STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
Just like that giant, yellow inflatable duck that you’ve been hearing about, being on board one of the Tall Ships America TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE vessels during the Grand Parade of Sail automatically gives you rock star status.
On Thursday, pedestrians on the Pennsylvania/New Jersey bridges, workers on the Delaware River piers, people in boats on the river (including the Battleship New Jersey), and practically everybody in the vicinity of the Penn’s Landing waterfront, stopped what they were doing to take pictures, wave and cheer.
However, the 21 crew members aboard the Parade of Sail lead ship — the Nova Scotia, Canada-based Picton Castle — were entirely too busy working to enjoy the celebrity status. Sailing the river with a combination of engine and wind power, the 179-foot-long, 284-ton, three-masted barque — which has sailed all the way around the world six times — requires physically demanding attention from the kinetic crew, whose almost-constant state of motion can be described as a well-orchestrated Chinese fire drill.
“It’s real, it’s hands-on, it helps you live in the moment. It’s a wonderful way to travel,” said the ship’s chief mate, Katelinn Shaw, on the appeal of such a labor-intensive approach to sailing.
“It’s not a team-building exercise — it’s real. It’s not a video game; you’re literally swinging 90 feet in the air,” she said of crew members that are periodically required to fearlessly scale the ship’s masts, which are just short enough to go under the Ben Franklin and Walt Whitman bridges.
You have to be ready for anything sailing a Tall Ship. It was “cold and raining when we started,” said crew member Perry Lloyd, “and pretty darn hot in Virginia. We had some amazing squalls.”
Through Sunday, Picton Castle — which gets its name from a castle in Wales — and the other 19 Tall Ships will be docked on both sides of the Delaware for tours and a maritime-themed port festival. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 27 and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 28. Picton Castle will be holding onboard workshops, such as wire and rope rigging, sail making, boat handling, navigation and practical seamanship.
Lloyd noted that the circa 1927 ship stokes the imaginations of children that come aboard, and they start looking for pirates.
“This is rather fantastic to people,” said Shaw, describing an ignorance in East Coast cities of North America’s rich maritime heritage. Since the Independence Seaport Museum is right there, at 211 S. Columbus Blvd., why not start there and get a crash course?
A single-day On-Board Tour Pass is $12. Cost for a Day Sail ticket is $85. Call (877) 4-FLY-TIX or go to www.tallshipsphiladelphia.com.
The next leg of the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE will be a race from Philadelphia/Camden to Greenport, N.Y.
Also getting in on the fun is the Spirit of Philadelphia. During the Tall Ships festival, get a front-row seat for the fireworks display set for Saturday June 27. There’s also brunch, lunch and dinner cruises throughout the weekend. The organization’s premier yacht, the Freedom Elite, is offering one-hour tours to guests wishing to get an close-up look at the ships. For details, start at www.spiritcruises.com/philadelphia/cruises/specialty/tall-ships.