Thirteen tall ships parade on Delaware River [photos]

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On Thursday a dozen old-time sailing ships tacked up the Delaware River to Philadelphia for a tall ship festival, continuing through the weekend.

The Grand Parade of Sail introduced 13 ships, plus a 60-foot-tall rubber duck, to thousands of spectators lining both sides of the river. They saw boats like a re-creation of a 16th century Spanish galleon, and a re-creation of The Hermione, an 18th century French Navy frigate that delivered the Marquis de Lafayette to General George Washington with news of French military support. 

“It’s actually, in a lot of ways, a fairly unnatural act to get a bunch of sailing ships lined up in a row doing the same thing,” said Sam Sikkema, captain of the Picton Castle, a 180-foot, steel-hulled barque. “It’s not something sailing ships would have done in their own time. But it is one of the few times we can show off for the public, because we’re usually sailing mid-ocean where nobody sees us.”

Based in Nova Scotia, the Picton Castle is rarely at home, spending most days of the year at sea. It was originally built in the 1920 as a commercial fishing boat,then served as a mine sweeper during World War II. It’s now one of the finest sail training boats on the seas. She just finished her 6th circumnavigation of the globe.

In Philadelphia, the 21 crew members sailed the 3-mast ship in circles around the Delaware River, leading the Parade of Sail. Dirty and barefoot, the crew maneuvered 13,000 square feet of sail with miles of rope, scrambling up networks of netting.

“It looks complicated — I’m sure it does — to a newcomer. But it really is an elegant design,” said first mate Caitlin Shaw. “Believe it or not, there is a pattern. Once you are fluent in it, it’s a language that is simple.”

After its spin around the river, the Picton Castle docked near the Independence Seaport Museum and fixed a gangway to enable visitors to board and explore the deck. Later in the festival, it will move across the river to Camden to give New Jersey a chance to see it up-close.

This is the largest tall ships festival Philadelphia has ever hosted. It was able to attract a crowd-pleasing critical mass of vessels through a partnership between the Museum, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, Cooper Ferry, and the Adventure Aquarium in Camden.

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