The Tall Ships have come and gone, sailing away on a south wind and lots of good cheer, as the Gordon Lightfoot song goes. They have spent the summer visiting ports along the Great Lakes and were in my vicinity for the weekend, attracting 100,000 visitors in the process. You could purchase general admission day and weekend passes, as well as boarding passes that included deck tours, but as I am not a fan of big crowds or standing in long line ups in the sweltering heat, I viewed them from afar on Friday afternoon – along with thousands of other people lining the shore with the same idea!
Among the six ships in dock, was The Bluenose II, a famous Nova Scotia ship, and my favorite, the Nao Santa Maria, the flagship from the 1492 voyage Christopher Columbus made when he discovered North America.
This replica was built in Spain to celebrate the 525th anniversary of the discovery of the new world and has spent the past two years touring various ports of call on this side of the Atlantic. (The Nao Santa Maria has it’s own Facebook page if you wish to check if it will be in your area).
We probably all remember the grade school rhyme, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” and we may remember the three ships on that famous voyage, the Santa Maria, the Nina and the Pinta, but I was unaware that the Santa Maria did not make the return journey home as it had run aground on a sandbar in Hispaniola/Haiti on Christmas Day 1492.
Here’s a link with more description about the three ships, and also a Wikipedia link with some information about the design, cargo, and the voyage. As the largest of the three, the Santa Maria was the main cargo ship, carried the most men, 52 of the 90, and was considered an old tub too unwieldy to navigate river mouths and shallow bays, which was left to the smaller faster Pinta. Columbus had struggled for years to obtain financing for his project (searching for a sea route to the far east and the treasures of Cathay), until the Queen of Spain reluctantly granted approval for the journey. How overjoyed they must have been to have sighted land and being proven right, even though they were unaware at the time that it was a whole other unexplored continent.
Can you imagine travelling across the ocean in that for two months?
I had anticipated the opening Parade of Ships to be a glorious sight to behold – a beautiful sunny day, blue sky and water, white sails billowing in the breeze. While the weather was okay (coolish, sunny but lots of clouds), there was such a brisk north breeze, it wasn’t really a Parade of Sails, it was a Parade of Masts!
The water was so dark and choppy, I had to lighten my pictures to be able to see anything, plus a cloud managed to obscure the sun every time a ship went by. One of the crew was quoted as saying the sails were not up for safety reasons, as the river channel was too deep and narrow to allow much maneuverability, and it was too windy and rough once they got out on the lake. Plus, it wasn’t really a parade, as there were long gaps between the appearance of one ship and the next. We chatted and visited with fellow sightseers, many of whom had driven great distances, and ate french fries from chip trucks under the bridge, which is one of the touristy things to do in this town. This is the first ship which came along, although I don’t know the name, as I was too far away to see.
Several were so tall, we watched in awe as they barely cleared the bridge.
For $120 you could go on board for a two hour cruise during the Parade of Sails, which was sold out, as were all the more reasonably priced ($85 and $60) morning and evening cruises where the proceeds went to charity. I suspect the lack of sails was a liability issue also, as they wouldn’t want to risk anything with all those VIP’s and tourists aboard, especially if they were puking all over the nicely polished wooden decks.
I had a moment of regret, when the Empire Sandy went past. It looked like such fun, and I don’t usually get seasick on boats, having been on cruise ships, ferries and even a small motorboat.
But then I remembered the five days I spend on a Windjammer cruise in the Caribbean, back in my younger years, when I could more easily be talked into such things. I’ve learned my lesson, while something might sound romantic and adventurous, the reality often doesn’t match up. (Plus I require much more luxury in my vacations now). I distinctly remember arriving in St. Marten’s and gazing at the small vessel in the harbor and thinking – no that could not possibly be it. Nothing so small could hold 160 passengers and crew. It did, except for the two who got off at the first stop and flew home, thus saving themselves four more days of misery. Everyone on the boat was sea-sick the first 24 hours – the captain explained that was normal because the stretch from St. Martens to St. Kitt’s was notoriously rough. (Well if that was the case, then why didn’t they depart from a port with calmer waters?) He said most people were okay after the first day. Many were not. He said, stare at the horizon. It didn’t help. Better to be above deck, than below. It wasn’t. Have some more booze. I don’t drink. While the cabins were so small as to be claustrophobic, the rocking of the ship was somewhat comforting when you were tucked up in your bunk bed at night. I tried not to think about the fact that only a foot of timber separated me from the watery depths. The food was okay, if you could eat it. (The dry crackers were highly recommended). We visited St. Bart’s and a private island for a picnic and scuba diving which was a welcome break. On Day 3, I applied one of those anti-nausea patches behind my ear – upon awakening on Day 4, I removed it, after walking into a wall and being told my pupils looked strangely dilated. (Most fixed-dose drugs are not for me, as I am a featherweight). Night 5 was particularly rough again, the rocking cradle turned into a see-saw, invoking a few prayers. I was never so glad to see dry land again, and practically kissed the ground at the hotel. The only good thing about the whole trip was the two days of shopping and restaurants in St. Marten’s capital city. The only good thing about the ship was there was plenty of hot water in the showers, and they played Amazing Grace on deck in the evening when they unfurled the sails, a nice romantic ritual. (Funny, I don’t remember the sails being raised during the day, probably too many drunken tourists about who might fall overboard). Thank God a wretch like me was saved – but I swore never to set foot on a sailing ship again!
It may be exhilarating to be on board when the wind grabs the sails, but sailing is only for more adventurous souls, with strong stomachs. For the rest of us, the Tall Ships are a pretty sight, best viewed from the safety of the shore.
Postscript: Like the best of all plans, Columbus started small, with old ships. News of his new world discovery spread quickly throughout Europe, so on his second voyage, he was given a fleet of 17 ships, with 1,200 men and the supplies needed to establish permanent colonies in the New World. Which just goes to show how any new venture can start with one small step, which with a bit of luck and a favorable south wind, can turn into something much larger.