Tall Ships are a lot like comets: they’re something you’re only able to see once every few years. To John Houle, spokesman for the Ocean State Tall Ships (OSTS) Festival, the rare glimpse is only a fraction of the reason people should come to Newport this weekend.
On Thursday, 14 tall ships will sail into Newport Harbor, where they’ll be through Sunday. The last Tall Ships festival in Newport took place in 2007, and Houle said because of their sailing routes, the ships won’t appear on the East Coast for at least another three years.
“They’re majestic vessels,” said Houle, who grew up in Warwick and graduated from Pilgrim.
This year’s fleet will include the HMS Bounty, which was used in the film “The Pirates of the Carribbean,” The Providence and The Picton Castle.
Those who attend can buy a boarding pass and experience firsthand what it’s like to be on board these historic vessels.
“They’ll be awestruck,” said Houle of those boarding the ships. “It will transport them back to a time when these tall ships ruled the seas … and this was how commerce was conducted.”
Houle said boarding the ships is a hands-on experience, and children and adults alike can visit the various compartments of the ship, touch the wood that they’re built from and interact with the crew.
“A lot of the crew members wear their regalia,” said Houle. “And they’re from many different countries. It’s a cultural experience.”
Ocean State Tall Ships, a new 501c3 non-profit that took over the festival about a year ago, is running this year’s festival. Houle said the approximate cost of bringing the tall ships to Newport is $1.2 million; ticket sales, corporate sponsors, merchandise sales and fundraising events help to fund the event. The ships come to Newport as part of the Tall Ships Challenge, a series of races and cruises navigated by the fleet of ships. Before coming to Newport, the fleet was in Savannah, Ga., and then in Greenport, N.Y. After Rhode Island, they’ll head further up the East Coast to Halifax and Nova Scotia. During 2013, the ships will sail the Great Lakes, making nine stops in the various border states. Because of the routes they take, the ships won’t return to the East Coast for another three years.
“Plus you don’t know what ships will be back,” said Houle.
In addition to the ships, this year the OSTS festival will boast the new Vendor Trade Marketplaces at Bowen's Wharf, Waite's Wharf and along Washington Street and State Pier.
“It’s a big change from past festivals,” said Houle.
Local vendors will set up around the harbor to sell goods and refreshments, and dozens of bands will play sets over the course of the weekend. The marketplace is free and open to the public.
Houle said by setting up in Newport Harbor, versus the prior Fort Adams location, more people would be exposed to more local vendors.
“The fact that we put the festival itself in downtown Newport demonstrates our commitment to supporting local businesses,” he said.
Houle expects the festival to generate $20 million in economic activity for Newport.
Though only 4 at the time, Houle remembers hearing about the Tall Ships Festival of 1976.
“They said that festival made Newport what it is today,” he said. Houle hopes that this year’s festival will again be a milestone for the city.
The ships will be open July 6 through 8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The festival will conclude Monday, with the Parade of Sail at noon. The Parade of Sail is a four-hour event in which the fleet of ships makes a figure eight around the Newport Bridge before departing. For $100, ticket holders can ride on one of the ships during the Parade. As of press time, there were only 11 tickets left.
To avoid parking problems and traffic jams, OSTC is setting up satellite parking lots throughout Newport and Middletown. Daily parking passes are $10 and include shuttles to and from a location near the ships.
Houle advises those that plan to take their boats to Newport to see the ships to make special arrangements with the Harbormaster in advance, especially if they plan to dock their boats and board the ships, since space will be limited. But for those just looking to cruise the harbor, Houle said they’ll have a unique vantage point.
Tickets to the event are $12.50 for adults and $7.50 for children if purchased in advance online. Adult day passes can be purchased at a discounted price online only throughout the festival. Tickets purchased at the event are $15 for adults and $8 per child. Tickets provide access to all 14 vessels.
For information on parking, band schedules, the Vendors Marketplace or to purchase tickets, visit www.OceanStateTallShips.com.