Onboard the ‘Tall Ships’

I guess it’s a romantic notion. I always dreamed of living a sailor’s life in the distant past, when danger lurked beyond your craft in many possible ways. You know, when large boats were vessels comprised of wood, ropes and sails, setting out on the waves with nothing but a compass, the sun and stars to guide them across large bodies of water. Today, I found that dream can still be attained. That rocks for this landlubber!

Don’t worry skip, I totally got this!

I also explored the festival that celebrates those trusty ships that traversed perilous waters. Their reasons for sailing could have been for riches, to discover new routes for other seafaring vessels, to attack enemy ships or to carry a payload to the homeland. Whatever their purpose, these craft spark an ambiance that allows for fanciful daydreams and ambitions one may have never knew they possessed.

I’m talking of the Tall Ships Festival that visited Leicht Park in Green Bay, WI this past weekend. It was a treat to peruse these vessels, even if my time happened to be limited this particular year.

We’re driving through the eastern part of Downtown, where Main Street will become Dousman. However, there is no way we’ll get to Dousman from here. The Main Street Bridge is closed, but, just before we reach the river crossing, we realize there is free parking on the ramp to our left. So we make ‘berth’ in said lot.

After finding a spot, descending a few flights of stairs and passing under the sweltering sun, we begin to cross the bridge. Of course, as the tall ships are moored on the other side of the river, we catch a ‘spyglass’ view. They’re a mesh of mechanics and craftsmanship of a distant era. Thick, tall masts rise upward accompanied by a network of ropes, as the ships’ main bodies remain perfectly still on the waters of the Fox River.

Not being one to pass up a photo opportunity, Heidi takes a picture of all six boats, stately floating in the river. I read that there should have been nine, but we counted six. We’re on a two hour time limit today and my hopes are to tour every ship. Unfortunately, despite our excursion’s great start, with the excellent vantage of this rustic transportation, we meet ‘stormy seas’ as the drawbridge raises for a small, and much less impressive, sailboat.

The Santa Maria(well at least a reproduction of the famed boat) and the reason the bridge was raised

When we finally make it across, we find two lines. The first queue is for those who had purchased their tickets in advance and the other is for those who still need a pass. Besides admissions, they also check purses and bags, the best way to prevent a ‘mutiny’. We hadn’t purchased tickets before hand, however the wait was really nonexistent to buy our fifteen dollar passes. There are small discounts for children 5-12, seniors, veterans and active military.

We enter the grounds of the festival and it starts out right, with a quartet dressed in old maritime attire singing sailor’s songs.

The same quartet as we wait to board the USS Niagra

We don’t have time to check out the huge conglomeration of vending and activity tents, we do glimpse a few on the way to the boats however.

Tent city

Instead, we wait in the shortest line to board the Utopia from Sturgeon Bay. It’s really not that impressive, compared to the other classic tall ships. Yet, I’m not about to ‘jump ship’. I do enjoy the living quarters and helm, being something quite nice.

Seriously? A GPS? Cheaters!

The other queues are very long and we decide to wait for the Bluenose II, a rad one hundred year old schooner hailing from Nova Scotia. Fortunately, as I did mention that the weather is quite hot today, a portion of the line is shaded. The Bluenose II is more in the realm of what we came to see. The deck is long and there are tons of rigging and sails, a wheel and more.

The mast of the Bluenose II

It’s getting late, and I’ll only be able to board one more ship. It’s a toss up between the Santa Maria(a replica of one of Christopher Columbus’ vessels) or the USS Niagra (a reproduction of a War of 1812 veteran). Heidi decides that I’m the ‘skipper’ today, and I choose the Niagra.

The USS Niagra

It’s another long wait in the heat, as I feel I might ‘capsize’, but this boat is worth it. There are two authentic cannons aboard and this one just feels like the real deal. The Niagra’s home base is in Erie, Pennsylvania and they cruise the Great Lakes every summer. What’s super cool about this vessel, is that they allow for two week sailing classes. I can, If I choose, book two weeks and actually sail a 19th century warship. Classic!

That’s a darn big gun!

I’m a bit dismayed, as we have to ‘hoist sails’ early. The other ships would have been awesome to check out. However, I have to work today. I only received a sample size of the festival. From activities to things to purchase, I missed a great deal. That includes a cruise on one of the tall ships. I probably would have passed on that anyways because of price . Of course, I did experience a decent portion of the main draw.

As we ‘cast off’, my spirits are lifted a bit as a man with his guitar is singing the famed folk song ‘The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’. It’s totally a suitable ending to the day.

The wheel of the Bluenose II

If your into a little maritime fun and on the Great Lakes, check out the Tall Ships Festival. It’s an absolutely wonderful display of transportation of a different time. With a world of GPS, cellphones, automobiles, high speed rail and airplanes, picturing a day when communication, navigation and transportation was so limited romanticizes that time, but also allows some gratitude for my world.

Safe Travels!

Author: Chris Karas

I am a 44 year old man living in Green Bay, Go Pack!! I love History, give me the origins of almost anything noteworthy and I'm all ears. I also love outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking and camping. However, I don't mind a few days in fresh, bustling cities with interesting historic attractions.

5 thoughts

  1. A great post! I think it was about 13 years ago I was able to tour one of the tall ships when it was docked in Port Huron. I don’t even remember the name of it now but it was fascinating. I have also been aboard several freighters although not while they were underway. They too are amazing – like a floating factory.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I imagine a freighter would be cool. I toured one as a child, but I don’t remember much. I visit the tall ships most years when they make it to Green Bay. Many of the boats are the same, but worth seeing again.

      Liked by 1 person

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