A rare opportunity to see half a dozen majestic sailing vessels--drifting down the coast like ghosts from another century--awaits Orange County residents this weekend as a tall ships parade, celebrating the county's centennial, winds its way from Seal Beach to Dana Point Harbor.
Leading the parade, which begins today at 2 p.m. in the waters just off Seal Beach, will be the 130-foot Pilgrim, replica of a 19th-Century trading ship, and the 145-foot Californian, the official state tall ship and replica of an 1840s cutter.
From Seal Beach, the ships will sail past Huntington Beach to Newport Harbor, where they will anchor for the night near Lido Marina Village. On Sunday at 10:30 a.m., a 100-gun salute will begin during ceremonies on the docks at Lido Marina Village led by Orange County Supervisor Thomas F. Riley.
The parade will leave Newport Beach at 11 a.m. and is expected to clear the jetty about noon, proceeding south along the coast. The firing of cannons will continue all afternoon as the ships sail toward Dana Point for an expected arrival time of 4 p.m.
Other tall ships taking part in the parade include the schooners Spike Africa, Resolution, Kelpie and a second vessel named Pilgrim. In addition, a number of escort vessels will accompany the sailing ships along the coast.
Festival sponsors expect more than 100,000 spectators to line the ocean bluffs during the two-day event. "There aren't that many tall ships around that sail up and down the coast," says Richard Lewis, director of the Pilgrim, which is owned and operated as a floating classroom by the Orange County Marine Institute. "This is the fourth year we have been running a tall ships festival and each year it has gotten bigger and better."
Last year, instead of a parade, the festival featured a tall ships race, but winds were so light that the ships were practically becalmed. "It is not a race this year," says Steve Christman, director of the Nautical Heritage Museum, which owns and operates the Californian. "Because of the differences in the ships, a race just doesn't seem practical. So, this year it is a parade. The ships will stay fairly close together and close to shore so people can see them."
The original purpose of the festival, according to Christman, was to draw attention to the fact that Orange County has two bona fide tall ships, both involved in education and training and both operated by nonprofit organizations.
The Pilgrim's home port is Dana Point Harbor and the Californian operates out of Dana Point, Chula Vista and Sausalito, but its organizational headquarters is in Dana Point.
This year's Tall Ships Festival has been expanded and tailored to celebrate the county's centennial celebration, according to Christman, and is an official event of the Orange County Centennial Inc. Crews aboard the ships will be dressed in traditional 19th-Century costumes, and when the vessels arrive in Dana Point, the Californian and the Pilgrim will reenact a "boarding-at-sea."
The Californian will fire a cannon shot across the bow of the Pilgrim as a signal for the Pilgrim to prepare to be boarded. Then, a long boat will be launched and a crew from the Californian will board the square-rigged Pilgrim, a reproduction of the hide-trading brig on which Richard Henry Dana sailed in the 1830s.
The original Pilgrim picked up hides in what is now Dana Point, named in honor of the seaman and author. A reenactment of the hide trading with the missionaries, including a tossing of hides over the cliff to ships waiting below--just as Dana participated in more than 150 years ago--will take place between 5 and 6 p.m., according to Richard Lewis.
"The exact time depends upon when the tall ships arrive in Dana Point," he said. "And their speed is, of course, dictated by wind and weather."
When the Pilgrim returns to Dana Point, it will mark the end of a five-week cruise that retraced much of the course followed by Dana in his sea-trading adventures. The cruise included a stop in San Diego to take part in celebrations preceding the America's Cup earlier this month.
For the Californian, the stop in Dana Point is the first visit since the vessel set sail in early April on a five-month voyage that took it as far north as the San Francisco area. For the Centennial Voyage from Newport Beach to Dana Point, the Californian is offering rides to the public at $100 each on a first-come, first-serve basis.
"So many people have indicated interest in experiencing a journey on the Californian that we are sharing this," Lewis said. However, there are only 45 places available. (For ticket information, phone the Nautical Heritage Museum at 661-1001.)
In addition to the Tall Ships Parade, the two-day festival will include a variety of marine-related activities that will take place in Dana Point Harbor beginning at 10 a.m. today and continuing through Sunday evening. Free shuttle service will be provided throughout the harbor and to nearby Doheny State Beach.