Tall ships ply waters off Philadelphia for weekend Seaport Festival

    Several boats sailing up the Delaware River will battle each other this weekend, pirate-style.

    For its first “Old City Seaport Festival,” the Independence Seaport Museum has invited iconic vessels from New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland to visit the Philadelphia marina.

    One of them, the Kalmar Nyckel looks like a pirate ship (or at least what we like to think a pirate ship looks like), but the pride of Lewes, Delaware, is actually a replica of an early 17th century merchant vessel that brought some of the first settlers to the New World from Sweden.

    It’s now primarily an educational tool, demonstrating to people how historic ships worked by training them to sail the Nyckel. They learn rigging, carpentry, maintenance, mechanics (there is an anachronistic motor aboard) and general seamanship.

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    They also learn to work as a crew, which Capt. Lauren Morgens, a 15-year veteran of tall ships, says is becoming increasingly difficult. Every new batch of volunteers, on the first day of training, is asked to hoist a 40-foot-long, 1,000-pound wooden spar across a field so it can be worked on. It takes about 50 people working together to lift it, but many people don’t know how to work together.

    “Even to make a turn, one person has to stand still and the other people have to pivot. It’s like being a millipede, and that’s a fascinating new experience that embodies what being on a sailing ship is like,” said Morgens. “That’s part of the complexity, just making all the people do that right thing at the right moment. And the more steps there are, the more pieces there are, the more complicated that is.”

    The Kalmar Nyckel will be joined by the A.J. Meerwald of South Jersey, the Pride of Baltimore II, and Philadelphia’s own Gazela for the weekend-long Seaport Festival, all of them taking festival-goers on river tours throughout the weekend. On Sunday, the 17th-, 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century nautical technology will engage in a mishmosh of old-fashioned pirate marauding.

    That includes the USS New Jersey battleship, docked at Camden, with its intimidating 16-inch anti-aircraft artillery. Place your bets.

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