The Southern stronghold of Savannah hosted its inaugural Savannah Tall Ships Challenge in 2012. The city brought thirteen tall sailing ships to port on May 4 – 7, with a special commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812. The Atlantic Tall Ships Challenge is also a race, and the Savannah Festival served as the starting point that will see the ships make stops in New York, Rhode Island and Nova Scotia.
Each port of call hosts a maritime festival. Patrons have an opportunity to board the ships, meet the crews and gain a new appreciation for maritime heritage. The viewing continues for three days and the next day the Tall Ships sail away during the popular Parade of Sail.
Savannah lined up these Tall Ships along their famous Historic Savannah Riverfront so that fans could have access. Each day of the festival offered a chance to sail on the Savannah River aboard the steel-hulled Alliance, a 105-foot three-masted gaff topsail vessel. A variety of shoreside events were offered too, according to Public Relations Director Erica Backus.
“With an eye on the year 1812, we held seminars about maritime life back during the war,” said Backus. “There was also a mock pirate encampment for kids that featured shanty-singing and knot-tying fun.”
“We expected long lines to view the Coast Guard training ship Eagle and the HMS Bounty, and the crowds did not disappoint us,” said Backus. “We attended tall ship festivals in Green Bay and Newport prior to hosting our own, and we are pleased with the cooperative efforts from the Tall Ships America organization and the city of Savannah. We hope that we made friends for life and that they will return soon.”
The HMS Bounty is indeed popular since it has appeared in motion pictures like Treasure Island and Pirates of the Carribean – Dead Man’s Chest. Other tall ships had a military past like the French Navy training sister-ships Etoile and La Belle Poule, which served in the Free France Forces operating out of England during World War II. They still sail under the French ensign with an imposed Cross of Lorraine.
There are some new tall ships like the Pride of Baltimore II that was commissioned in 1988 as a sailing memorial to her predecessor. The original Pride of Baltimore was lost in 1986 off of Puerto Rico in a white squall that also claimed the lives of her captain and crew. The Pride of Baltimore is a replica of the Baltimore clipper ships, which helped America win the War of 1812.
One of the highlights of the Savannah Tall Ships Challenge was the entertainment from the crew of the Indonesian ship, Dewaruci. They took time to come ashore and share their culture in Ellis Square with patrons during traditional dancing and musical performances. The 2012 Atlantic Tall Ships Challenge is scheduled to be the final voyage for this Indonesian Naval ship.
The tall ship Lynx, called ‘America’s Privateer’ is a replica of a War of 1812 vessel. They use their public platform to raise funds for the veterans group called Intrepid Fallen Heroes. Celebrating a maritime history while supporting the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, is just one example of some of the positive attributes derived from this and future Tall Ship gatherings which serve to preserve sailing traditions.
Jeff Dennis is a Charleston native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com.