ADMIRED FOR THEIR SIZE, sails and rigging, tall ships evoke a sense of wonder for the earliest days of open water navigation, high sea adventure and New World discoveries.
It’s a sight to see a multi-masted schooner under full sail on one of the Great Lakes. Even better? Inspecting the vessel up close and talking to members of the crew or even enjoying a day sail.
This summer a fleet of up to 20 tall ships will cruise all five Great Lakes, racing from port to port and docking amid throngs of onlookers, as part of Tall Ships America’s Tall Ships Challenge Series. These magnificent replicas include a Spanish galleon that voyaged from Spain, a Viking longboat from Norway and a War of 1812 battleship.
Lovers of maritime heritage and tall ships will have a chance to see and tour the vessels during Bay City’s Tall Ship Celebration July 14-17. Organizers consider it the “Best Tall Ship Celebration in North America” and offer three days of maritime history, music and merriment.
“Since 2006, we’ve been the only official host port for the tall ships in the state of Michigan. You won’t see them all together in one place like you do in Bay City. We’ve worked really hard to provide that opportunity.”
— Shirley Roberts
Bay City has won the Port of the Year award from Tall Ships America three times, including the last time the Tall Ships Challenge visited the Great Lakes in 2013 — more than any other host community in North America, says Shirley Roberts, event coordinator and executive director of BaySail — Appledore Tall Ships in Bay City.
“In 15 years, we have hosted the fleet six times,” Roberts says. “Since 2006, we’ve been the only official host port for the tall ships in the state of Michigan. You won’t see them all together in one place like you do in Bay City. We’ve worked really hard to provide that opportunity.”
A spinoff music festival, Ballads & Brews, has evolved into an annual event and attracts maritime musicians from across the country, Roberts says. BaySail, the nonprofit educational organization that owns and operates the tall ships Appledore IV and V, produces the festival on behalf of the Tall Ship Celebration board of directors.
“It was born of an interest in sharing information about our incredible shipbuilding and maritime history here in Bay City,” she says. “In the 1800s, Bay City shipbuilders built the largest wooden sailing ships on the Great Lakes (and) that helped to fuel the economy. We thought it was appropriate to create a festival celebrating that heritage.”
Daily admission is required, but once inside the festival grounds, attendees can enjoy a full schedule of international maritime music and a number of family-oriented activities, as well as a view of the ships.
“The Tall Ships are the highlight of the event, but the music has become increasingly important,” she says. “There is a constant flow of maritime music from two different stages. There are make-and-take activities, professional storytellers, and arts and cultural activities that happen in support of the tall ships visit. We provide a full slate of things to do for families and people of all ages.”
To board and tour the tall ships, guests need to purchase a Souvenir Passport. The ships arrive July 14 and sail up the Saginaw River to downtown Bay City. Ten will remain dockside and offer tours July 15-17. Bay City’s own tall ships, Appledore IV and V, will provide sail-away trips.
The tall ships will be visible at other locations in Michigan, stopping at unofficial ports and cruising the St. Clair River between Lake Erie and Lake Huron on their way to and from events throughout the Great Lakes.
The tall ships will harbor in Toronto, Ontario, July 1-3; Fairport Harbor, Ohio, July 8-10; Navy Pier in Chicago, July 27-31; Green Bay, Wisconsin, Aug. 5-7; Duluth, Minnesota, Aug. 18-21; various ports, Sept. 2-5; Erie, Pennsylvania, Sept. 8-11; and Brockville, Ontario, Sept. 17-18.
New to the Great Lakes and Bay City event are El Galeón Andalucía, a 170-foot wooden replica of the 16th century galleons that Spain sent to explore Florida and the West Indies; Draken Harald Hårfagre, a 115-foot Viking longboat replica from Norway; and When and If, a 63-foot schooner designed by John Alden and built in 1939 for Gen. George S. Patton and his wife.
Returning vessels include the Pride of Baltimore II, a 157-foot reproduction of an 1812 topsail schooner from Baltimore; Madeline, a 95-foot gaff topsail schooner from Traverse City; the Flagship Niagara, a 198-foot brig and replica 1812 warship from Erie, Pennsylvania; Denis Sullivan, a 137-foot, three-masted schooner from Milwaukee; and Mist of Avalon, a 100-foot, two-masted gaff schooner from Nova Scotia.
The Tall Ships Challenge is a series of races and rallies produced annually by Tall Ships America, based in Newport, Rhode Island. The event rotates every third year between the east and west coasts of the United States and the Great Lakes.