Other view: Duluth tall ships fest a warm-up for brig Niagara
The U.S. Brig Niagara was scheduled to set sail yesterday for Duluth, where its popular day sails already are sold out. The voyage to Lake Superior, with return stops in Green Bay and Chicago, promises to be a long journey on the Great Lakes for ...
The U.S. Brig Niagara was scheduled to set sail yesterday for Duluth, where its popular day sails already are sold out. The voyage to Lake Superior, with return stops in Green Bay and Chicago, promises to be a long journey on the Great Lakes for the Niagara's crew and volunteers, especially for those who fell under the weather, a nautical term for sickness, during the ship's most recent voyage.
But the time span is short compared to the ship's 197-year history and compared to the effort it took to launch the reconstructed Niagara on its maiden voyage 20 years ago.
It was hot and hazy on July 18, 1990, when the Niagara unfurled its sails for a seven-hour voyage into choppy Lake Erie waters. Erie, Pa., residents had seen the hull of the Niagara two years earlier, when it floated in Presque Isle Bay to mark the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie. But viewing the ship under full sail provided an entirely different thrill, not just for those handling duties on deck but for all who watched from shore or who accompanied the Niagara by boat.
"It brought a lump to your throat," Tim Koenig said as he followed the Niagara into Lake Erie.
"I think it's moved from a project full of problems to one that's full of promises," said William P. Garvey, who served on the advisory committee that helped guide the ship from drawing board to launch.
When the Niagara made its maiden sail, following a $3.8 million investment in plans and materials, it didn't yet have a permanent berth; the state-owned Erie Maritime Museum would come later. Since then, despite Garvey's optimistic forecast, the ship has encountered rough waters because of severe -- and shortsighted -- cuts in state funding.
But the Flagship Niagara League refuses to buckle and has mounted a steady, focused campaign to stabilize the ship's finances and keep the Niagara sailing. The price has meant the ship must spend far less time in port.
The league's most ambitious project since funding cuts nearly docked the Niagara is Tall Ships Erie 2010. Erie residents and tourists will thrill to the sight of our own three-masted schooner returning to home port Sept. 9. The Niagara will lead a fleet of seven vessels to the tall ships festival, held in conjunction with the Erie Heritage Festival, through Sept. 12.
"There's history to be learned and fun to be had," says Karla Wludyga, who serves on the Flagship Niagara League board. Even the tickets will be keepsakes because they'll have information about the eight participating ships, including one that starred in Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
We salute those who made this festival possible because they had the foresight to rebuild our own once-buried treasure, the Niagara.