Twelve vintage vessels will sail up the Saginaw River to transform Bay City into a majestic place of historic wonder from July 14 – 17th, as the sixth Tall Ships Celebration returns, expecting to draw 100,000 people over the expanse of the four-day event. Ten ships will remain dockside and be available for touring, with Bay City’s own tall ships, Appledore IV and V providing sail away trips.
New to the event this year are El Galeón Andalucía, a 160 ft. replica of a 16th—17th century Spanish galleon; Draken Harald Hårfagre, a 115 ft. replica of a traditional Viking long boat; and When and If, an 83 ft. schooner built for General George S. Patton in 1939. With appearance fees ranging from $12,000 to $45,000, the cost to secure the 2016 fleet is expected to be approximately $215,000.
Returning vessels include the Pride of Baltimore II, a 157 ft. Baltimore clipper, and Madeline, a 95 ft. gaff topsail schooner from Traverse City, perennial favorites at every Bay City event since 2001. The Flagship Niagara is a 198 ft. brig from Erie, PA that appeared at the Bay City festival in 2006 and 2013; Denis Sullivan is a 137 ft. 3- masted schooner from Milwaukee, WI that appeared in 2010 and 2013, and Mist of Avalon is a 100 ft. 2-masted gaff schooner that hasn’t appeared since 2003.
The TALL SHIPS® CHALLENGE is a series of races and rallies produced annually by Tall Ships America, a non- profit membership organization based in Newport, Rhode Island. The event rotates among the east and west coast of the United States and the Great Lakes. Bay City hosts the Tall Ship Celebration when the fleet visits the Great Lakes; and Bay City has been the only official host port in the state of Michigan since 2006.
Shirley Roberts has been involved with Tall Ships since its inception 15 years ago; and at the time was sereving as Interim Director for the Bay County Convention & Visitors Bureau and was working with a group of people forming Baysail – an educational organization that operates its own tall ships.
“We heard about a national association bringing a felt of ships into the Great Lakes for port events and decided to apply as a host port,” she explains. “We had to pass a site inspection and ultimately were given approval to be a host port. It seemed a really good way to attract tourists interested in the historic nature of our community and specifically its maritime history, and now 2016 will mark our sixth celebration.”
When asked how difficult it can be to get some of these ships into port, Roberts says numerous challenges are involved. “In 2013 we actually dredged on the west side of the Saginaw River at Vets Park so that we could get the flag vessels into port; and for flag vessels that don’t have a Captain familiar with the Great Lakes, they need to take on a pilot. I’m told the pilot expense for one of those vessels this year is $200,000, and people don’t realize we have to pay the ships to come here. In this case we are negotiating ten different contracts with the vessels. Plus, this is a designated marine event of national significance for the Coast Guard in Washington, so for that reason we must adhere to a much stricter safety protocol and work with an alphabet soup of law enforcement agencies to make sure everybody is safe & secure.”
Given the sizable commitment from sponsors, volunteers, and everybody involved with the Tall Ships Celebration, the payoff is decidedly worthwhile. Roberts notes that at peak attendance years the economic impact is about $10.2 million for the three-and-a-half-day event.
“It’s really exciting & incredible to see the community come together around this celebration,” reflects Roberts. “If you look around town over the years you’ll see several murals that have been created on the exterior walls of buildings around town, especially in the downtown area; and the vast majority of them have a tall ship painted into the portrait, which I think is a good indication of how this celebration has become part of our identity in Bay City.”
When asked what she feels distinguishes Tall Ships from other festivals & celebrations throughout the region, Roberts points to the fact that this year Bay City’s celebration has won the coveted Port of the Year award from Tall Ships America three times, more than any other host community in all of North America.
“We’re certainly not the biggest community hosting this event, and there are a few that are smaller than Bay City, but I think the reason its so popular with visitors and ship owners and crews is because it makes sense here and is part of who we are,” states Roberts. “We built the largest sailing ships in the Great Lakes right here in Bay City, so it makes sense hosting this celebration. It’s a big deal for the community. You can go to Los Angeles or Boston and its just one more thing happening, but here in Bay City it’s everything.”
