Parade of Tall Ships Leads Festival of Sail Into The Golden Gate

By William Hogan In 2006, the Bay Area turned out to welcome the future: the arrival of the Queen Mary II, Cunard’s new international flagship liner, on her virgin voyage to San Francisco.

Lynx, known for her summer program where she sails to Hawaii with students, under sail in San Francisco Bay. Photo courtesy of Lyons Imaging

Published: July, 2008 

This summer, on Wednesday, July 23 at noon, the Golden Gate will provide the venue for another dramatic nautical entrance as more than a dozen historic Tall Ships—sails unfurled and driven before the wind, living emblems of our storied maritime beginnings—sail into San Francisco Bay for five days of spectacular local events.

The Festival of Sail is a living, hands-on display of working sailing ships, brought to the Bay Area by the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association. It presents a rare opportunity to walk the planks of these historic decks, smell the varnish and the salt air, watch the crew men and women scamper nimbly through the rigging at the wheel deck commands, hear the flapping of the unfurling canvas, and feel the silent power of the swelling sails as they catch the wind, gliding the Tall Ships out to sea. The Festival of Sail also happens to be a big, happy, wonderful family waterfront party, most of it free to all.

The Festival’s opening Parade of Sail, at noon on July 23, is a unique opportunity for Bay Area residents to view the stately procession of the visiting Tall Ships as they enter the Golden Gate, led proudly by the sleek, elegant United States Coast Guard Cutter Eagle. The historic fleet will be met and escorted by dozens of local sailing vessels as it proceeds past Marina Green, Fort Mason, Aquatic Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Embarcadero and the Ferry Building. At the Bay Bridge, the Tall Ships will tack around to be welcomed at their individually assigned berths along the San Francisco waterfront.

From hundreds of vantage points around the Bay Area—from the pedestrian walkway of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Berkeley Hills—residents and visitors will be able to see this rare assembled fleet of Tall Ships in action on the Bay daily July 23-27. The Festival of Sail has divided the Embarcadero, from AT&T Park to Aquatic Park, into three separate thematic villages: Marine Education, International, and Green, each showcasing a different aspect of our Bay Area Maritime heritage. Each Village will feature its own entertainment, food and beverage, and amusement offerings, and admission is free. And each of the Villages will include four to seven Tall Ships and other notable vessels.

Marine Education Village, located at Aquatic Park, the Hyde Street Pier and Pier 45, is focused on families, youth, and maritime history, and uses the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, where the fleet of National Historic Landmark vessels are berthed, to demonstrate sail setting and furling, shanty singing, cargo lading, knot tying, and other nautical skills. Participating ships at the Marine Education Village include: Balclutha; Eureka; C.A. Thayer; Alma; USS Pampanito; SS Jeremiah O’Brien; Nina; Brigadoon; Polaris and a Coast Guard 87’.

International Village, at the Embarcadero Center area, Justin Herman Plaza, and Piers 1½, 3 and 9, will showcase the sounds and flavors of the our many Bay Area cultures, highlighting the voyages of the generations of immigrants who have sought our shores. Features at the International Village include a live music stage, interactive displays and demonstrations, and artisan booths. Participating ships docked at the International Village include: Lynx; Californian; Nehemiah; and Gas Light.

Green Village will be staged at Pier 30/32 and Pier 40, between the Bay Bridge and AT&T Park, where the exhibit area will feature interactive demonstrations of products and services connecting the Tall Ship themes of wind, waves and sun to present-day marine and green concerns. Participating ships docked at the Green Village include the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle; Bounty; Robert C. Seamans; Seaward; HMCS Oriole; and Kaisei.

But the villages are just the beginning of this wonderful event. The Tall Ships themselves will be open to the public for touring from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. (last boarding at 5:40 p.m.) July 24-27. Timed Tickets for guided tours of the ships within a Village are available to visitors who have purchased a Boarding Wristband for that Village, online in advance, or daily at a Box Office located in each Village.

Two of the Tall Ships have historically authentic, working military ordinance aboard, and will stage daily mock cannon battles under sail in the Bay, using blank charges and without cannonballs. Other Tall Ships will conduct day sails and sunset cruises on the Bay daily between 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. or 7 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. These activities can be freely viewed from any of the hundreds of scenic vantage points around the Bay Area. A limited number of Excursion Tickets are available for advance online purchase and at the Village Box Offices.

For the kids, Pirate Academy, which will be located in a special event tent on the Washington Street side of Justin Herman Plaza, is an added feature at the International Village. Here, families and kids can participate in fun and games with the pirate-costumed water rogues and rascallettes of the playful popular local Velocity Circus troupe. Pirate Academy will be open from 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. daily, July 24-27. Tickets, available for $10 per person only at the International Village Box Office, are on a first come, first served basis. The number of children and parents allowed into the interactive Academy at any one time is limited, so plan to arrive early. The Pirate Academy is presented by Gregangelo & Velocity Circus, a San Francisco based Arts & Entertainment Company.

For complete details about Festival of Sail ships and events, and for advance ticket purchases:


To participate as a Festival of Sail volunteer:


Festival of Sail

When: Opening Parade of Sail at Noon, Wednesday July 23; Three Showcase Villages, 10:00am-6:00pm, Thursday through Sunday, July 24-27Where: San Francisco Embarcadero, between AT&T Park and Aquatic Park, and afternoons and evenings on the Bay. Cost: Opening Parade on the Bay free; public timed tours of the ships at each of the three showcase villages, require a $10.00 Village Wristband; daily daytime and evening Sailing Excursions require advance online ticket purchase

Nina is the first truly, historically correct replica of a 15th Century Caravel built in 1988 by a group of master shipbuilders in Bahia, Brazil who were still using design and construction techniques dating back to the 15th Century. Photo courtesy of Dan Friedman Photography

Alma is a wooden-hulled scow schooner built in 1891 to carry bulk cargo.The flat-bottomed hull was designed to navigate the shallow waters of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and to rest on the bottom at low tide. Photo courtesy of Lyons Imaging