By Andrew Rudansky
At the height of Sag Harbor’s whaling industry in the 1830’s, the waters surrounding the village were filled with massive wooden vessels. Within the state of New York, only the port of New York City was bigger in terms of ship traffic. Now, over 150 years later, several groups are planning to bring these boats back, establishing the village, once more, as a port of entry for the hundreds of tall ships sailing around the globe.
This Sunday, May 23, over four dozen people congregated in the dining room of the American Hotel to hear a presentation on the most recent efforts to return these wooden ships to Sag Harbor. Representatives of Operation Sail (OpSail) were on hand detailing a plan to add Sag Harbor to a list of prominent East Coast ports that would host visiting tall ships during the 2012 OpSail Bicentennial celebration of the war of 1812. OpSail is a non-profit organization established in 1961; its stated main purpose is to promote goodwill towards foreign nations and promote education in sailing. The group has partnered with the U.S. Navy to hold tall ship events across America for almost 50 years.
Christopher O’Brien, Executive Director of OpSail and North Haven resident, detailed the tentative plans for the celebration. They would begin on Memorial Day in New York Harbor and travel up and down the east coast ending on the Fourth of July in Boston Harbor. Other cities where events are planned include Washington D.C. and Baltimore.
O’Brien said, “Typically what happens, is there are rally points, and not every tall ship will participate in every event.” Sag Harbor would act as one of these rallying points, a meeting place for tall ships before they head to one of the major events at the larger cities. O’Brien was quick to point out that all plans were tentative and subject to change.
During the presentation O’Brien outlined the benefits for Sag Harbor if they joined the list of available ports for the event, noting the educational benefits for children, and the commercial benefits the village would receive from an increase in tourism.
“These are public events, they are free events,” said O’Brien. He said that participating in the 2012 OpSail event would open up Sag Harbor to the tall ship community, a niche but growing group.
The reaction at the presentation was largely positive. Many in the audience expressed the desire to create an exploratory committee to further research the planning necessary for these visiting tall ships.
Also in attendance at the meeting were crewmembers of the Baltimore Privateer Lynx, a tall ship that that was in port from Friday, May 21 till Monday, May 24. The wooden ship, built in 2001, is a close replica to a historic tall ship, also named the Lynx, that fought in the War of 1812. The current Lynx, owned by the not-for-profit group the Lynx Education Foundation, is an educational vessel which teaches children about America’s involvement in the War of 1812, giving people the opportunity to experience life at sea. Jamie Trost, Captain of the Lynx, spoke to the audience in full historical regalia, giving them a quick history lesson on what he calls “a very forgotten conflict in the history of America.”
Trost, speaking for the Lynx Educational Foundation, was fully supportive of the idea of turning Sag Harbor into a tall ship destination, and plans to sail back to Sag Harbor in September. The Lynx is currently on its way to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the ship’s port of registry. From there the Lynx will head up to the Great Lakes and meet with 40 other tall ships from around the world to participate in the Tall Ships Challenge 2010 race series.
The Lynx is the second all ship in two years that has docked in Sag Harbor. Last summer the British tall ship Jolie Brise and her crew visited Sag Harbor while they were competing in the Tall Ships Transatlantic Challenge 2009.
Both ships were brought to Sag Harbor thanks in part to local tall ship enthusiast Alan Rice. Rice is firmly behind the OpSail proposal. He is especially interested in the educational benefits of having, what he calls, “living history” sail right up to students. He agrees with O’Brien that the addition of the tall ships to Sag Harbor would also draw in tourism dollars by “enhancing the character of the town.”
Rice says that the plan to fill Sag Harbor with tall ships is, “an old man’s dream.” With recent developments unfolding the way they are, this dream is inching closer to reality.