Ship ahoy! Two Harbors makes Festival of Sail debut
A crowd of about 3,500 people gathered to see the tall ships Thursday morning.
TWO HARBORS — With cannon blasts and a medium-sized crowd, the Festival of Sail officially kicked off Thursday with the Parade of Sail, where tall ships sailed in to the festival grounds from farther out on Lake Superior. The festival will run through the weekend.
A line of eager ship-viewers gathered outside the entry gates at Paul Van Hoven Park at 9:30 a.m. Near the front of the line, John Hawes, a Duluth native who now lives in southern Wisconsin, was excited to see history come to life via the ships.
"They represent an adventurous time in our history and I'm a history nut," Hawes said. "We love the whole concept of Duluth and Two Harbors being an international seaport in the middle of otherwise landlocked Minnesota, and this is a great way to celebrate it."
Hawes and his wife, Wendy, were already sporting Festival of Sail T-shirts that they'd purchased at Seagren's Hardware in Two Harbors the day before. Hawes later said he felt that the 300-mile drive was worth it when he saw the ships go past.
"They got right up next to where I was on the tip," Hawes said. "That was pretty cool."
Others expressed confusion about the best viewing spots for the parade. Many viewers lined the walkway between festival grounds in the hopes of seeing the ships pass by in the harbor. Most of the ships stuck to the area near the breakwall, with the exception of the Sundew, a former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter from Duluth.
The parade also started about an hour later than planned, with the first ships appearing around noon instead of 11 a.m. Festival of Sail executive producer Craig Samborski said the delay wasn't a surprise.
"It always does (run late)," Samborski said. "It's a matter of getting people on vessels and getting them into formation. And with sails and the maneuvering, it's hard. They sail at about 2 knots, so that's not something we can precisely calculate. If we had four motors on the back of them, that'd be one thing, but it's kind of the way it is."
Also missing from the parade was the "World's Largest Rubber Duck," which Samborski said was also partially due to logistics.
"It's a lot more expensive to put it in the water and it's a lot more susceptible to weather in the water," he said. "But also, the fans really like when they can get up close to it. Especially little kids. When it's 100 yards offshore, to them, it's no big deal. But when they're up close they can get pictures."
This is also a different rubber duck than what visited Duluth in 2019. This duck is only about two months old, but the same size as the last one, measuring 61 feet high, 64 feet wide and 74 feet long.
Sambrowski estimated that the crowd was around 3,500 people on Thursday, a number he attributed to the day of the week.
"We tend to have an older and smaller crowd on the first day," he said. "The rest of the weekend skews younger, since most people with kids and young folks are still working today."
This was the first year of the festival in Two Harbors, something Samborski said was due to planned construction in Duluth.
"We only do these every three years, so if we skipped one cycle, it'd be six years until we could come back again," he said. "If we went and developed another port, likely that port would have gotten it again next time and we'd miss out."
Losing the festival locally would have been disappointing for enthusiasts such as Capt. Mark and Brooks Mahoney, a couple from Minneapolis who have been following the festival to areas such as Chicago, Cleveland and Duluth since 2002.
"It's important for people to know what it was like to sail these tall ships and what it took to go from port to port," Mark said. "And there's the freedom, fresh air, wind, people and camaraderie when you're out on the ocean ... or the inland sea."
The Mahoneys dress up as a pirate captain and a wench and volunteer with the festival. On Thursday, they had a chance to ride the Inland Seas, a schooner from Suttons Bay, Michigan.
Some visitors only had to travel a couple streets to attend. Two Harbors resident Renee Feist said she was happy to see the festival come to her city.
"I think it'll be great for the town," she said. "It's early, but I think it'll just be a good thing to have here. I'm excited to see the ships and I'm glad to be here."
Her only criticism was how the festival communicated changes. "I don't think things were real clear, but I also don't want to criticize anything that's been done because I didn't do it," Feist said.
Lack of clarity in directions and parking caused attendee Jack Hiemstra, from Lakeville, Minnesota, to be frustrated with the festival from his first steps inside the grounds.
“I just want to know, where are all the monkeys and giraffes? Because this is a zoo,” Hiemstra said. “This is the worst mess I’ve been to.”
He’d been to the festival in previous years in Duluth and noted the parking situation was clearer there. He was mostly frustrated with the shuttle system and said he waited for a long time for a ride from his lot.
“Everything just ran more smoothly there (in Duluth),” he said. “There’s no one to help guide you and help you find your way. I went to two other lots before I figured it out.”
Security was fairly relaxed at the festival, with not many security personnel present. However, law enforcement was very present in the city of Two Harbors, with police cruisers from all across the Northland visible. Squads from the University of Minnesota Duluth campus police, Duluth, Cloquet, East Range and Eveleth/Fayal Township were spotted across town.
The Festival of Sail continues through Sunday. For more information, visit lakesuperior.festofsail.com .
This story was edited at 8:22 p.m. to correct the spelling of Craig Samborski's name. It was originally posted at 5:53 p.m. The News Tribune regrets the error.