They cruised into town as if from another time - sails swelling, masts gleaming, flags billowing.
A sea of people outside the Tampa Convention Center oohed and aahed, taking photos and clapping at the sheer size of the visiting tall ships, part of the Sail Tampa Bay 2010 maritime festival that runs through Wednesday.
The three historic navy ships, the U.S.C.G. Eagle, the Gloria, from Colombia and the Capitan Miranda, from Uruguay, happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico for a Latin American bicentennial festival that wrapped up last month. So organizers asked the ships to make a stop in the bay area, said Troy Manthey, president and chief executive of Yacht Starship Dining Cruises.
All three ships are decades old. The Eagle and Capitan Miranda were built in the 1930s, and the Gloria in the late 1960s.
They are now used for trainings and demonstrations. All three are available for tours this week.
"You can kind of let your imagination go," said visitor Don Kehoe, 65. "You can just imagine what it was like way back then."
Colombia's Gloria made the biggest splash.
Hundreds of sailors dressed in the colors of the Colombian flag stood perched along the sails, all the way up to the highest yards. They sang the country's national anthem as they glided up to the dock.
Flavio Carreno sang along.
Carreno, 46, of Odessa, has seen this ship before. The Colombia native remembers his father taking him to see the flamboyant docking of the tall ship when he was a small child.
On Saturday, Carreno watched with his own son, 7-year-old Eduardo.
"I wonder how they balance so good," Eduardo said, aboard his dad's small motorboat, in the shadow of the tall ship.
"It's beautiful," his dad said.
The U.S. and Uruguay's ships followed, each flying their own huge flags.
Back on the dock, Rich Wlodarski, 50, of Plant City snapped photos under the clear, blue sky.
"They're just so impressive," Wlodarski said. "And to think how far these ships have gone."
"It's not something you see every day," his wife, Jan, said.
Kim Wilmath can be reached at (813)661-2442 or email@example.com.
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IF YOU GO
Sail Tampa Bay 2010
The ships will be available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today through Tuesday. The Eagle is open from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Capitan Miranda and Gloria will be available for tours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday. $10 adults, $3 children for all three ships, Eagle-only tour is free.
Details: (813) 274-8511 or sailtampabay2010.com.