The spectacle of tall ships parade harks back to the Age of Sail

Memorial Day maritime festival an eye-filing experience

Steve Tawa
May 24, 2018 - 7:44 pm
tall ships parade of sail 2018

Steve Tawa-KYW Newsradio


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Nearly a dozen tall ships are now in place for the extended Memorial Day weekend, docked from the foot of Market Street, to the end of the Penn's Landing Marina. 

The ships hail from storied maritime ports across the United States and the globe, including Newport, Gloucester, Portsmouth, and Lisbon -- even closer to home in Wilmington and Philadelphia. Many are period specific and harks back to the "Age of Sail," from the 17th to mid-19th century, when international trade and naval warfare were dominated by sailing ships.

The first glimpse came during the Parade of Sail on Thursday as the ships mustered near the Walt Whitman Bridge. The majestic vessels were escorted north, one after the other, by the Philadelphia Fire Boat, with its water display raging.

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The Philadelphia Fire Boat led the Parade of Sail
Steve Tawa-KYW Newsradio

Philadelphia's own three-mast, 177-foot Gazela greeted the other vessels. First in line was the largest, the 293-foot Sagres. She's easily identified by the traditional Portugese crosses that mark the square sails on her fore and main masts. The Sagres is among the ships offering deck tours.

Another, the 122-foot Lynx, is a topsail schooner modeled after a Navy vessel from the War of 1812. She is fitted with period ordnace. As will all the ships, the crew on this vessel will be delighted to share how they were crafted and how they function. 

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As the 196-foot Oliver Hazard Perry, a square rigger out of Newport, Rhode Island, approach Penn's Landing, the WWII battleship USS New Jersey across the way in Camden fired off some rounds. It was like a scene from Patrick O'Brien's "Master & Commander." One could imagine the captain bellowing to his crew, "Quick's the word and sharp's the action!" 

The Perry is named for a man who once said in battle: "We have met the enemy, and they are ours."

The tall buildings of Center City Philadelphia can be seen in the distance during the Parade of Sail.
Steve Tawa-KYW Newsradio

Then, there's When and If, an 83-foot schooner, commissioned by General George S. Patton, in 1939. She was damaged in a storm and rebuilt in the early 1990s. CBS broadcaster Walter Cronkite, an avid sailor, noted the work of the shipwrights who brought When and If back to life.

A more modern vessel, the Thomas E. Lannon, christened in 1997, is a 93-foot schooner, which has lines similar to fishing vessels from the early 1900s.

Looking for a lovely vessel with sleek lines? The 105-foot America 2.0 is a modern tribute to the schooner. America was the winner of the first America's Cup in 1851.

The Lannon and America are among the ships offering sail-away cruises.

The battleship USS New Jersey, seen in the background, fired off rounds during the Parade of Sail.
Steve Tawa-KYW Newsradio

Friday through Monday, there are waterfront festivities around the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, with live entertainment, music, immersive educational opportunities, and food and drink options. 

General admission tickets are $7. Ship tours start at $10. Cruises begin at $90 and include festival access.