Ballads & Brews
Another significant component of the Tall Ships Celebration is Ballads & Brews, which features a unique genre of international maritime musicians and festivities. “Since the beginning of Tall Ships in 2001 we always featured maritime music and have recruited international musicians to perform for us during the festival,” explains Roberts, “and are very fortunate to have our own ‘shanty-song’ minstrels in the form of Jerry Casault and Hoolie. Jerry travels frequently to perform in European festivals, so gets to hear and meet a lot of these musicians. Consequently, he has become our music director and puts together a line-up for the groups we feature.”
During the golden age of sail, shanty songs coordinated the work of crew members aboard sailing ships, the steady beat of the music setting the pace of the work. Music has always been a big part of life aboard a working tall ship and so it is that music has always been a big part of Tall Ship Celebration. In addition to the twelve tall ships visiting Bay City, ten musicians or musical groups will travel from as far away as Poland to participate in the International Maritime Music Festival, an event within the event.
The day after the ships sail into Bay City, professional maritime musicians will take to two stages, one in Wenonah Park and one in Veterans Memorial Park, for non-stop performances during the festival from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. There is no additional cost to enjoy these world-class musicians. Once guests have paid the admission fee of $8.00 per day to enter the event grounds, most activities including the International Maritime Music Festival, are available at no additional charge.
Sponsorship from SC Johnson supports the appearance of participating musicians especially those traveling from Europe like Pod Waitr and Za Horyzontem from Poland, Harmony Glen from The Netherlands, Iarnród from Finland and Bernie Davis from England. Participating musicians from the US include Lee Murdock from Illinois and Bocca Musica, Roane, Whiskey and Water and Hoolie from Michigan.
When the festival closes at 5 PM on Friday – Sunday, July 15-17th, the more energetic musicians will migrate to the “The Quarterdeck” in Veterans Memorial Park for BALLADS AND BREWS. With their own brand of pirate rock, Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers will join Bocca Musica, Za Horyzontem and Harmony Glen for the evening celebration of shanty music and craft beer.
“We started Ballads & Brews in 2013 and decided to program it as a stand-alone event in the years Tall Ships is not happening, sort of as a placeholder and reminder not only of the celebration, but also because this music is so incredible and attracts so many people,” notes Roberts. “It’s a perfect compliment to the ships.”
BALLADS AND BREWS will be open 5:00 to 11:00 p.m on July 15 and 16 and 5:00 to 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 17. There will be a $5.00 per person coverage charge to enter.
Tickets for Tall Ship Celebration are currently on sale on-line at www.tallshipcelebration.com. Prices are $8.00 each for daily admission tickets and for Souvenir Passports which are required to board and tour the visiting tall ships. Prices rise to $10.00 each as of July 1, 2016. Tickets can also be purchased at all Kroger stores in Michigan for a one-dollar discount per ticket.
In conclusion, is there any particular year of the celebration that stands out the most for Roberts? “Every year we host this event there is something different or interesting or special, but I remember back in 2006 we hosted the training vessel of the Indian Navy; and having a government vessel in the fleet really caused us to pay attention to military protocol. But it was also an amazing cultural opportunity to spend time with the young cadets of the Indian Navy and introduce them to our people and community.”
Nine companies have signed on to join presenting sponsor Dow Corning Corporation as major ship sponsors. The Dow Chemical Company and FirstMerit Bank (also as Citizens Bank) have been ship sponsors for four previous events. MLive Media Group, St. Mary’s of Michigan and Independent Bank have each sponsored ships three times before. Wildfire Credit Union and Consumers Energy have sponsored ships twice before. McLaren Bay Regional Medical Center (as Bay Medical Center) was a ship sponsor once before in 2003. 2016 will be the first ship sponsor investment for Chemical Bank.
The Dow Corning Corporation has been a major sponsor three times previously and will be the presenting sponsor Tall Ship Celebration for the third time in 2016. Companies in the major ship sponsor category in 2016 have invested between $15,000 and $50,000,