Tall ships off Algoma shore draw enthusiastic maritime fans
ALGOMA – They were a long way away on an overcast morning as a cool breeze blew along the waterfront.
But that wasn't nearly enough to stop hundreds of people — from maritime buffs to those just curious — from heading to Crescent Beach on Tuesday morning, setting up chairs on the shore or strolling out on the pier jutting into Lake Michigan with cameras and binoculars to view tall ships with sails billowing in the wind.
Coming from across the state and beyond, the people were gathered for a celebration organized by the Algoma Area Chamber of Commerce in honor of the ships.
Five of the nine vessels from the Nicolet Bank Tall Ships festival last weekend in Green Bay — the U.S. Brig Niagara, Pride of Baltimore, Bluenose II, Appledore IV and Door County-built Utopia — sailed out of the Sturgeon Bay channel and mustered off shore for the noon start of the Great Lakes Challenge race to Kenosha, in which all but Utopia took part.
The ships couldn't get closer to shore than about a mile off, but given their size — ranging from the 77-foot-long Utopia to the 198-foot Niagara — and that they were at full sail, with rigging from 76 to 120 feet high, they still impressed spectators from afar.
Those who toured the ships at the three-day Green Bay festival or saw them in Sturgeon Bay when they docked overnight Monday got up-close views then, but didn't see them with their sails up, as spectators did in Algoma.
"They're so majestic. There's not anything like it," said Diane Seidl of Green Bay, who attended the Green Bay festival all three days as well as the Sturgeon Bay event. "It's definitely worthwhile."
Seidl was spectating on the pier with Dale and Maureen Gross of Kewaunee, who said they left their house at 7 a.m. Tuesday to stake out a spot and set up their video camera.
"It's pretty exciting seeing these ships," Maureen Seidl said. "They're pretty spectacular, especially when they're at full sail."
Among the casual fans were Betty Bechel of Durand and her daughter Ashley Books of Plum City, both in the far western part of Wisconsin. They had booked a mother-daughter weekend that included Ashley's four-year-old daughter, Nora, and infant son, Casper, but when they learned about the tall ships visit, they decided to add it to their adventure.
"This was a bonus," Ashley Books said. "It's really fun, really exciting, a very unique experience."
The celebration included programs at Yardstick Books, a few blocks off the beach, by Capt. Bob Desh of the U.S. Coast Guard (retired) on the history of a swivel gun, a small cannon found on naval vessels in the 18th and 19th centuries, and local historian Virginia Feld Johnson on the shipping history of the Great Lakes and Ahnapee (Algoma's former name).
Equipped with a working replica of a swivel gun, Desh also fired gun salutes from the top of the rise overlooking Crescent Beach, to the tall ships as they mustered off shore.
Children played beach games, raced rubber ducks and colored drawings in a play area on the beach. They also met the five-foot-tall, rubber Baby Duck and Coastie, a robotic cartoon boat from the Coast Guard that teaches boat safety. Also on the beach, Algoma Public Library held a maritime story time.
Sara Krouse, executive director of the Algoma chamber, said the chamber was very happy with the event and the turnout, which she said was comparable to attendance in 2016, the first time an event was organized around the ships' passing by Algoma. She also noted that one of the food tents, run by Algoma Long Term Care, sold out of its wares and the other, run by the Bruemmer Park Zoological Society, stayed open past its planned closing time to serve customers.
Krouse was especially happy with the number of people from outside the area who visited. She said she talked with one spectator from London who was in Wisconsin with other plans but changed them to visit Algoma when he learned about the event.
"A lot of people were enjoying the beach, we had a lot more kids participating this year," Krouse said. "We saw people from all over the state … a lot from Wisconsin Dells, a lot from the other side of the state. It just draws in so many people who appreciate the majesty of these ships."
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Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Tall ships off Algoma shore draw enthusiastic maritime fans