Floating History

With its long historic waterfront and multiple parks and bridges, Bay City is the optimal spot to experience the Age of Sail this summer.
Tall Ships Niagara
As this year’s event commemorates the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, festival-goers can also see the Flagship Niagara out of Erie, Pennsylvania, a recreation of the ship that ended the Battle of Lake Erie. “We have met the enemy and they are ours” is the message now immortalized from Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry following his decisive victory over the British Fleet while aboard Niagara. // Photography courtesy of flagshipniagra.org

“When you see the masts and rigging of these tall ships lining the river, it looks very much like it did in the 1800s when they were the primary way of transporting goods in the Great Lakes region,” observes Shirley Roberts, event coordinator of Tall Ship Celebration: Bay City. “Every tall ship can take our breath away. They are visually stunning, and the stories behind the ships and the people who created them and sail on them are magical.”

Those stories come to life July 11-14 when a dozen majestic tall ships from around the globe will muster in Lake Huron, sail into Saginaw Bay and the Saginaw River, then drop anchor in Bay City, Michigan’s only official host port for the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE®.

“This is a unique opportunity to interact with the crews and learn what it’s like to live onboard a sailing ship,” Roberts says. “The stories you hear about their lives today will mirror very much the experiences our forefathers had, hundreds of years ago.”

Tall Ships Crowds
The tall ships themselves are magnetic, notes coordinator Shirley Roberts. But what makes Bay City’s event stand apart is an array of crafts, music and entertainment that can keep a family entertained all weekend. // Photography Courtesy of Patrick Hadley

While fleet members in each Celebration vary, the 1845 trade schooner replica Madeline is one vessel that sails in regularly from Traverse City.

“It’s an exciting experience to be out on the Lakes and go for days without seeing or touching land,” says Woody Wright, who has crewed many of the ship’s longer voyages. “The Madeline is manned completely by volunteers, and we do a lot of explaining to really help people understand the vessel.”

Among other ships this year with intriguing tales to tell will be the Pride of Baltimore II; Unicorn, the world’s only all-woman ship; and Bay City’s own two-masted schooner Appledore IV, which will offer sail-away experiences in Saginaw Bay along with Key West’s Schooner Hindu. Other vessels will be docked for boarding and touring.

Tall Ships Musicians
Photography Courtesy of Patrick Hadley

A wide variety of family-friendly festival activities include the Ring of Steel Action Theater, a fine arts show and many children’s craft activities. Maritime music will be performed by European and American musicians. “Maritime music is primarily vocal but musicians often use many of the traditional instruments you would have seen on ships in the age of sail. Maritime music was originally intended to help sailors on board ships work in unison on a monotonous task,” Roberts said. “When you listen, you’ll hear a steady beat. It was a way to coordinate the efforts of many sailors working together.”

Attendees can be hands-on by helping to color a giant mosaic mural of original festival art, or help construct a small wooden boat. Steve Balcer of Balcer Boatworks in Munger, with the help of festival guests, will build two small wooden boats during the three-day festival that will go home with two lucky winners.

Learn more about Bay Harbor’s Tall Ship Celebration at tallshipcelebration.com.

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