Robin Hill and her son, Joshua, were the third and fourth people to line up outside the gate to board the U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle, settling in at about 8:30 a.m. Sunday for a 90-minute wait to board the 295-foot ship.
Hill said the wait was well worth it. Her father, William Barringer, trained on the ship as a Coast Guard cadet soon after the vessel was confiscated as a war prize from Germany after World War II.
“I am here to walk in my father’s footsteps,” said Hill.
The Hills, of Scarborough, were among thousands of people who thronged Portland’s waterfront for the Tall Ships Portland 2015 festival Sunday. The Hills managed to tour a ship before a rainstorm hit about 12:45 p.m. and the long lines temporarily disappeared as people took cover under awnings and doorways.
The 13 tall ships sailed in parade Saturday from Portland Head Light into Portland Harbor, where they were open for tours Sunday and will be again on Monday.
The Hills’ connection to the Eagle earned them a private tour. For the next hour or so the two were led around by 3rd Class Cadet Emily Cox of Topsham, who is in her second year at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The Hills even got to meet Capt. Matthew Meilstrup.
“This is awesome,” said Hill, snapping away with her camera phone so she could send photos to her father, 88, who lives in Arizona.
Cox has been on the ship for the past five weeks, learning all about sailing the high seas and the Eagle’s history. The ship, originally called the Horst Wessel after a Nazi leader, was a training vessel for German sailors before it was retrofitted for war duty.
Cox spends her days climbing more than a hundred feet up into the rigging to help with the sails and picking up nautical terms, such as midrats, short for midnight rations, the meal served to those on night duty. Night duty is coveted by many cadets because you can sleep late, Cox told the Hills.
The Hills learned that the fuzzy clumps that look like Spanish moss hanging from the rigging are called baggywrinkle, which protect the sails from chafing against the rigging.
The ship is manned by about 120 Coast Guard cadets, 13 U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen, 20 officers and 50 crew members. The Eagle is equipped with 5 miles of rigging and 20,000 square feet of sail.
It takes the entire crew about an hour to polish the brass and spiff up the ship.
“We play music and have a good time. It goes quickly,” Cox said.
Sunday started with a thick layer of fog over the water and parts of the city, but as temperatures rose into the 70s, some of that fog began to dissipate as the gates to the festival were about to open to the general public.
The parade of tall ships through Casco Bay on Saturday afternoon for Tall Ships Portland 2015 was watched by tens of thousands of people who gathered on waterfronts throughout the area. The featured vessels and hundreds of smaller ships at their sides went out on the water and traveled one after another from Cape Elizabeth around Cushing Island and past the iconic Portland Head Light and scenic lighthouses on the South Portland shores into the busy city harbor.
The line to board the Eagle started to form around 8 a.m. Sunday. The three-masted vessel was one of the top attractions and easily recognizable with its white steel hull painted with the red, white and blue stripes on the U.S. Coast Guard logo.
Brenda and Gary Pelleran of Ascutney, Vermont, were first in line to tour the Eagle. By 9:30 a.m., about 200 other people had lined up behind them. The Pellerans said they traveled more than three hours to Portland to see the ships.
“My priority was to see the Eagle. It was the largest, and it was a military ship,” Brenda Pelleran said.
Other vessels were tied up for boarding. There was music and food as well. Numerous other activities, attractions, arts, crafts and exhibits were available on the Maine State Pier and adjacent piers and wharves.
The line to board the Picton Castle, the Alert and the Fritha was the shortest as things got underway Sunday morning. The three ships were tied up, end to end, alongside Maine Wharf. Though the line was the shortest, it extended the entire length of the wharf and wrapped onto Commercial Street.
Jordan Warsky of Scarborough and his 5-year-old son, Miles, were among the first wave of people to tour the Picton Castle.
Warsky said he and Miles approached the ship by land while his wife, Kelly, and 11-year-old son, Jack, approached by water on stand-up paddle boards.
“They just went by. We were able to wave to them and take pictures,” Warsky said after hoisting Miles into his arms. “We started here because the line was shortest.”
Miles said he really liked all the hide-and-seek possibilities below deck.
“It was good,” Miles said, looking to his father for help answering questions.
“We just love the masts and all the rigging and all the little hiding spots and nooks and crannies, all the stairs and doors,” Warsky said. “We are local, from Scarborough. We couldn’t miss it.”
As Warsky and his son left to get a cold drink as the morning temperatures rose, others stood in line waiting for their chance to board the ships.
Randy and Melissa Fearon of Whitman, Massachusetts, stood about midway up the wharf around 10:30, with a wait of about 15 minutes to go.
The Fearons used to live in Portland and saw the tall ships festival as a great opportunity to visit their former home for the weekend.
“I think the appeal, especially in the Portland harbor, is it brings back nostalgia of what it would have been like in the past,” Randy Fearon said.
“It really is bringing back the waterfront feel,” Melissa Fearon said.
By 11 a.m. the line to get onto the Port Ocean was the longest, with more than 600 people, and extended down Thames Street beyond view from the terminal.
At the back of the line, Sean and Taylor Tipton of Scarborough had just arrived with their sons, 11-year-old Aiden standing beside his father and 1-year-old Connor in a stroller pushed by his mother.
“It’s a little deceiving because it didn’t look that long,” Sean Tipton said of the line. “I just thought it would be a great thing for the kids to see.”
The festival will resume from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday. Tickets are $15 for the day. The ships are scheduled to depart Tuesday morning.
This weekend was the first time since 2000 that the tall ships came to Portland. They are not expected to return until 2017 at the earliest, the festival organizers said.
About 100,000 people are expected to attend by the festival’s end. This year’s event will cost $500,000, covered by ticket sales to the festival, which is being run by a nonprofit called Sailing Ships Portland.