On the opening day of Boston’s tall ship festival, nautical crews at the Fish Pier couldn’t help but exhibit a little friendly competition.
The Indonesian barquentine had the most ornate upper deck, intricate patterns carved into the wood; the Ecuador steel-hulled barque had the longest line for visitors to board; Brazil’s Cisne Branco blasted the loudest music, colorful pop hits from the ship’s home country.
And the ARC Gloria of Colombia has its vast flag billowing in the wind — the largest flag on any tall ship in the world, said its lieutenant commander, Andres Avella.
“There are other tall ships that try to make their flags similar, but they look sort of bad-looking and tired,” said Avella, cracking a smile as he gestured at his neighbors in the Fish Pier. “Our flag, it is as big as our Colombian hearts.”
Tall ships from around the world gathered in Boston Saturday to kick off OpSail Boston 2012, a festival that brings thousands of people to the city’s waterfront to step foot on the world-renowned vessels through Thursday.
As early as 8 a.m., festival-goers gathered at Castle Island to watch the vessels glide by as they made their way to dock. Festivities during the day included sites focused around Boston Harbor: the Fish Pier, in the North End, and in the Charleston Navy Yard. Many spent the day craning their necks to gaze at intricate rigging, pointing at ship crews stepping nimbly on nautical ladders, and taking iPhone photos at each ship’s glossy wheel.
William G. Armstrong Jr., spokesman for Operation Ship Inc., a nonprofit that hosts tall ship events throughout the country, said Saturday that the organization does not keep estimates on how many people they expect to board the tall ships during its six days in Beantown. But, he said, they anticipate the number of visitors will soar.
“I’ve been on this tour with OpSail since April,” Armstrong said. “And I’ll tell you, the enthusiasm and friendliness of the crowds we’ve seen coming to the ships in Boston today were better than we’ve seen anywhere else.”
Eileen Bostwick of Waltham and her daughter, Samantha, 27, arrived at the Fish Pier right as the festival began. “We were here right from the beginning,” Eileen Bostwick said. “It was quite an impressive sight to see the ships pull in.”
For Jeanne and Joe Kleinberg of Plymouth, it was their first time at a Boston tall ship festival. Walking alongside Ecuador’s BAE Guayas, Joe Kleinberg said he was intrigued to get an inside look at ships hailing from ports around the world. But his favorite ship of the day, he said, was a local breed. “The USS Constitution,” Kleinberg said, “of course.”
At the Charlestown Navy Yard, Millie Sutton of Jefferson City, Mo., could barely contain her excitement. Old Ironsides was a prime stop on her itinerary. “It’s the oldest — I had to see it,” Sutton said.
For the Douglas family of Indianapolis, the tall ship festival was the last stop on a road trip centered around the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The visit to Boston Harbor was quite a treat for the family from a landlocked state. “There’s something about being by the water that’s a little awe-inspring,” said Kelly Douglas.
Her sentiments were echoed throughout the day. “There’s something magnificent about these ships — really regal,” said Elizabeth Martin, 35, of Acton.
“They’ve kind of got the romance of a bygone era,” said her husband, Craig Martin.
The couple has had a lifelong passion for tall ships — Elizabeth spent two weeks sailing on one in college. Craig proposed to her on a tall ship in Charleston. They had their rehearsal dinner on a tall ship. Now, their 3-month-old son, Alexander, was experiencing his first tall ship. “He’s really taking it all in,” said Elizabeth Martin, looking down at the infant, who was snoozing peacefully in the baby carrier on her chest.
Martine Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.