham Hotel to the Owens Corning building.
Ken Tate of Brownwood, Texas, who grew up in Sylvania Township, happened by chance to pick this weekend to visit home. “We timed it just right,” said Mr. Tate. who was hoping for a glance at the HMS Bounty replica.
Standing nearby, Bernice Lanier was wowed by one of the most impressive sights of the day. More than 20 crew members stood on a pair of mast arms on the INS Tarangini of India as it made its way downriver.
What impressed her?
“It has a lot of men on it,” she said.
Blade staff writer Clyde Hughes contributed to this report.