DULUTH, Minn. - When a line of tall ships make their way through the Duluth ship canal on Thursday, it will be the culmination of years of planning - and a lot of communication among the ships' crews.

The Parade of Sail - when the nine tall ships scheduled to be part of Tall Ships Duluth make their grand entrance into the harbor - is "always a great, big coordination event" in which the ships' crews work together to put on a good show for the spectators, said Capt. Jan Miles, who leads the 19th-century Baltimore clipper replica Pride of Baltimore II.

In addition to dealing with the complexities faced by any ship steering into the canal, wind speed can affect whether the tall ships can put on a dramatic show with all their sails unfurled in the wind.

Hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected in Duluth for the festival that runs from Thursday through next Sunday - drawn by the beauty and mystique of the tall ships.

"There's very little that competes with the inherent beauty of sailing vessels sailing, and the older vessels are even more evocative of that attraction to 'Wow, how did that work?,'" Miles said. "There's a beauty, there's a symmetry and all that comes together."

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

The Pride of Baltimore II will be a familiar sight when it sails into Duluth on the first day of the festival, having previously been in Duluth four times since 2008 - most recently for the previous tall ships festival in Duluth, in 2013.

Although Miles' co-captain, Jordan Smith, will be steering the clipper in this year's Parade of Sail, Miles has sailed the Pride of Baltimore II into Duluth during previous tall ships festivals.

"The shores are lined with people and Duluth is particularly special with their enthusiasm. All the Great Lakes ports are enthusiastic, but I think Duluth is significantly passionate about the vessels visiting," Miles said.

Tall Ships Duluth executive producer Craig Samborski said he expects the inaugural visit of El Galeón Andalucía, a replica of a Spanish galleon, to make a splash with spectators in Duluth, after he saw it earlier this month at a tall ships festival in Green Bay.

"It's just a stellar, stunning, cool ship. I'm really excited to see the crowd's reaction when the ship pulls (under) the Aerial Lift Bridge. It is just spectacular to look at," Samborski said.

In addition to El Galeón Andalucía and Pride of Baltimore II, seven other ships are scheduled to take part in this year's Tall Ships Duluth:

- U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of a War of 1812 vessel that was among the nine-ship fleet that defeated the British squadron in the Battle of Lake Erie.

- Mist of Avalon, a replica of a 19th century Grand Banks schooner.

- When and If, Gen. George S. Patton's personal schooner.

- S/V Denis Sullivan, a replica of a 19th century Great Lakes schooner.

- Appledore V, a gaff-rigged topsail schooner.

- Zeeto, a replica of an 1850s fishing schooner.

- Abbey Road, a modern-day schooner used to teach sailing to kids.

In addition to tall ships, the World's Largest Rubber Duck - a 61-foot-tall inflatable creation - will be part of the festival. The rubber duck is expected to bring in visitors who haven't previously attended a tall ships festival in Duluth, Samborski said.

"The duck brings in an audience that doesn't normally come to a tall ship festival and then they get to the festival and they're like, 'Wow, check out all these cool ships. Let's hang out and see all these ships,'" he said.

The gates will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The ships are expected to begin arriving at about 1:30 p.m. Thursday during the Parade of Sail, although organizers note the exact time isn't known because of uncertainty about the ships' traveling speed. The opening ceremony is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Thursday.

Samborski is expecting about 300,000 people to attend the festival - which in addition to the tall ships also includes the annual Art in Bayfront Park - over the course of the weekend. The previous tall ships festival in Duluth, in 2013, drew crowds estimated at more than 200,000.

While tickets for day sails during this year's festival have long been sold out, single-day and multi-day tickets to view the ships remain available - in addition to options for on-ship tours or a combination ticket with other Duluth attractions. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or in advance online at tallshipsduluth.com. Samborski suggested buying tickets online ahead of time, because prices will be higher at the gate and "it's one less line you've got to stand in at the event."

Anna Tanski, president and CEO of Visit Duluth, said the tall ships festival is expected to have about a $15 million impact on the regional economy, with people not only coming to Duluth to see the ships, but also traveling and staying elsewhere in the Northland. In addition to the financial impact, she noted the event brings both national and international attention to Duluth.

Tall Ships Duluth will draw spectators making their inaugural visit to the city, Tanski said, and Visit Duluth's goal is ensure that first-time visitors become repeat visitors.

"We love to exceed their expectations as a destination overall - that they're here to fall in love with ships, but of course, also fall in love with our city," she said.

"We love how our entire community and really the whole region really embraces this event. We just want to roll out the red carpet and welcome everyone."

Change of atmosphere

There's a magical element to the tall ships that draws the crowds, Miles said.

"It's the mystery of going past the horizon, of going over the horizon. People on shore watch folks get on a vessel that works by the wind and by the sea and they see an adventurous pastime," he said.

In addition to a crew of 12 and two captains, the Pride of Baltimore II has six openings for people to be a part of the crew for a few days between ports on the Great Lakes. Miles said festival-goers are mostly interested in the crew's life aboard the ship, with the interest fueled by books and movies that romanticize life at sea. The stories include admired traits of independence, teamwork and self-sufficiency.

"It's not a lot different than any admiration we have for any of the explorers of the world. Look at today, not only are we fascinated with climbing Mount Everest or exploring Antarctica, we are amazed at the old style of doing things," he said.

Samborski said he believes tall ships attract spectators because they represent a past era. There's a "romantic theme" to the idea of a ship sailing from Spain to Duluth, he said. It's also an attraction that people of all ages can enjoy.

"They're so unique and, when we think about our history in America, they were such an integral part of America becoming a global country. That's how we got goods and people from Europe and Asia to the United States, was on ships just like this," he said.

Gene Shaw, who helped organize the first Tall Ships Duluth event in 2008, noted that the festival also is a special event for visitors to the city who may not be able to see ships on a regular basis.

"We're the furthest inland port in the world. People from the Dakotas, Canada, places like that - this is the closest they'll ever get to see a tall ship ... or even having an opportunity to sail on it," he said.

The tall ship festivals also give the some of the ships' crew members a chance to experience the Great Lakes for the first time.

"The Pride of Baltimore, I can't remember what year it was, got here a little early and stopped at the Apostle Islands overnight. The crew wanted to go swimming and jumped overboard. I said, 'How long were they in the water?' (The captain) goes, 'About two minutes,'" Shaw said with a laugh. "They had never experienced Lake Superior and how cold it is."

The tall ships festival also draws people who enjoy Duluth's waterfront area, Samborski said. He added that Duluth is doing something right because people from all 50 states are traveling to the city to see the tall ships along the "beautiful" shores of Lake Superior and the harbor.

"I think (the ships) do something to the waterfront. We're used to the Duluth waterfront looking one way and then for one weekend every few years, we put these really incredibly cool tall ships out there and it changes our atmosphere for a while," he said.

Past Tall Ships Duluth participants


Pride of Baltimore II

US Brig Niagara



US Brig Niagara

Pride of Baltimore II

Barque Europa

Roald Amundsen

S/V Denis Sullivan


HMS Bounty


Coaster II


Pride of Baltimore II

US Brig Niagara

Privateer Lynx


Pride of Baltimore II

Privateer Lynx


US Brig Niagara


Coaster II


S/V Denis Sullivan


2016 (scheduled)

Pride of Baltimore II

US Brig Niagara

S/V Denis Sullivan

El Galeon Andalucía

Mist of Avalon

When and If


Appledore V

Abbey Road