Este informe no está disponible en español.


Maritime Celebration Brings A Wave Of History

by Ivan Roman

May 20, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All Rights Reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- In traditional maritime greeting, cannons on the Rose, a replica of a 1757 English Royal Navy frigate, shot 21 times Friday as it sailed past 16th century walls and fortresses that guard the old city.

Visually, the 500-ton ship from Boston evoked the past, but it was also meant to ring in the future.

Rose captain Richard Bailey strolled amid the city's Spanish colonial architecture to the cathedral to receive a blessing. San Juan's warm welcome for the first of about 15 tall ships to arrive in the next few days kicked off the largest maritime celebration of its kind in history.

Puerto Rico's 11-day Regatta 2000 celebration and carnival is the first stop in Operation Sail 2000, which will bring together 29 of the 35 Class A tall ships in the world for a 10-week trip. The ships will travel along the East Coast of the United States to usher in the new millennium.

About 15 of those tall ships, and another 100 or so smaller ones, bringing thousands of crew members and visitors, will get to San Juan in time for the Memorial Day parade of ships heading toward the next stop, the Port of Miami. From now until then, about 1 million people are expected to descend on Old San Juan's waterfront to tour the ships, see fireworks every night, and dance to 45 popular salsa, merengue and rock bands.

"This puts Puerto Rico in the eyes of the world," said Marta Nazario, a spokeswoman for the local organizing committee. "This exposure means a lot to us, particularly for international tourism."

When Operation Sail 2000 leaves San Juan, the ships will head to Miami, Norfolk, Va., Baltimore, Philadelphia and then New York City, where nearly 30 tall ships and the International Naval Review of Gray Ships, a fleet of warships, will join for a massive July 4 celebration. Some of the boats will then head up to New London, Conn., the home port of the Coast Guard's tall ship, the Eagle, and the odyssey ends in Portland, Maine, the last week of July.

With more ships, ports, crew members, visitors and parties in each port, this is the largest of the five Operation Sail events ever held, said Alma Viator, international director for Operation Sail, based in Washington, D.C. The first one in 1964 celebrated New York City's World's Fair, followed by the one commemorating the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, the Salute to the Statue of Liberty in 1986, and the Quincentennial of Christopher Columbus' first voyage in 1992.

With these events, organizers hope to fulfill the goals of President John F. Kennedy. An avid sailor, Kennedy created the nonprofit organization in 1961 to preserve maritime history and foster international goodwill. There are 35 Class A tall ships -- those longer than 160 feet -- in the world now. There were only 25 or so in 1961.

Visitors will get a chance to tour the ships and meet the crews from Uruguay, the Ukraine, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and Israel.

"Except for the people who were here already, this whole continent was founded by people in tall ships, so there's a common history," Viator said. "There's a majesty to them. Children, older people, everyone is fascinated by the ships and their sails and everything."

At the seven other ports along the route, people will dance and watch fireworks, take history lessons on trade routes and learn about the role of ships in America. In San Juan, organizers of the $3 million bash hope to repeat or exceed the success of the Regatta for the Christopher Columbus celebration, when 1 million people came to see the ships during five days.

Besides the musical entertainment, people on stilts and people in costumes with huge heads -- known here as the cabezudos -- will liven up the waterfront, moving through the crowd among 200 food and art kiosks, getting people to sing along to traditional Puerto Rican plena music. Clowns will entertain the children, who have their own stage and shows.

"I think each port exhibits its own personality," Viator said. "San Juan knows how to throw a party better than any other port."

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback