Begun in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy, OPSail maritime events have brought a worldwide focus on United States maritime history. "The sight of so many ships gathered from the distant corners of the world should remind us that strong, disciplined, and venturesome men can still find their way safely across uncertain and stormy seas," Kennedy said. These words ring true again as the OPSail2000 procession of tall ships begins in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and continues up the eastern seaboard to Miami, Norfolk, Baltimore, Annapolis, Philadelphia, New York, New London, CT, concluding in Portland, ME, with several unofficial stops along the way over its seven-week duration.
The Tall Ships invoke thoughts of bygone times. The War of Independence, battles for land and power over Native American Indians, and the American Civil War are among the major historic events that shaped our country. While these events were indeed significant, they share an often-overlooked mutual grounding—their ties to the sea. Struggles with the Native American Indians commenced because of our arrival by sea. Americans broke their ties to England by refusing to purchase tea, cutting off English sea trade, finding new markets, and opening new sea ports to sell their wares. The American Civil War was a response to the schism of thought concerning the triangle trade of slavery, molasses, and tea between the Americas, Europe, and the West Indies. Many of us think of these events as land-based, omitting the significance sailing vessels and the sea played in world history. Today, nearly forty years later after its inception, OPSail2000 re-focuses our attention on the sea and the tall ships that played a central role in defining our past.
For 10 days starting on May 19, San Juan burst with energy inside the massive ramparts of "El Morro", the thick walled fortress built by Ponce de Leon at the mouth of San Juan Harbor. Built in an effort to repel foreign invaders from Puerto Rico's rich trading port, the walls stand some 50 to100 feet above a craggy coastline and the waves crashing on the exposed reef below. The walls are eight to ten feet thick in places, and the huge cannons are testament to its awesome power in the age of sail.
Cruise ships and pleasure craft now pass smoothly through the gap into the port of San Juan. The classical Spanish architecture and mystique of Old San Juan are apparent in the tiny, pastel colored walls of the streets, the blue tinted cobblestones, and the multitude of public squares hosting fountains and statues of timeless beauty. Winding streets make their lazy way past cats sleeping in the shade of the houses. Old men sip espresso, reading the morning newspaper while store owners sweep the sidewalks outside storefronts. Excitement built, however, in anticipation of a busy day amid the "Regatta 2000" celebration, as it is known in San Juan.
The Tall Ships, including vessels such as the Esmeralda
from Chile, the HMS Rose
from the US, and the Concordia
from Canada hold a Class A
rating—what we traditionally think of when we think "Tall Ship." Only vessels over 160 feet in length qualify for Class A
status, and each has its own design and historic roots based in its national maritime purpose. Some carried cargo, some explored for new lands, and others were built for warfare. Many national navies and maritime agencies use these ships as training vessels, as in the case of the US Coast Guard barque Eagle
, but a few are held by private foundations or historical societies. Many are originals while others are carefully recreated replicas of their original namesakes. Hailing from 30 ports around the world, 29 of the world's 35 Class A
Tall Ships and dozens of other vessels took part in the San Juan celebration,
These vessels sat idle as a backdrop to the festivities in port. Tens of thousands of people formed lines several blocks long to board the vessels, getting a glimpse of a past most have never known. Sailors from the ships filled the open air bars early, finding respite in the brief reprieve between ports as they have done since the ancient days of huge wooden square riggers and schooners flying acres of canvas. Day really didn't begin until two or three in the afternoon, but the festivities then ran late into the night. People emerged from the narrow streets of Old San Juan to marvel at a truly remarkable sight. Men stood on the spars of the tall ships hundreds of feet in the air in military review, motionless while the sun and rain showers alternately poured down upon them. Bands cranked up their Latin beat and played into the night while vendors sold artwork, Cuba Libres, and Bacalitos, a deep-fried salty fish which has been a part of the Puerto Rican diet for decades. People began randomly dancing to the Latin beat pulling sailors into their circles, moving to the rhythm of the night.
The ships' masts were lit up in the background, and around nine in the evening, fireworks added more color and explosion to the already powerful display. San Juan, the first stop in an official eight-city tour, lived up to its reputation as a dynamic Latin port. The people and the Tall Ships, the food and drink, the fireworks and music, all combined to form an electricity that could only be generated in a city with such a colorful maritime history and with people so naturally given to celebration. The parade of sail on the final day was no less exciting as the ships left the port, circling in front of "El Morro" under full sail in all of their grace and glory, before returning silently to sea.
Next stop, the port of Miami, where new vessels will join the parade, bringing the world together again to view its maritime past.
Stay tuned for SailNet's next Tall Ships update as the fleet makes its way up the Eastern Seaboard.
OpSail 2000 Schedule
|Ports of Call |
|Miami,FL ||June 7-10 |
|Norfolk, VA ||June 16 -20 |
|Baltimore, MD ||June 23-29 |
|Philadelphia, PA ||June 23-29 |
|New York, NY ||July 3-9 |
|New London, CT ||July 12- 15 |
|Portland, ME ||July 28-31 |