Months of planning went off without a hitch as the 2015 Greenport’s Tall Ships Challenge kicked off Saturday. The ships were in place, the vendors were set up and the visitors came by the carload, as they lined up to see the majestic vessels.
The weather also played its part and held back any threats of rain. While the sun didn’t make an appearance until the afternoon, the morning saw a steady cool breeze with some clouds, but no one seemed to mind at all.
Five of the six Tall Ships were docked and ready for a stream of visitors. Anticipation was high as people began arriving as early as 8:30 a.m. and were lining up before 9 a.m. According to Tall Ships organizers, early ticket sales for this weekend are already triple that of the 2012 Tall Ships event.
- TALL SHIP GUIDE: Click here
Master of ceremonies Dave Berson opened the festival with a heartfelt welcome to all who have come to Greenport over the years, from the Native Americans to the English colonists to Portugese fishermen to visitors of today.
Berson, who co-owns and operates “Glory,” the only Coast Guard certificated solar charged electric powered tour boat in the country, is passionate about Greenport’s maritime history.
“It’s a very special place the way it is because of that connection to the sea,” he said. “Greenport is in a constant state of flux trying to hold onto its maritime history, while at the same time morphing into what is necessary in order to survive in the 21st century. I side on not necessarily tradition, but on the acknowledgement of where we come from lest we forget and just become another place.”
- PHOTOS: Day one at the festival
Both maritime history and tradition were on display as visitors strolled from pier to pier touring each tall ship. While some were taller than others, none lacked in character, grandeur and charm. Portugal’s Sagres made perhaps the biggest initial impression, simply for it’s sheer size. Captain Paulo Alcobia Portugal proudly showed off his beauty of a ship, which requires a crew of 179 people to run properly.
“This is the sister ship of the U.S.S. Eagle of the U.S. Coast Guard, which you saw here three years ago,” he said.
The ship, which trains cadets for the Portugese Naval Academy, has visited 113 foreign ports in 45 countries. Still, Captain Portugal could appreciate the beauty of his host village.
“Greenport is a small town that is very charming, with all the people coming here today and tomorrow, it will make this a great weekend for Greenport,” he said.
- PHOTOS: Captain’s reception
Near the Sagres sits the A.J. Meerwald, one of the smaller ships on display. The restored schooner hails from Bivalve, New Jersey. Captain Jesse Briggs and the crew began the morning with some repairs and basic chores like washing the breakfast dishes, before welcoming Saturday’s visitors aboard. A reminder that people actually do live onboard the former oyster dredging schooner.
Briggs marveled at Greenport’s waterfront.
“It’s our first visit to Greenport, we’d heard a lot of good things about it and it’s all true,” he said. “We’ve never been to a port that has a grocery store two blocks away. It’s usually more like two miles away and there’s a laundromat and everything’s right there on the water and it’s so nice to see that and not a whole row of condos. So it’s nice to have a waterfront like this.”
In between those ships is the Kalmar Nyckel, which many visitors said was the prettiest ship of all, with colorful adornments all over its outer hull. The ship now serves as a floating classroom educating students about Delaware’s maritime and colonial history.
At 35, Lauren Morgans has been captain of the Kalmar Nyckel for nine years. To her, the gender thing has never been much of an issue, but age was.
“At my first Tall Ships festival in 2007 in Norfolk, we had a skipper’s meeting and I walked into the room and everyone there was a minimum of 15 years older than me, that was intimidating,” she said. “I think age does mean something because you have the opportunity to have lots of experience on ships. Nine years later, I’m pretty comfortable with it.”
On the Lynx, a privateer inspired by the original tall ship from the War of 1812, the 21st century is in full swing. A co-ed crew lives together to run the ship. Sam Imes, who hails from Vermont and has been sailing for 11 years, is its First Mate.
“I run the deck, delegate to the deck hands, and plan out the day’s schedule,” she said. “Basically I’m second in command to the captain, so my job is to make his job easier.” When asked what she misses most when she and the Lynx set sail, Imes said “Baths!” Oh, and regular internet service.”
Rounding out the five ships here for the festival’s full four-day run is the Picton Castle, a classic square-rigged sailing ship, based in Nova Scotia. While the ship is Canadian, the crew is more international, which seems to be the case on many of the ships. According to the ship’s Captain Sam Sikkema, that’s one of the best things about it.
“We have this diversity of nationalities onboard that makes it a more interesting experience for everybody,” he said.
Come sail away with us seems to be their motto, as the Picton Castle accepts volunteers interested in learning how to sail. The ship will teach everything there is to know from navigation to tying knots to a volunteer willing to do their fair share on a working expedition.
And when it comes to work, this holiday was a busy one for Greenport’s merchants. It was all about the red, white and blue — and the green — as Greenport’s businesses rolled out the welcome carpet to the Tall Ships and its visitors.
Many merchants saw a boost in business. Restaurants like Noah’s and Salamander’s reported major business increases. Lucharito’s owner Marc LaMaina was feverishly making quacomole by hand outside the restaurant at a crowded table selling his specialities.
“We’re off to a great start, we’ll see how long we can go until we pass out,” he joked.
Blue Duck Bakery owner Nancy Kouris was able to enjoy the ships from her Front Street establishment, as she helmed a table outside the bakery, selling cold drinks and baked goods.
“We had a great day yesterday and today’s another good day. I have the best seat in the house, from here you can see the ships, you can see everything,” she said.
And so far, visitors have loved it. While there was a little grumbling about some of the long lines to see the ships, most visitors have expressed their gratititude and appreciation.
“I have to give kudos to the people of Greenport,” said Linda Krauss of Shelter Island. “They’ve done a great job.”
Al Hanes and Debbie Pelletier of Shirley, who attended Greenport’s last Tall Ships event in 2012, chose Greenport over Coney Island for their 2015 4th of July celebration and were glad they did.
“This is a nice change of pace,” Mr. Hanes said. “There are a lot more vendors, a lot more stuff going on, I think it gets bigger and better every year.”
Anne Marie of Centereach was very impressed after disembarking the Picton Castle.
“It was awsome, absolutely beautiful, beautiful ship, really nice inside and the crew was very nice,” she said. “How often do you get to see this, it’s a really nice way to celebrate the holiday and the vendors have been awesome. I would definitely do this again.”
Greenport’s Tall Ships Challenge runs through to Tuesday morning July 7 and culminates with the arrival of the French ship Hermione arriving on Monday morning July 6.