Getting the tall ships here is a tall order

Norway’s Sorlandet
Sail Training International
Norway’s Sorlandet

It’s not something you see everyday, or even every year, but on June 17, 52 tall ships will sail past Castle Island, continue up to Charlestown, and then turn around to sail into Boston’s seaport.

In formations of five or seven ships, these magnificent flotillas will make up Sail Boston’s first Grand Parade of Sail since 2000, and include tall ships from all over the world. Not surprisingly, getting 52 massive ships in one place takes immense preparation — and even a little pleading.

“To gather this many tall ships together takes from four to six years of planning, pleading, and negotiating with embassies and academies all over the world,” says Dusty Rhodes, executive director of Sail Boston 2017, which runs June 17-22. “It’s not like there’s an NCAA of tall ships: in the world of tall ships, there is no governing body. They are like cats: You have to catch their attention and then coax them to come to you.”


Sail Boston’s last event in 2009 brought 38 tall ships into the harbor, but because of a lack of public financing, there was no parade. “The city has to be behind an event like this,” says Rhodes. Clearly, this year, it is. Visitor spending for hotels, restaurants, etc., according to event organizers, is expected to bring $120 million into the city.

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Once the parade is over, the ships dock until the following Thursday, allowing the public on board to tour, and giving the crews a rest. And they will need one, because when they depart Thursday, many of the ships will continue on the next leg of the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta to Canada. (There is a tracking app that allows sailing fans to follow the progress of the race in real time. For details, visit www.sailboston

While not all of the ships in the parade are competing in the whole of the regatta, all the ships on the Bermuda-to-Boston leg are in the parade.

The oldest ship in the parade, the Europa from the Netherlands, was built in 1911; the youngest, Union from Peru, was built in 2014. The crews range from 16-year-olds to “old salts of 65 years,” says Rhodes.

“Some live on their boats year-round. Most of the ships are sail training, or floating classrooms basically. These programs teach teamwork and humility, life skills and sailing skills. There’s a tremendous camaraderie that builds when you are working elbow to elbow. That is at the heart of Sail Boston, really.”


Some ships in the regatta, such as the Esmeralda from Chile, are naval vessels and therefore “the crème de la crème,” says Rhodes. “They have the highest standards, highest discipline, and are also highly colorful, I must add.”

In April, the oldest full-rigged ship in operation in the world, Norway’s Sorlandet, sailed into Boston Harbor. In mid-March, the Mexican tall ship Cuauhtémoc paid a five-day port of call. But a single ship can’t compare to the Grand Parade of Sail’s spectacular array from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 17. The parade is free to view from public locations, but tickets are available to watch from a grandstand on the Seaport’s Fish Pier ($125), including entertainment. To see the flotillas pass by Castle Island, Rhodes suggests being there by 10 a.m., after which they wind their way up to Charlestown and then into the harbor, where the docked ships have free open houses. The parade will take more than two hours to complete.

This year, Boston is the only US port on the race route, chosen because of the seaport’s geography.

“Boston has earned a reputation around the world as a very hospitable port,” she says. “The vessels are berthed right downtown. The captains and crews can integrate right into the city. In places like Miami or Philadelphia, they can’t do that. They dock in more industrial areas. We had our first event in 1992. Those young crew members are now admirals, and they remember what a good time they had here.”

Linda Laban can be reached at