Monday, June 11, 2012


Cisne Branco, 2012

Every year the City of Norfolk, Virginia, invites tall sailing ships from all over the world to come visit for a few days. Some years it’s mostly local and regional pickings and others it’s a veritable United Nations of sailing vessels.
OpSail 2012 has been outstanding, both in magnitude and variety. Participating vessels came from Europe, Asia and up and down the coasts of North and South America. They ranged from a replica of a wooden ship used to bring the first permanent English settlers to Virginia in 1609 to the latest and most modern guided missile cruiser.
If you don’t live around the water and your concept of sailing ships is based on old Mutiny on the Bounty movies and Old Spice commercials, it’s hard to grasp the grandeur of so many giant vessels amassed along the downtown Norfolk waterfront like they were here this past weekend.
Many of these ships are training ships for students in their respective national naval academies. A few are run by private foundations or serve as cultural outreach for various countries. This year there was even a ship from Indonesia. A few of the ships are run as educational institutions.  Since ships like these require substantial financial support, lots of ongoing maintenance and a sturdy crew, I gather the “educational” ships are popular with families who have kids who need, shall we say, the kind of continuous hard work that “restores and builds strong minds and bodies.”  Think Outward Bound on the high seas.

There’s always work to be done, 2012

Some of the tall ships have histories that add to their mystique. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Eagle, for example, was built in 1936 for Germany’s Navy, but became part of the war reparations paid to the United States after WWII. Chile’s Esmeralda  (which did not participate this year) is associated with a variety of atrocities committed during the Pinochet dictatorship. My wife and I once attended a cocktail party aboard Esmeralda and I have to tell you that although none of the sailors on the ship served during that dictatorship it was still a bit creepy to board a ship on which so much terrible history had occurred.
To be honest, though, people who come to see the tall ships usually aren’t interested in that kind of history. They come to see colorful flags and uniforms and watch sailors climb up masts and spread out across the yards.
There are any number of cliché photographic shots that people take at such events. I’ve taken most of them myself. I’d hoped to have the time to do something a little different this year.  However, I was showing the ships to an out-of-town relative who doesn’t have much patience for heat and lines. We did a cursory walk-by most of the ships and left. This is my loss, but was willingly sacrificed in the name of being a congenial host.
So although there’s little original in what I did catch with the camera, I did manage to get a few shots that I thought were worth sharing.

Warship with a Smile, 2012


  1. These are definitely worth sharing: great shots. That parade of tall ships coming into the harbor is really amazing. I think the last time I went was in 2000, and I only say that 'cause I remember buying a t-shirt I still garden in, and it's got that date on it. Your photos look as if you had fabulous weather for the festivities this year!

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  3. I was there first thing Sat. morning well before the lines and celebrations started. It was great to see the ships preparing for the day, and yes, I have my share of cliched photos too.