Wednesday, October 7, 2009
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — It's the last port of call for the majestic tall ships heading up the East Coast. Perhaps, then, it's time for someone to explain.
What the heck is a tall ship, anyway? Some people say it's a square-rigged sailing vessel, while others say it's any large sailing vessel, regardless of rigging. Some say simply that you'll know it when you see the masts on the horizon.
``If it looks like a tall ship, it is a tall ship,'' said retired Coast Guard Rear Adm. Richard Rybacki, president of OpSail Maine 2000.
Through the summer, the fleet of tall ships sailing into harbors for OpSail 2000 have included a variety of brigs, brigantines, schooners, sloops, ketches, yawls, barques and barquentines. Some of the vessels have parted ways, but the remainder — more than 20 tall ships — are participating in the final Parade of Sail in Portland Harbor on Friday.
Some old salts, especially the purists, say that only a few of those vessels are actually ``tall ships.'' Technically, a ``ship'' is a vessel with three masts and square rigging, or sails, said David Blanchard, editor of the Nautical Research Journal in Camden, Maine.
The 356-foot Libertad, an Argentine vessel that's the largest to visit Portland, is definitely a ship (and with a rig of about 190 feet, it's also tall by most people's definition). But the 125-foot-long Spirit of Massachusetts is just a schooner, for example.
By Blanchard's definition, there are at least three tall ships and more smaller vessels in Maine's Parade of Sail. Regardless, ``tall ship'' is not a true nautical term, he said.
``A tall ship is a meaningless term for people who are serious students of ship history,'' Blanchard insisted.
Many people believe it is a generic label thought up by landlubbers to give the vessels marketing cache.
``Tall ship, that's another Madison Avenue term. There's no such thing,'' said Kip Files, captain of the 170-foot, three-masted Victory Chimes, which takes people on excursions off the Maine coast.
Others have more romantic recollections of the term's origin. They can thank British poet laureate John Masefield, according to many nautical historians. Margherita Desy, curator of the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, said Masefield coined the term in his 1902 poem ``Sea Fever,'' about his longing for the ocean:
``I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by ... ''
Some accept the term to mean an important ship with large sails and tall masts. ``It's a term like calling a person a VIP,'' said Peter Stanford, president of the National Maritime Historical Society in Peekskill, N.Y.
``A tall ship is a big sailing ship of traditional design, the kind of ship that opened the whole world to human intercourse and brought the divided branches of mankind together,'' he said. ``So it's a pretty important heritage.''