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St. Mary's River,  Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada

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Sault Star, Local News

Tall ships take Sault by storm

By Dan Bellerose, Sault Star
Friday, July 23, 2010 6:11:00 EDT AM

The era when wind-powered vessels dominated the seas has not been lost on Sault Ste. Marie.

More than 1,000 residents lined the waterfront boardwalk Wednesday evening to greet the arrival of the HMS Bounty and Pride of Baltimore II and hundreds lined up Thursday morning prior to the opening of fences for tours of the historical sailing vessels bound for a tall-ship festival in Duluth, Minn.

"I was amazed at the turnout to greet us," said Robin Walbridge, 16-year captain of the Bounty, of the Wednesday welcoming crowd that some city tourism promoters estimated at more than 2,000.

"It seemed like the majority of the city's population had turned out ... the sea of people stretched on and on along the entire waterfront."

The three-masted Bounty may remain moored at Roberta Bondar Marina for at least a couple more days, says Walbridge, unless the weather intervenes, he's not expecting to set sail until daybreak Sunday, while the stay-over status of the two-masted Pride of Baltimore is uncertain. It may leave port as early as today.

They are among at least a dozen vessels from North America and Europe visiting six primary ports of call this summer, from late June through late August, as part of the Great Lakes United Tall Ships Challenge 2010.

The two-month tour was launched in Toronto on June 30, moved onto Cleveland and then Bay City, and then its Duluth, where at least eight vessels are expected to gather, followed by Green Bay and Chicago, beginning Aug. 24. The Sault's nautical heritage includes its reliance on seasonal shipping for provisions and mail, as well as transportation in and out of the isolated community more than 100 years ago until the arrival of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1887.

The Bounty, built as a floating movie set by MGM Studios in Lunenburg, N.S., nearly half a century ago for the movie epic Mutiny on the Bounty, is a "working-teaching ship" that sails the seas of the world.

"This year, it's the Great Lakes, last year it was European waters, the year before that the Pacific," said Walbridge, who sails out of Greenport, Long Island, N.Y.

"We usually visit 25 to 30 ports in a season ... It's hectic."

The 20-member crew usually sign on for four months of nautical education, training and adventure aboard the nearly 55-metre vessel constructed of more than 400,000 board feet of lumber and powered by 10,000 square-feet of canvas sail.

"It's a commitment ... You essentially live and breath life aboard an 18th century-style sailing vessel 24-7 for months at a time," he said.

The Bounty, about one third larger than the original British Navy vessel involved in the 1789 mutiny in the South Pacific, for cinematic purposes, is no stranger to the big screen.

"It has been the featured in seven movies since 1962," said Walbridge of the vessel whose screen credits include a pair of Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Treasure Island, Mutiny on the Bounty and Sponge Bob Square Pants.

The helm of the current Bounty, constructed nearly 80 years ago, "is one of Hollywood's most famous movie artifacts," according to its captain.

The Bounty will be open for public tours Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., at an admission cost of $10 for 16-and-over adults and $5 for six to 15-year-old youth while six-and-under children are free.

Thursday's admission, and the lineup prior to the opening of the marina gates stretched from the waterfront, through the pavilion, and into the pavilion's parking lot, was a donation to Great Lakes United.

Several booths and displays were set up under Bondar Pavilion, promoting conservation and the War of 1812 bicentennial, while costumed characters from the 1812 era, as well as pirates and parrots worked the crowd.

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