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A crowd lines the shore of Lake Superior next to the Lakewalk in Duluth's Canal Park, awaiting the arrival of tall ships Thursday, July 25, 2013. (Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com)
A crowd lines the shore of Lake Superior next to the Lakewalk in Duluth's Canal Park, awaiting the arrival of tall ships Thursday, July 25, 2013. (Andrew Krueger / akrueger@duluthnews.com)

Thousands gather for arrival of tall ships in Duluth

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life Cloquet, 55720

Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

There's something about those tall ships. They make every kid yell "cool" and adults click away with cameras with mouths agape.

But Dorothy Church of Grand Rapids may have worded it best as she sat on the north pier nearly under the Aerial Lift Bridge just after the Peacemaker make a dramatic pass.

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"I'm always amazed at what it must have been like," Church said. "It makes me nostalgic, even though I wasn't around 200 years ago."

Nine ships passed through the canal in the Parade of Sail, the opening of the four-day Tall Ships Duluth, to the delight of thousands on the pier and on the shore of Lake Superior. Many said the crowd didn't seem as large as the one that watched the parade in 2010, when the multi-ship event was a novelty. But more people lined up along the shore from Canal Park to the Lester River, enjoying space over the more compact throng around the piers.

Joe Sivertson of rural Duluth found himself in the Danger Zone boat, getting a look at the ships from the water near the Lester River. He's an old salt on the unsalted sea that hugs Duluth, but he was impressed with his choice to get on the water.

"I sail three times a week," Sivertson said. "This has to be one of the best experiences I've had."

That's because aside from tacking tall ships, there were hundreds of other sailing and boating enthusiasts on the water, he said.

The wait along the shore -- people picked out spots as early as 8 a.m. for the 2 p.m. parade -- was a broiling one in 80-degree heat and little wind. Relief came with passing clouds that eventually filled the sky after the ships all got into Duluth's harbor. Blue-black clouds threatened late in the afternoon but split over the corner of the lake into the early evening.

The Pride of Baltimore was the first tall ship through, firing its cannons three times as is plied the canal led by U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alder and former Coast Guard Cutter Sundew. The tall ships came in groups of three. Baltimore was followed by the Privateer Lynx and the stunning Sorlandet from Norway. It wasn't under sail but that allowed a view of its impressive masts and rigging.

The next group was the U.S. Brig Niagara, Zeeto and Coaster II. The final group was the Hindu, Denis Sullivan and Peacemaker, another three-mast beauty.

Ben Gerdes had been on a smaller sailing vessel Wednesday. He and his family from Lincoln, Neb., took a cruise with Amicus Adventure Sailing out of Knife River to get warmed up for the tall ship events this weekend.

Gerdes, 10, said he learned one thing from sailing and watching the ships Thursday.

"I can't imagine sleeping on one or going to school," he said.

Many of the ships in the festival have missions to teach crew members the ways of the sea.

Sign Theresa Amundson up. The woman from Cotton was dressed in a tri-corner sea hat and an ad hoc pirate's shirt -- gazing at the Peacemaker finding a parking spot in the harbor. She's got tickets for all four days of the festival.

"This is fantastic," she said. "Better than I even imagined."

The costume was a way to get her family -- Mom, Dad and a niece -- into the spirit.

"Happy ship day," she shouted.

As the ships tied up to the pier behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, characters lingered about. There were sea wenches, a one-armed pirate and Lt. Worlsey, the Royal Navy Commander in charge of the Western Lakes Station, a group of re-enactors who are putting the 1812 flair on the festival as it tours the Great Lakes.

Worlsey is played by Patrick Schifferdecker of Pine City. He said the group can usually be found across the Great Lakes where the War of 1812 is marked.

"This was too close to home to pass up," he said. Many members of the station are from the Twin Cities area as well and points north in Canada.

They had canvas tents pitched in Bayfront Festival Park and stations showing cooking, household items, weaponry and ship cargo handling, all from the early 1800s.

There was an opening ceremony where the ships are in port and the Niagara's Capt. Wesley Heerssen had high praise for Duluth, saying it was good to be back. Of all the stops in the Tall Ships tour, "Duluth is the grandest," he said.

Gene Shaw asked his Visit Duluth team how things went on the first day and the cheer that rose up made it unanimous.

"It's been great," he said, fighting fatigue. "Everything went well."

The experience was better than 2010 because there was no helicopter traffic, said Marva Jean Hutchens of Grand Rapids. She was sitting with Church. Two jets buzzed downtown and two small planes flew overhead but there were no helicopters. Their presence caused many complaints the last time Tall Ships was in Duluth.

Church and Hutchens were so enamored with the ships from 2010 that they followed them to OpSail Boston last year. But it's nice to have them home again, Hutchens said.

"I think it's great," she said. "Duluth's really got something going."

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