Over the next few days, a parade of tall ships arriving in Portland will give visitors a little taste of maritime – and world – history.

One ship built in 1921 made 26 voyages to explore the Arctic. Another, a German training ship, was part of Germany’s reparations to the United States after World War II. A third replicates a 16th century Spanish galleon, the type that would have brought spices and textiles from China or molasses, tobacco and cotton from the New World to Europe.

The 12 tall ships – some original, some replicas – will arrive in Portland over the next few days for the Tall Ships Portland Festival this weekend, the first tall ships event in Portland since 2000.

The event will add another chapter to Portland’s nearly 400 years of maritime history, which dates to when the British established a fishing and trading settlement on the peninsula in the 1630s. The city later became a hub for the shipping industry, and was the site of a Civil War battle, the Battle of Portland Harbor in 1863.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Fritha, a wooden brigantine adorned with the image of an eagle along its stern, was the first of the ships to arrive in advance of the festival, which is expected to draw 100,000 people.

The Fritha – a white, 74-foot-long New Zealand-built ship now stationed in Fairhaven, Massachusetts – is one of the smallest of the ships that will sail by the Portland waterfront, but also one of the most unusual.


The Fritha was built in the 1980s using wood from kauri trees, an ancient evergreen native to New Zealand, before government restrictions were put in place on harvesting the wood, which is known for its strength and durability.

“This is truly the last of its kind,” said Morgan Dawicki, 19, the ship’s boatswain.

Hover over ship icons to see photos of the vessels.

The tall ships include four “Class A” ships that are more than 131 feet long: the Eagle, the Perry, Picton Castle and El Galeon.

The El Galeon, the first Class A ship scheduled to arrive in Portland on Thursday, is a 170-foot Spanish replica of the galleon-class sailing ships of the late 16th century. It will arrive sometime in late afternoon and tie up at the Maine State Pier.

The Parade of Ships will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday, with the festival Sunday and Monday. Tickets for the festival, which will include live music, food and tours of the ships, cost $15.


“It’s always a thrill, always a great show,” said Bob Glover, captain of the Fritha and a faculty member at the Northeast Maritime Institute, a maritime training academy in Fairhaven.

“We wanted to get here early, enjoy Maine for a while, and sail around the Casco Bay,” Glover said. Four Maine students earned scholarships through the tall ships event and were part of the crew that sailed from Massachusetts to Portland.

The Fritha is used as a training ship. One of its most memorable sessions involved Israeli and Palestinian students, who learned to sail and get along in spite of the history of animosity between their cultures. The Israeli-Palestinian program lasted a few years in the late 2000s.

“This ship is all about bringing people together,” Dawicki said.

The institute is the third owner of the ship, and the Fritha has likely never been in a tall ships parade.

“Because of how much work we put into this ship, it’s sort of a pride and ego thing. We want to show her off to the public,” Dawicki said.


Alex Agnew, president of Sailing Ships Portland, the nonprofit that organized the event, said he doesn’t know how many people will attend the festival, but his group is hoping to sell 30,000 festival tickets. More people are expected to watch the Saturday parade for free.

“It’s anybody’s guess,” Agnew said. “We have people buying tickets from 30 states so far.”

Agnew said the idea arose last year when his friend, Bart Dunbar, chairman of the Newport, Rhode Island-based tall ship the Oliver Hazard Perry, wanted to sail the tall ship to Portland this summer.

Agnew said he immediately thought it would be a good idea to organize a tall ships festival for 2015, to complement the Oliver Hazard Perry’s plans. He started the Sailing Ships Portland nonprofit and went to the Tall Ships America conference in Philadelphia in February to see if he could drum up interest.

“I told people, ‘We don’t have a dime yet, our prospects are uncertain.’ We still had four Class A ships commit in an hour,” Agnew said. “They wanted to come to Portland. We’ve created a national event in record time.”

Agnew said the event will be similar to national tall ships events held in big cities like Philadelphia. He said if it’s a success, they will try for another festival in 2017, and maybe every three years or so.


The event will cost about $500,000, and Agnew said the Sailing Ships Portland nonprofit will pay the entire cost of the festival, through sponsorships and ticket sales. If they earn a surplus, it will go toward reserves for future tall ships events and for scholarship programs to get students interested in sailing.

Christopher Fogg, chief executive officer of the Maine Tourism Association, said the tall ships event will bring a “different crowd” of boating enthusiasts to Maine, but it’s also something everyone can enjoy.

“I think it’s really impactful because it draws a specific group of people and it’s a great spectacle for the locals to enjoy as well,” Fogg said.

The festival begins with the Parade of Sail on Saturday at 1 p.m. and continues through 6 p.m. Monday. For more information, go to: tallshipsportland.com.

Comments are no longer available on this story