Tall ships sail into Cleveland on waves of War of 1812 history


By Brian Albrecht

on June 30, 2013



TALLSHIPS3.JPGThe Pride of Baltimore II, shown here passing Voinovich Park in 2010, returns for the Port of Cleveland 2013 Tall Ships Festival, presented by the Rotary Club of Cleveland.


CLEVELAND, Ohio — A dozen tall ships will sail into Cleveland this week, riding the waves of history and binding the past to the present in wood, wind and war. (See below for the full schedule.)


They’ll be here from Wednesday through Sunday, long enough to provide a glimpse of the type of ships that once helped defend this nation during the War of 1812. Later this summer, they’ll sail to western Lake Erie and re-enact just what it took to win the Battle of Lake Erie, 200 years ago.


The Tall Ships Festival at the Port of Cleveland, just north of FirstEnergy Stadium, is presented by the Rotary Club of Cleveland, and is the first gathering of these replicas of maritime history to visit here since 2010.


An estimated 100,000 people are expected to attend the festival which offers ship tours, daily “sail-away” cruises on some vessels, dockside exhibits, a Maritime Market Place, food and beverage tents, and family entertainment.


Among the visiting ships is the Norwegian Sorlandet, the oldest (1927) full-rigged tall ship in the world which offers high school and college students the opportunity to attend classes while sailing to ports around the world.


The Unicorn, built from German U-boat scrap metal, is the only all-female crewed tall ship, and Liana’s Ransom features a colorful crew of costumed, cutlass-swinging pirates.


Visitors will gain “an appreciation for the history of it all — the ships, the lifestyle, and the importance of Cleveland in the industrial Midwest because of the lake,” said Edward Thomas, festival spokesman.


Part of that history involves the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812 when sailing ships played a pivotal role on the ocean and Great Lakes.


As the war started, America’s navy had only 17 ships to face the British. The American fleet was derided in English newspapers as a “handful of fir-built frigates under a bit of striped bunting, manned by bastards and outlaws.”


To augment its forces, America issued letters of “marque and reprisal,” authorizing private ship owners to capture English merchant ships. Soon, British warships had to be diverted from blockading America to protect shipping convoys.


Two of the visiting tall ships — the schooners Lynx and Pride of Baltimore II — are modeled after these armed privateers.


“Privateering is the reason this country has a national anthem,” said Jan Miles, one of two captains of the Pride of Baltimore II.


He explained that during the war, England attacked Baltimore in 1814 to destroy shipyards where privateers known as “Baltimore clippers” were being built. That attack included the bombardment of Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”


TALLSHIPS4.JPGThe Lynx, representing the type of schooner used during the War of 1812, will visit here as part of the Port of Cleveland 2013 Tall Ships Festival.


The Lynx is designed and named after one of the sleek Baltimore clippers, and its crew wears period uniforms and operates the ship in keeping with 19th-century maritime traditions.


Jeffrey Woods, executive director of the Lynx Educational Foundation, said the ship is a floating, living history museum, serving as a “remembrance of this forgotten war, and a reminder of where our freedoms came from.”


He’s looking forward to participating with 14 other tall ships in the Sept. 2 re-enactment of the Battle of Lake Erie near Put-in-Bay. The battle will replicate Oliver Hazard Perry’s victory over the British in 1813. (For details visit the website.)


Eric Johnson, of Avon Lake, a War of 1812 historian who will be speaking at the Tall Ships Festival, said the Great Lakes were strategically important at that time because most people and supplies were moved by water due to lack of roads in America’s western frontier.


“Whoever won the battle [of Lake Erie] controlled the northwest,” Johnson said.


Woods said in prior re-enactments the Lynx has shown the public that a naval battle of that era didn’t necessarily have two ships slugging it out with point-blank broadsides. “The whole idea was to incapacitate and capture a vessel” with shots that took out the rudder or bow sails, he noted.


Miles, of the Pride of Baltimore II, also said the Lake Erie re-enactment will differ from the standard privateer’s attack on merchant vessels, which involved more of the threat of firepower than its actual use.


“Privateers were civilians. Their goal was to get as rich as possible [by selling the captured ship’s cargo],” he said. “They were not interested in dying in the process.”


