Technically speaking, a tall ship is a large sailing vessel of antiquated design, with its sheets rigged in a ropey and terribly complicated manner.
In the age when such vessels were commonplace, before steam and gasoline engines replaced the wind as the main force driving merchant and military watercraft, they didn’t call them “tall ships.” It’s a 20th Century term, used to describe something out of the past.
The Newport, R.I. based Tall Ships America is a non–profit umbrella organization under which most, if not all, of the operational tall ships in North America share information, work and play together, and help promote the group’s mission.
According to executive director Bert Rogers, that mission is to “promote character–building programs of education under sail.”
Of the more than 200 vessels in the Tall Ships America “fleet,” ownership is divided between public and maritime colleges, museums, scientific research groups, private citizens and yes, even the United States Coast Guard.
It’s a sailing advocacy group.
“We promote the values that sail training can provide to young people, and indeed to people of all ages, to go to sea and cast off from their life ashore,” Rogers says. “And go out for authentic adventures with like–minded people, and come home at the end of their voyage feeling very much empowered and enabled and expanded in their personal confidence, courage and sense of competency.”
(Yes, he really talks like this.)
Since it was founded in 1973, the organization has sponsored several seasonal races between member ships (whoever’s available, that is, and wants to participate). They go up (or down) one of the American coasts, stopping along the way for three–day “port festivals,” giving the landlubbing public a chance to tour the anchored ships, talk to the actual crew members, and (hopefully) get inspired themselves to consider going to sea for themselves some day.
They call these events a Tall Ships Challenge, and shiver me timbers, there’s one on the Savannah riverfront this week, May 4–6.
Fourteen ships are confirmed for the Savannah visit, including:
Bounty, a full, working replica of a fully–rigged 18th Century British merchant ship (hey kids, this Bounty “stars” as the Black Pearl in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies);
Alliance, a 105–foot three–masted gaff–rigged schooner;
Lynx, a square topsail schooner reproducing an actual privateer vessel with that name from the War of 1812;
Roseway, a 137–foot private schooner built in 1925;
Pride of Baltimore II, a 157–foot topsail schooner;
Eagle, the Coast Guard Academy’s sail–training ship, a 3–masted barque nearly 300 feet in length;
Dewarucio, a barquentine owned and operated by the government of Indonesia;
Picton Castle. With 12,450 square feet of sail area, this 3–masted barque is a sail training ship based in Nova Scotia.
“If we didn’t do this,” says Rogers, “our member vessels would be off, over the horizon, running their educational programs, and the general public would never know about it.
“Their natural position is off at sea, and so we need to organize the opportunities for our ships to gather together in enough of a critical mass to attract the attention of the general public, and the media, so that we can deliver our message.”
Rogers, who calls himself a “former sailor,” says he and his staff are excited to visit Savannah for the first time. “We’re looking forward to a great event,” he adds.
“What the general public gets out of it, of course, is a family–friendly festival — educational to the extent that people who may never have seen a sailing ship up close get a chance to come aboard and see, and touch, and fell what these ships are like, and how they work.
“They can talk to the crew who sail them, and learn about the adventures that are possible aboard these ships, when they go to sea in their various programs.”
Tickets get you in to the riverfront festival and all its myriad attractions — and you can explore any and all of nine moored vessels.
Tall Ships Challenge
Where: Savannah Riverfront
When: 9 a.m.–6 p.m. May 4–6
Daily Tickets. One day admission includes access aboard moored Tall Ships:
Adults: $20 (if purchased online by May 3); $25 (day of event)
Ages 5–16: $10 (if purchased online by May 3); $12 (day of event)
Age 4 and under: Free
Multi–day Pass. Three-day admission includes access aboard moored Tall Ships:
Adults: $50 (if purchased online by May 3); $60 (day of event)
Ages 5–16: $25 (if purchased online by May 3); $30 (day of event)
Age 4 and under: Free
Quick Pass. One day admission. Includes expedited boarding of moored Tall Ships:
Ages 5–16: $50
Excursions: Aboard Appledore V, Alliance or Roseway. Several times daily.
All passengers: $50 (under 5 not allowed for safety reasons)
Tickets online: etix.com
Event info: savannahtallshipschallenge.com