ST. PETERSBURG — A fleet of tall ships paraded around the St. Petersburg waterfront Thursday to kick off this weekend’s maritime festival of historic sailing vessels.
For the landlubbers, parking will be tricky since the on-street parking around the Port of St. Petersburg is shut down to create a pedestrian avenue for food trucks and those boarding the ships for tours. A free shuttle will be running visitors from the city’s Sundial and South Core parking garages starting at 9 a.m. daily, said spokeswoman Kristy Chase Tozer. There also may be paid parking places available at the University of South Florida garage at Sixth Avenue South and Third Street, she said.
It’s the first time in 20 years that Tall Ships America, a nonprofit dedicated to maritime heritage and youth education, is bringing its annual tour of tall ships to the port of St. Petersburg, and tickets are selling fast. All of the $65-$85 tickets to sail on the ships have sold out, and some of the timed tickets to tour them ($21.95) have sold out. Tozer said getting a ticket online ahead of time at tallshipsstpete.com is essential since they could be sold out at the gate over the weekend.
Resa Allison, 66, ponied up $295 each for her and her husband, Jim, 83, to get VIP passes to join the Parade of Sail on Thursday, followed by a captain’s dinner and weekend access to the festival. They boarded the 1877 iron barque Elissa, which threw open its square-rigged sails and headed to Coquina Key before turning to pass by the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club and the St. Pete Pier.
“I figured this will be worth it for the memories of a lifetime,” she said.
Gregory Clarke, 72, said he has been waiting 20 years to see “these beauties” return. A retired St. Petersburg building inspector, Clarke said he helped organizers bring the grand ships to St. Petersburg in 2002. He jumped at the chance to volunteer again, helping the crew on Thursday.
“I felt like it was Christmas morning,” Clarke said. “Anytime I get a chance to see them up close I just have to show up.”
The ships lining the harbor include the Nao Trinidad from Spain, a replica of the Santa Maria, the largest of the three Spanish ships used by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
Also on hand is the Pride of Baltimore II, a topsail schooner built to the lines of an 1812-era clipper. Historic ships include Ernestina-Morrissey, a schooner first launched in 1894, and the Elissa, one of the oldest ships sailing today, having launched in 1877.
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The ship When and If was designed for General George S. Patton, who wanted to sail it around the world “when and if (World War II) was over.” Tampa Bay’s own Suncoast Horizon and the Jolly II River from Key West, with its distinctive red sails, round out the lineup.
“It takes a lot more people than a typical sailboat to operate,” said Cyrus Belenky, 29, second mate onboard the Pride of Baltimore II. “You’ve got to move fast because those sails catch the wind and you are fully deployed quickly.”
“There’s a reason they are called ‘she’,” Belenky said as he approvingly surveyed the gleaming varnish on the Pride’s hull. “She is the prestige of the fleet, and it shows.”
What to know if you go to the Tall Ships St. Pete festival
The maritime festival will have tours, live music, festival food and beverage options throughout the weekend at the city’s port at 250 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg, in Bayboro Harbor next to Albert Whitted Airport. 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. General admission starts at $9.95 for food trucks, music, a marketplace and dockside activities. There are also tickets available for tours: $15.95 for ages 2-6 and $21.95 for adults. For an itinerary and tickets, visit tallshipsstpete.com.