Bay City, Michigan is a waterfront town that lies alongside the Saginaw River a few miles as the crow flies from the shallow water of the Saginaw Bay. It’s a quaint city with historic charm, a real downtown, and about 33,000 people. But that number will climb to more than 100,000 when this community, the only official host port in the State of Michigan, welcomes the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE® fleet and a tall ship event like no other July 14 to 17. The Bay City event is arguably the best tall ship festival in North America.

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The Ships

At least 11 tall ships will sail into downtown Bay City as part of the Tall Ship Celebration event in 2016. Nine ships will be available for boarding and touring. Two additional ships, the schooners Appledore IV and Appledore V based out of Bay City, will offer sailing excursions throughout the festival.

“The fleet this year is anchored by replicas of a Spanish galleon and a Viking long boat,” said Shirley Roberts, event coordinator. “With just the right mixture of new vessels and perennial favorites, striking silhouettes and tall ship tales, festival guests will continue to be amazed by the ships lining the Bay City waterfront.”

El Galeón Andalucía is a replica of 16th-17th century Spanish galleon and the only one of its kind sailing in the world today. Draken Harald Hårfagre is a replica Viking longboat inspired by the ships of Norse saga and from knowledge of traditional boatbuilding. When and If is an Alden schooner, commissioned by General George S. Patton in 1939. Her name is attributed to the quote, “When the war is over, and if I live through it, [my wife] Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.”

Both the Brig Niagara and the Pride of Baltimore II have wartime roots. The former played a pivotal role in the Battle of Lake Erie securing the Great Lakes territories for a young America, while the latter gained fame by sinking 17 British vessels while on a self-proclaimed blockade of the British Isles.

Mist of Avalon last visited Bay City in 2003. Built in 1967 as a cod fishing boat, she was transformed into a beautiful schooner in 1992. Denis Sullivan is a replica Great Lakes schooner built in 2000 by more than 900 volunteers. Today she sails as a floating classroom from her homeport of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Rounding out the Bay City 2016 tall ship fleet are the “Twin Brigantines” Pathfinder& Playfair from Toronto, Ontario, and Madeline from Traverse City, Michigan.

These ships will participate in a series of races and rallies throughout the Great Lakes, including port visits to Toronto, Ontario (July 1-3); Fairport Harbor, Ohio (July 8-10); Bay City, Michigan (July 14-17); Chicago, Illinois (July 27-31); Green Bay, Wisconsin (Aug. 5-7); Duluth, Minnesota (Aug. 18-21); Erie, Pennsylvania (Sept. 8-11); and Brockville, Ontario (Sept. 17-18).

The Maritime Festival

Although the tall ships are at the heart of this summer’s event, Bay City’s Tall Ship Celebration offers much more to entertain and enlighten guests of all ages. Beginning with the grand arrival of the fleet on July 14, nearly all of the activities and special events that make up Tall Ship Celebration are free with a paid admission to the festival.

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A special musical treat at the festival is the International Maritime Music Festival, a celebration of the music of the sea and the “chanteys” that helped crews work in unison while toiling aboard square-rigged ships during the Age of Sail.

This year, the Tall Ship Celebration will welcome musicians from around the world and from its own backyard, including Bernie Davis from the UK, Harmony Glen from The Netherlands, Iarnrod from Finland, Pod Waitr and Za Horyzontem from Poland, and US musicians Lee Murdock from Illinois, and Boca Musica, Hoolie, Roane, and Whiskey & Water from Michigan. At 5:00 p.m., Friday through Sunday evening when the festival closes for the day, “Ballads and Brews” opens with Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers from Nashville, Tennessee in the “Quarterdeck” where guests can also find a selection of Michigan craft-brewed beers.

The Ring of Steel Action Theatre will demonstrate the fine art of “Piratin” through stage productions, pirate games, crafts, and basic “tom foolery.” The Ring is the largest theatrical fencing hall in the country and specializes in the art of stage combat, a multi-disciplinary art that combines acting with elements of fencing, martial arts, dance, and music.

Beyond music and art, the Tall Ship Celebration includes professional storytellers, a giant mural, a fine art show, make and take crafts for young people, and on-site food concessions, all of which make this Tall Ship Celebration one of a kind.

One of the real treats of this year’s festival is the ability of visitors to sail a tall ship. The schooners Appledore IV and Appledore V will offer sailing excursions throughout the festival. Up to four departures per day from Thursday, July 14, through Sunday, July 17, and they include options for three-hour dinner sails as well as traditional sailing adventures. (Prices vary and reservations are required. Visit www.baysailbaycity.org for more information.)

Most tall ships today are owned and operated by nonprofit organizations with missions grounded in environmental education and/or sail training and providing personal development experiences for youth. Almost all make berths available for temporary crew or sail trainees. Regardless of age or sailing ability, most people who possess a boating passion can live the dream and enjoy a tall ship adventure of their own. Those who are interested in sailing from port-to-port aboard a tall ship this summer should visit www.sailtraining.org or www.tallshipcelebration.com for links to the ships visiting Bay City.

Tickets and Prices

Tickets for the four-day festival are now on sale. Daily admission is $8 per person if purchased by June 30 and $10 per person if purchased July 1 or later. Souvenir Passports, which are required to board and tour each visiting tall ship one time, are an additional $8 per person before June 30 and $10.00 as of July 1. Passports are valid for the entire festival, so even if a visitor plans to attend for several days, only one Passport per person is needed. Both daily admission tickets and Souvenir Passports will be available for purchase through the website www.tallshipcelebration.com and at the festival admission gates. They are also currently available for purchase at every Kroger store in Michigan.

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General Information

For more information about the Tall Ship Celebration in Bay City, visit the website www.tallshipcelebration.com. For information about planning a trip to Bay City, contact the Great Lakes Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-444-9979 or visit www.gogreat.com.