When I was a kid, my Aunt was somewhat of a local celebrity in military circles here in Buffalo.  She was one of the first women in the country to become a U.S. Navy Seabee. So whenever anything happened of Naval importance in Buffalo, she was always involved, and was almost always invited as an honored guest.

So when I read about the Tall Ships coming to Buffalo, one of my first thoughts was that if she were still with us, she’d definitely be in attendance.  Not only to visit each ship, but she quite probably would have been among the VIPs attending the after hours receptions as well. And she’d have enjoyed every minute of it.  She loved all things to do with ships and open waters.  

My Aunt Ann.  We affectionately called her Major Houlihan.

So it was with this in mind that I chose to volunteer for this event.  I attended one training session in the beginning of June and I contributed a very small amount of time (six hours) on the 4th of July working with guest services selling tickets, answering guest questions, and handing out pamphlets & maps to arriving guests.  By now you all know how much I love Buffalo. I was happy to be involved in such a monumental event at the waterfront, a place that has played such an important role in our city’s history and will hopefully be an even greater part of our future.

The event was run by the Buffalo Lighthouse Association, under the leadership of Mike Vogel, the Association’s President.  He, along with his committee has been working tirelessly for years to bring this event to Buffalo. The title sponsor for the event was the Basil Automotive Family.  There were many, many more sponsors.  From a volunteer perspective, the event ran pretty smoothly, although I’m sure the people running the show were more stressed than the volunteers.  I had a great time getting to know a couple of my fellow volunteers, and talking to numerous guests as they came through the gates and had questions about the event. It was overall a lot of fun for me, and for most volunteers.  

Photo Credit: Glenn Ferguson.  The Niagara, a brig from Erie, PA, and a frequent visitor to Buffalo.

Photo Credit: Glenn Ferguson.  The Empire Sandy, a tern schooner from Toronto, Ontario, the longest of the twelve.

Photo Credit: Glenn Ferguson.  The Bluenose II, a Gaff topsail schooner from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, the tallest in the fleet.

I did have the opportunity to take a break from my post, just in time to see a bit of the parade of ships coming into the Buffalo Harbor (admittedly a bit later than they were expected, a stroke of good luck for me).  

The parade was…exciting.  I couldn’t have been more surprised.  I didn’t expect exciting, but it truly was.  A few of the ships shot their cannons and that added a bit of drama to the whole scene.  I was glad I was there, and happy for the organizers. Because everyone around me was excited too.  I could see it in their faces, how they reached to get photos, heard all their comments. The crowd was happy to be witness to this magnificent display of some of the most beautiful ships in the world.

               

I went back the next day with my husband as a tourist in my own city, one of my favorite things, to get a closer look and to board the ships.  

It was hot and humid.  Almost oppressively so.  

We entered the secure zone with our ‘passports’ at Canalside to see the three ships docked there, the Niagara, the Pride of Baltimore, and the Denis Sullivan.  There was one line to see all three ships, and it was long. Very long. It spanned more than the entire length of the boardwalk, and we decided to just get a close up look from there, and to swing back around and see those later.  It was while we were doing that, that we heard there were virtually no lines along the riverwalk to see the three ships docked there, the Bluenose II, the Empire Sandy, and the Picton Castle.

      

     

We walked right up and boarded the Bluenose II immediately. No waiting on this side.  If only we could have gotten the message back to Canalside, and told the people to spread out to all the ships, no one would have had to wait very long at all.  As a matter of fact, the only other line I saw was at the Santa Maria, which I think was due to its overall uniqueness. 

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate on Saturday.  A friend who volunteered on that day, reported that the rain was monsoon-like.  But she also said it was so hot, she didn’t mind getting wet. Attendance was reportedly down due to the weather, but people still came out.  The Buffalo News reported 15,000 or so that day.  Reports said the near perfect weather on Sunday brought the event to expected numbers. 

All in all, I think it was remarkable.  I’m sure the Lighthouse Association is happy with the outcome.

Were there things that could have been done differently?  Yes. But I’m confident that the organizers have paid very close attention and will make adjustments for next time.  There was the water issue for the first two days. People need to have access to water in the secure areas to stay hydrated in the scorching heat.  Easy fix. There were also the long lines at Canalside. Possibly could be solved by increasing the access to the lower part of the boardwalk, or docking some ships elsewhere in the area to alleviate the long lines.  But either way there will always be long lines whenever you have that amount of people in one place trying to see the same thing.

By all reports, it looks as though the event was a success, and this will become a triennial event, meaning that it’ll happen next in 2022, and again in 2025, which happens to be the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal.  That’s bound to bring with it many festivals and celebrations in Buffalo, possibly even throughout that entire year. At least I hope so. We do love our festivals. And by then, all the kinks will have been worked out, and it’ll be smooth sailing for the committee!

This weekend, in true Buffalo fashion, my husband and I tipped back a couple of cold ones to celebrate the Basil Port of Call Buffalo’s success.  I think my Aunt would have done the same. In fact, I know she would have.

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