DULUTH, Minn. - The city of Duluth is preparing for big crowds this week as nine tall ships from across North American and Europe sail into the harbor, bringing a piece of sailing history to the Twin Ports.
Organizers of the Tall Ships Duluth festival expect even larger crowds than the 125,000 people who flocked to the harbor in 2008 — when just three tall ships ventured onto Lake Superior.
"In 2008 it was a spectacular sight with just three ships. This time it is going to be unreal, with nine," said Gene Shaw, director of public relations for Visit Duluth, which is helping sponsor the festival. "If history is correct, the last time we had eight, nine ships sailing into Duluth would probably be back in the late 1800s."
The first ships are expected to arrive Wednesday, and they'll all be in town in time for Thursday's parade and grand opening ceremonies. The festival includes three more days of ship tours and public entertainment.
Event organizers say they are better prepared than two years ago, when the first day of the festival was plagued by long lines and delays. The Duluth News Tribune reports Sunday that organizers are limiting boarding passes to 25,000 people — just as they did in 2008.
Duluth is the fourth stop on the American Sail Training Association's Great Lakes United Tall Ships Challenge. The ships have already visited Toronto, Cleveland and Bay City, Mich. About 600,000 people saw the ships in Toronto, and 125,000 people saw them in Bay City — a number that's nearly four times the community's population.
From here, they'll head to Green Bay, Wis., then to Chicago.
"The reception has been phenomenal," said Tall Ships Challenge director Patricia Lock. "I think we live vicariously through the crews. We just want to touch it, feel it, see what it's like. People would love to sail away with us."
Visiting ships include the US Brig Niagara and Pride of Baltimore II, replicas of ships from the War of 1812 and stars of the 2008 festival; the Barque Europa and Roald Amundsen, both from Europe; the schooners S/V Denis Sullivan and Zeeto, both of which would have been at home on the Great Lakes in the 1850s.
The HMS Bounty will also be visiting Duluth. That ship was launched in 1961 for MGM film "Mutiny on the Bounty" and has seen the likes of Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian, Charlton Heston as Long John Silver in "Treasure Island" and Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest."
Years ago the tall ships were quite popular on the Great Lakes. In 1870, there were 2,000 sailing ships on the lakes. Ports in Chicago and Milwaukee could see roughly 100 sailing ships come to port on days when storms threatened.
The tall ships will leave Duluth on Aug. 3.
On the Net:
Official Tall Ships Duluth 2010 site: http://www.visitduluth.com/tall-ships
Great Lakes United Tall Ships Challenge: http://www.sailtraining.org/tallships/2010greatlakes/index.php
Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthsuperior.com