The tall ship El Galeon, its wooden hull stained with streaks of dark brown and black and its sails flapping in the ocean breeze, sailed into Portland Harbor just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, bringing with it an opportunity for Mainers to step back in time.
A crowd of fishermen at the end of the Maine State Pier and several children on the Maine Wharf thought it looked like a pirate ship.
The El Galeon is actually a medium-sized reproduction of a 16th-century Spanish merchant ship. Spanish galleons were used primarily to carry cargo between Europe and the Americas, but were sometimes captured and converted into pirate ships in waters around the Carribean, according to the El Galeon’s website.
Matty Oakes, spokesman for the Spanish cargo vessel replica, said the ship passed its Coast Guard inspection Wednesday morning. About 200 people visited the ship on Wednesday, according to Oakes. The El Galeon will be open for public tours on a daily basis from 11 a.m. through 7 p.m. It will remain at the Maine Wharf, a privately owned wharf behind the Ri Ra Irish Pub and Restaurant on Commercial Street, until it departs June 13 for a tour of the Great Lakes.
According to the ship’s website, the tours are self-guided. Once aboard, visitors are free to roam above and below the five decks, talk to crew members, and absorb dozens of interactive exhibits, videos, historical documents and displays.
“Our mission is to get as many people on board as possible so they can experience that trip back in time,” said Ulises Custodio, the El Galeon’s manager.
The ship spends winters in St. Augustine, Florida, and sails to destinations all over the country during the milder months. It is owned by the Nao Victoria Foundation.
It last visited Portland in July 2015 for the Tall Ships Challenge. It was one of 13 tall ships to make the trip, and one of the most talked-about vessels. Organizers estimate that more than 65,000 people toured a ship or watched the vessels from shore during the event. A parade of sail on July 18 stretched out single file for more than 2 nautical miles.
“We were formed to bring the tall ships to Portland last year,” said Matty Oates, the program director for Tall Ships Portland. “We decided to keep going with that mission.”
WELCOMING CEREMONY SET FOR TODAY
Although the El Galeon is the only tall ship in port for now, Oates said the hope is that in the near future, Tall Ships Portland, a nonprofit that’s a chapter of Tall Ships America, will coordinate another tall ships event.
“We’d love to see another tall ships festival come to Portland,” Oates said.
Once the El Galeon passes the Coast Guard inspection, the public will be able to visit the vessel daily between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Admission costs $10 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-13. Children younger than 5 can board for free. Oates said more than 1,000 fifth-graders will be allowed to tour the ship before public tours start, thanks to one of the vessel’s sponsors, the Portland Press Herald/MaineToday Media.
Other corporate sponsors are SingleSource Staffing Services, Shipyard Brewing, Allen Insurance, the Maine Wharf, Waterfront Concerts and Leavitt & Parris.
The El Galeon was originally scheduled to reach Portland Harbor around noon Tuesday, but Tall Ships Portland said bad weather along the East Coast south of Portland held it up. The El Galeon arrived with a crew of 20. Most of the crew members, including the captain, are Spanish.
The city’s welcoming ceremony, including an address from Mayor Ethan Strimling, had to be rescheduled to 5 p.m. Wednesday.
‘LOOKS LIKE A REAL PIRATE SHIP’
Despite the delay, several people who watched the ship sail into Portland Harbor seemed thrilled by its arrival.
“It’s great. We saw the ship that last time it came into the harbor,” said Krista Southall of South Portland.
She said she followed the El Galeon in her own boat from a marina in South Portland to the Maine Wharf. Southall said a large crowd gathered Tuesday evening at Bug Light Park in South Portland to watch as the ship sailed past the lighthouse.
Her son, 8-year-old Soren Southall, was disappointed because he wanted the crew to fire the ship’s cannons.
“It looks like a real pirate ship,” said 5-year-old Jasper Forgit of Portland, excitement in his voice. “I can see the cannon covers and the rope (that raises the covers).”
Jasper’s mother, Dory Forgit, said she was driving to the Eastern Promenade to have a picnic with her son and daughter, Isla, when she saw the tall ship near Fort Gorges. She turned around and headed back to the waterfront.
“I think it’s pretty awesome that it’s here,” she said. “We tried to see the ship last year but the lines were too long.”
Oates said Tall Ships Portland is offering 50 teenagers the opportunity to spend a week on another ship.
The two-masted brigantine Fritha, berthed in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, is scheduled to arrive in Portland on June 24. Youths age 13 to 18 can apply for spots on the Fritha by going to www.sailingshipsportland.org.