But the Lake Erie re-enactment should provide a “significant exercise” in cannon discipline as they fire black-powder blanks, Miles said. “The loading and reloading, the noise and smoke, should all be very reminiscent of what happened back in the day.”


In addition to educating the public about the War of 1812, the Tall Ships Festival may prompt some discussion regarding the absence of a ship that had been expected for the event. The HMS Bounty, which visited here in 2003 and 2010, was sunk by Hurricane Sandy off the coast of North Carolina last October.


Then and now, “they that go down to the sea in ships” sometimes don’t come back.


Even when tall ships are equipped with modern marine technology, extreme weather can be a formidable foe, said Woods, whose ship, the Lynx, rode out the hurricane from shelter on New York’s Hudson River.


“You have to be watching the weather constantly, especially on the Great Lakes,” he added. “All those lakes can be rougher than rough.”


But both he and Miles, of the Pride of Baltimore II, cite the decision by the Bounty’s captain to leave port to escape the hurricane at sea as a significant factor in the ship’s demise. (The captain was reported missing in the sinking and was never found.)


“That tragedy was totally unrepresentative of the entire activity of traditional sailing,” Miles said.


Beyond the historical significance that the tall ships represent, there’s also the sheer novelty and visual beauty of these vessels that appeals to visitors.


“The public is absolutely fascinated with the life of a crew on board today,” Miles said. “The key theme we’ve heard is that notion of — What is it like to get away from land and society, and sail over the horizon?”


To Woods, one glimpse of a tall ship like the Lynx, slicing through the waves, is enough to make your imagination soar.


“You take a look at her from a distance, with her raked masts and all her canvas flying, it’s just beautiful,” he said. “These ships are meant to sail.”


TALLSHIPS2.JPGThe Lake Erie horizon will be filled with sails, such as this scene from 2010, for the Port of Cleveland 2013 Tall Ships Festival.


Tall Ships Festival


When: Wednesday-Sunday


Location: Port of Cleveland, north of FirstEnergy Stadium on West Third Street.


Schedule: Wednesday — Opens with Parade of Sail procession due to begin at 4 p.m. Visitors can view it from Voinovich Park at no cost. The festival grounds will be closed. No ships available for boarding.


Thursday Festival opens 9:30 a.m. Ship tours 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (subject to change). Ships are not wheelchair-accessible. Festival hours are extended to 11 p.m. so visitors can view Cleveland’s fireworks display at 10 p.m. Special site admission is $5 after 5 p.m. Children 5 and under free. Live evening entertainment. Lawn chairs and blankets will be allowed on site after 5 p.m. Ships will not be open for touring after 6 p.m., but some will offer sunset and fireworks cruises (Cruise tickets sold on site).


Friday-Sunday Festival goes from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ship tours 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Friday, service men and women admitted free with military ID.


MondayShips depart about 11 a.m.


Cost: $14 daily ($12 advance); $8 children 6-14 (5 and under free); $11 seniors 65-plus, military members and Rotarians. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or on the festival web site, http://www.clevelandtallships.com. Discount tickets available at Discount Drug Mart locations and Pettiti Garden Centers.


Security: All personal belongings, bags and purses will be checked at entry. No bottles of water and other liquids, food or coolers can be brought into the festival. Baby food and formula must be in plastic containers and stored in no larger than a five-quart cooler.


Sail-aways: Six ships — the Appledore IV, Denis Sullivan, Hindu, Lynx, Pride of Baltimore II and Halie & Matthew — will offer short sailing trips at a cost that includes festival admission (see http://www.clevelandtallships.com ). Cost is $80 for a Parade of Sail excursion on July 3 (no passengers under 12 allowed), and $55 for Thursday-Sunday daily/early-evening trips. No passengers under 6 allowed.


Parking: At Port of Cleveland lots located west, south and east of the festival site; Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Avenue; Cleveland Municipal Parking Lot, South Marginal Road.


RTA: Take Waterfront Line from Tower City to North Coast (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum) or South Harbor (municipal parking lot) stops. For times and fares call RTA at 216-621-9500.


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