NEWBURYPORT — The city’s bygone seafaring days are back.
Tall ship El Galeon, a replica of the 16th-century Spanish merchant ship, will sail to historic Newburyport a couple of days before Memorial Day weekend — and the city will celebrate with formal cocktail parties, ship tours, and pirate-themed events and activities, including a children’s pirate party on Monday morning.
Ships are nothing new to Newburyport. The US Coast Guard was born here 101 years ago, and when you drive down High Street, you’ll admire the many stately former captain’s homes — and their widows’ walks. The town’s maritime legacy is kept very much alive, thanks especially to the Custom House Maritime Museum, which sits squarely in town.
“This is the inaugural year of Newburyport Maritime Days, an annual event conceived by the Custom House Maritime Museum with the mission of bringing a tall ship to Newburyport every summer,” says Ken Jackman, incoming chair of the museum’s board of directors.
El Galeon is scheduled to arrive in Newburyport on May 25, just before 3 in the afternoon. “The vessel will make the approach through the mouth of the [Merrimack] river at the peak of high tide and sail up the river toward downtown Newburyport,” says Jackman. “Views from the tip of Plum Island Beach will be best during the initial approach, and the ship will be visible from the dock during its approach coming up the river, a journey that could take between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on conditions.” (Plum Island is about a 10-minute drive from town. You can park at the Newburyport beach lot.) Plan a picnic to celebrate the ship’s grand entrance — on the way to the beach on Plum Island Turnpike, you can grab a lobster roll or fried clams to go at Bob Lobster (www.boblobster.com) or Plum Island Provisions (www.plumislandprovisions.com).
El Galeon will spend the holiday weekend docked directly behind the Custom House Maritime Museum and can be best viewed from the Newburyport boardwalk in Market Square. “Once the ship is docked in town, it will tower over the boardwalk, so the views along the boardwalk will be stunning,” says Jackman. “Because the vessel is even taller than it is long, the masts and rigging will be visible from State Street and many areas throughout the city. In many ways, this will be most incredible.”
There are many spots along the boardwalk, as well as swaths of green lawn, to picnic with the ship’s masts in view. Visit Middle Street Foods café, a quick walk from the action, and order a Spanish-themed meal, like the Bocadillo sandwich, aptly named the El Galeon (smoked ham, manchego cheese, housemade pickled peppers and olive oil on housemade French bread). Or, go for the Sopa Marinera (Sailors Soup) — tomato-based soup with leeks, shrimp, fish, and saffron. (Closed Sunday and Monday). www.middlestreetfoods.com
Other Newburyport restaurants will also honor El Galeon. Ceia Kitchen and Bar (www.ceiakitchenbar.com) and Brine (www.brineoyster.com) restaurants, both on State Street, will serve Jorge Ordonez wines, as well as a signature cocktail made from locally distilled Privateer rum. And, Anchor Stone Deck Pizza (www.anchorpizzeria.com) will dish out an El Galeon Spanish pizza.
Newburyport will also hold its 35th annual Spring Fest on Sunday and Monday of Memorial Day weekend, including a juried arts and craft fair, kiddie entertainment, music, and food. A carnival will take place Sunday (rain date Monday) with rides, bounce house, pony rides, a beer tent, and music.
“With El Galeon and the Springfest and Carnival, Newburyport will be busy Memorial Day weekend,” says Ann Ormond, president, Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry. To accommodate visitors, there will be satellite parking and a free shuttle on Sunday, says Ormond. For more information, visit www.newburyportchamber.org.
For more information on El Galeon’s visit and to purchase tickets to the events and tours, visit www.customhousemaritimemuseum.org. All proceeds will support the museum.