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The Tall Ships Set Sail

Tuesday, July 10, 2001 at 7:18 AM

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The majesty of 14 tall ships recently graced the Cleveland waterfront, attracting thousands of visitors to the coast of Lake Erie. This collection of ships, part of the Tall Ships Challenge Race Series, brings back an old-time sailing era to today's spectators. 90.3 WCPN's Paul Cox has this report. (Photos by Karen Schaefer)

Paul Cox- Imagine yourself walking the deck of a big ship in the age of sail.

This summer, people in six Great Lakes cities - three in Canada and three in the U.S. - will be able to walk the decks, handle the ropes and stand at the helm of giant sailing ships. They’ll be racing and touring on the Great Lakes as part of the Tall Ships Challenge Race Series sponsored by the American Sail Training Association. Steve Baker is the race director:

Steve Baker- We’re going to six ports. We start in Kingston, Ontario; go onto Port Colbourne, Ont., which is at the southern end of the Welland Canal; then onto Detroit and Windsor, where they’re having a dual celebration on both sides of the river; then to Bay City, Michigan and Muskegon, MI.

PC- The ships will race from city to city for trophies and bragging rights, and in between, they’ll be moored at their destinations for public display.

While the ships look like a throwback to a bygone era, most have been built from the keel up in modern times and few are made of wood. Thad Koza of Newport, Rhode Island has spent a good part of his life photographing tall ships.

Thad Koza- Most of the great tall ships are made of steel and the vessels from these European countries and Japan are over 300 feet long. The ships were designed to be schools to train future staff members and officers for various merchant marines or national navies.

PC- For the most part, the crews of these ships are students taking part in learning programs similar to character-building courses like Outward Bound. Koza says a tall ship is a good place to do that.

TK- If you go through a hurricane or a nice Great Lakes storm and there’s nothing between you and the water but four inches of oak, you come to some sort of determination of what your relationship to the universe is.

PC- The ships attract attention wherever they sail. When a handful of tall ships sailed into Cleveland last summer, they drew large crowds. That’s when event organizer Terri Bell of IMG Expositions saw an opportunity.

Terri Bell- The first one I saw, it was immediate love and passion. It’s something we’re not used to seeing here. I went back to my company and said we’ve go to do this.

PC- The result was this weekend’s Cleveland Harborfest and similar events around the Great Lakes. The ships will be on static display in a carnival atmosphere of mimes, jugglers and fair food. Race director Steve Baker says people are all drawn to the natural beauty of the ships themselves.

SB- First of all they’re beautiful to see and behold. That’s part of the allure. Anybody who’s been out to sea on one of these ships knows how much fun they are and beautiful they are to operate. They’re serene on calm days and wild on windy days.

TB- To visualize all 14 of them sailing down the lakefront will be just breathtaking. I think it’s a historical event in itself because it’s something we’ve never seen.

PC- While festival goers will soak up the atmosphere and the history and meet the crews of the tall ships, one authentic piece of history will be missing because it’s gone forever. The able-bodied seaman who roamed the seven seas and the Great Lakes in the age of sail lives now only in the imagination.

I think he was probably about 5-foot-8, 175 pounds. He maybe had some kind of muscle buildup in his arms and he was probably underfed and scrawny and tough as steel cables.

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