A town that goes crazy over a pirate ship called Jose Gasparilla is welcoming tall ships from North and South America.
Historic sailing ships from Colombia, Uruguay and the United States are coming to downtown Tampa on Saturday as part of Sail Tampa Bay, which runs through Wednesday.
The event, hosted by Tampa Bay and Company, was designed to celebrate the city's rich maritime history and boost sagging summertime business around Channelside.
"It will make our waterfront look like it did in the late 1800s,'' said Troy Manthey, president of Yacht StarShip, who has been working on bringing the ships here for two years.
Much like the Jose Gasparilla, the ships will sail down the Seddon Channel and dock at the Tampa Convention Center and Channelside Bay Plaza. Instead of pirates, each will carry 50 to 60 cadets learning the ropes of sailing as part of their naval education.
"They are true sailing ships, the old sailing rigs of the past,'' said David Choate, vice president of Coventures, which is coordinating the event. "They bring people back to when there weren't engines or steam.''
The fully restored ships sail around the world serving as "floating ambassadors'' for their home countries. Colombia's Gloria, Uruguay's Capitan Miranda and the U.S. Coast Guard's Eagle recently took part in a bicentennial celebration in South America, in which a fleet of tall ships circumnavigated the continent and ended in Veracruz, Mexico.
In Tampa, visitors will be able take self-guided tours of the ships' decks, sailing equipment and navigational tools. Crew members will be on hand to answer questions.
This is the first time Tampa has hosted tall ships. St. Petersburg brought similar ships to its waterfront in 2002, but many visitors complained about long lines and parking problems.
Tampa's event will be quite different, organizers said. There will be fewer ships are there's no big festival tied to the event, aside from music and activities in Channelside's courtyard. Visitors can decide when to arrive if they want to buy tickets to tour the ships. The Eagle is free.
Built in 1930 in Spain, this 205-foot staysail schooner was used extensively for map-making trips. Based in Montevideo, Uruguay, the cargo vessel is now a training ship for the Uruguayan navy, teaching newly graduated midshipmen.
Based in New London, Conn., this 295-foot three-mast barque was one of four sister ships built in Germany for training in the 1930s. The United States took it as a war reparation after World War II and recommissioned it as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. It's operated by six officers and 50 crews who are stationed on board for two or three years at a time.
This 247-foot three-masted barque was built in 1968 in Spain as the training ship of the Colombian navy. Home ported in Cartagena, it was named after the wife of the Colombian defense minister who promoted the project.
Source: Sail Tampa Bay