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Foam Cheese, REO and the Windy City or, How I spent my summer vacation

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 15, 2006

It wasn’t really a vacation but because of a fabulous race team it was pretty close. The enthusiasm of the ports, ships, visitors and my interns was inspiring and energizing. I am sitting in our Newport, RI office looking out at the pouring rain and wishing I was back in the booth talking to all the passers-by again. Even though the heat was oppressive at times, most of the people that I saw, either waiting in line or watching the Parades of Sail in, looked thrilled to be participating in such a unique event.

My first port was Cleveland, and it set the precendent for the rest of the summer. Truth be told, the entire time I was there, I had the Drew Carey theme song stuck in my head. But Cleveland does ROCK. Jonathan and I were super busy figuring out our first TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE (R) but the interns stepped up by handling the booth and helping with the vessels. The Parade of Sail in was unforgettable, it was my first time actually seeing a tall ship under sail. The rest of the event was spent figuring out how to work with each other, meeting as many new people as possible and trying not to pass out from the heat. Jonathan, Alex and I were able to be on the starting boat for the beginning of Race One from Cleveland to Bay City. I have grown up sailing on the ocean and had never been on  a Great Lake before, it was quite disconcerting. It looks like the ocean, feels like the ocean but definitely doesn’t taste like the ocean.

And we were off to Bay City, MI, what a fun city. We were welcomed with open arms and a tangible feeling of anticipation. Everyone was excited for the tall ships. Every store had a welcome sign out. Mary and Meredith were sailing on the Niagara and met us in Bay City a few days after we had arrived. They had an awesome time sailing with the crew as seen from Meredith’s incredible pictures. Bay City was a crew members dream port, there was free laundry, crew breakfast, lunch and dinner and even haircuts. The crowds were huge, at times it felt like the whole town was waiting in line.  The Saturday night we were there, REO Speedwagon performed. Man, they put on a great show and the audience went wild. Everywhere I looked, people were singing along and having blast.

We tore ourselves away and headed out to Green Bay. This time, it was myself, Jonathan and Mary making the drive up and over Lake Michigan. Alex was on the Appledore V taking video and Meredith was back in her happy place, on board the Niagara.  The drive over to Green Bay was filled with dramatic weather, sweeping vistas of the lake and some very severe road kill. I got to frolick in Lake Michigan (it was thrilling) and we went over the Mackinac Bridge just as the Chicago-Mackinac race sailed underneath.

The three of us peeled into Green  Bay. First things first, CHEESEHEADS. I wore mine out of the store. I think the Patriots need to look into more dairy mascots (just a thought). America’s Dairy Land is definitely green and yellow. Football fever was just gearing up, practices started the week we arrived. Since we had a few extra days until the ships paraded in, we explored the town. Mary and I hit up a killer farmers market, fresh veggies and they were selling beer on the street..on a Tuesday(!). There was also an awesome, awesome jazz band made up of high schoolers. And the cheese was out of this world, naturally. By the time Meredith and Alex arrived, we had the city cased. The event was a great success. Hot, yes, but people came from all over and stood in line. The Royaliste pirates were the most popular act and there were even  Civil War reenactors, who looked wicked hot in their woolen clothing. Early Sunday morning a storm cell moved through which wreaked havoc. By the time Mary and I made it down to the venue, the ASTA tent was one of the only ones standing. Because of the combined efforts of the crews and event staff, the public was able to enter and board the ships on time and it actually turned out be a nice day.

Monday, we donned our cheeseheads and bade farewell to Brett and the boys. Green Bay was a great time and we were onto the last port of Chicagooooooo. Suddenly, we were back in the hectic fray of the big city. I missed the laid back life of Green Bay and Bay City but then I saw some free jazz in Millenium Park after hitting up the Art Institute and embraced the big city life whole heartedly. Chicago was the longest port event, we were there for a week. Meredith and I watched the Parade of Sail in during a nasty spell of weather from the Navy Pier, an incredible place to watch anything. The best part was watching the entire city come to a standstill while the bridges were opened so the ships could berth on the river. Watching them sail up the river with the skyscrapers in the background was incredible. Then we were running around trying to see as much of the city as possible as well as work the booth.

Because the event was so spread out (half the ships at Navy Pier, the other along the river), I knew there were millions of people but I wasn’t fighting them to get my daily pretzel. We were in a great location right along the river bank and had an enthusiastic group of volunteers who were thrilled to share their sailing experiences with us and the public. Alas, our final night came all to quickly. The Race Team was invited to an informal gathering on the Pride of Baltimore II (the only time I had been on board this summer) and they even shot off their cannons. Fire in the hole!  Fireworks were on display our last night as well, an exciting good bye from Chicago. Jonathan and I were sailing the gold minivan home early, early the next day. We made it home from Chicago in one day, it was time for my own pillow. 

 Even though I did not get to do any tall ship sailing, this summer was one of the most unique and exciting and memorable I have had in a long time. I met some fascinating people who were eager to share their love for sailing with anyone who expressed interest. Most of the people (young and old) that I spoke with were just waiting for the second no one was looking so they could jump aboard and sail away. Both Alex and Meredith are sailing in the Great Lakes right now and I can not wait to hear about their adventures. What a fabulous, fabulous summer!

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