Every few years, the Tall Ships come to Toronto and this year’s Redpath Waterfront Festival starts with the arrival of the Tall Ship fleet on Wednesday, June 19 and continues through their departure on Sunday, June 23 with the 4 pm Parade of Sail along Harbourfront. Ship visits and deck tours start on Thursday, June 20. There’s nothing quite so magnificent as a tall ship under sail. I love the names of some of their more exotic sails: staysail, topgallant, maintopsail, mizzensail, spanker. On a three-masted square-rigged tall ship there are 21 sails one can name. My little boat has four. Easier to handle too.
Back in the summer of 2010, our Toronto Island-based yacht club was asked to host one of the beautiful sailing ships coming into dock along Queen’s Quay for that year’s Tall Ships Festival. The Dutch-owned Europa was the lead ship in the fleet and venue for the opening ceremonies, so as one of the volunteers we had a chance to dress up and go aboard. Diane and I both have love affairs with tall ships.
Diane sailed on Europa from Bermuda to Norfolk, Virginia, with her Dutch godson several years ago and was looking forward to seeing the boat again. Diane related stories of how Europa’s cheap captain brought out the same old tired cheese for breakfast each morning and refused to run the generator to run the desalinator to make fresh water for showers. Apparently he’s long gone, but they still run what was called in the Royal Navy, a tight ship. Apart from the cheese and lack of showers, I think she really enjoyed the experience.
The vessel our club volunteered to assist was the Boston and U.S. Virgin Island-based schooner Roseway, home to the World Ocean School since 2005. Launched in Massachusetts in 1925, she is one of only six original Grand Banks schooners left afloat, and the only one specifically designed to compete with the Nova Scotians in the international fishing vessel races, which also featured our own Canadian Bluenose. She’s had a colourful history including serving as a pilot boat during WW II.
Watching her sail into Toronto harbour on a sunny late June afternoon, I got a catch in my throat. As she tacked with the Pride of Baltimore II, her immense boom swung over, her red sails filled with wind on her new course and she came closer to her Harbourfront berth. The sails were handily doused and it was clear that her crew of professional sailors and volunteer students had learned their craft. On board we enjoyed meeting the captain and first mate, helped them with crowd control and other chores, ran a departing crew member out to the airport to catch an early flight home, and generally made ourselves useful. On the departure sail past we watched the fleet come out of the harbour, with full suits of sail rigged, from my own boat. It was an awe inspiring sight and as I helmed my 27 foot sloop alongside Roseway’s 137 foot length, we felt truly dwarfed. But we managed to keep up for a while until the traffic got too hairy and we tacked away.
Toronto harbour has its own resident fleet of tall ships. Kajama is a 164 foot three-masted gaff-rigged schooner, built in Germany in 1930 and refitted in 2000, Empire Sandy is a 200 foot three-masted tern schooner, built in the UK in 1943 and refitted in the 1980s, and Challenge is a 96 foot three-masted schooner.
Two training vessels make Toronto their home, although they are often out and about in the Great Lakes. The sail training vessel (STV) Pathfinder is a 72 foot two-masted square-rigged Canadian built brigantine launched in 1963. The training ship (TS) Playfair is a 72 foot two-masted square-rigged Canadian built brigantine launched in 1974.
I’ve been communicating with Captain Stefan Edick, whose ship we have been chosen to assist during this year’s visit. They’ve had a tough voyage through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, but they are on their way.
Privateer Lynx is a Baltimore Schooner, square top-sail rigged and 122 feet long. Custom built from wood in Rockport, Maine, and launched in 2001, she is a replica of the War of 1812 privateer of the same name. Her visit to Toronto coincides with many of the ceremonies surrounding that historic conflict with our neighbours to the south, which included the destruction of Fort York in Toronto and the retaliatory burning of the White House in Washington. I’m not sure how welcome a Canadian-Brit will be on board, but we will overcome history and hold out a welcoming hand. The crew wear period uniforms. Lynx will be berthed at Harbour Square Park along with other period vessels and that’s where our Harbour City Yacht Club volunteers will be on hand to help out.
Lynx is also fully equipped with period weaponry, including authentic and functioning carronade and swivel guns, muskets, pistols, cutlasses and more. During the official opening ceremonies starting at 6:45 pm on Thursday, June 20, Lynx will sail past HTO Park and I expect she will fire her guns, though that hasn’t been announced. This is the ship to see, so come on down and visit.
PS: Please leave a comment and share your visit to a tall ship.