TWO HARBORS, Minn. - A series of tall-masted replica ships rounded the break wall into Agate Bay just after noon on Thursday — the Pride of Baltimore II announcing its arrival with the sound of a cannon blast — to kick off a first-time maritime festival for this small city on the North Shore.
The Lake Superior Festival of Sail, with nine ships ranging from War of 1812-era lookalikes to educational vessels, runs through Sunday. Along the shore there are characters in pirate garb, blacksmith demonstrations, more than 100 food and craft vendors and Draw Events' signature character — a 61-foot tall, 64-foot wide rubber duck visible from most pockets of Paul Van Hoven Park.
Mama Duck, as she's called, has her own yellow souvenir T-shirts.
The Parade of Sail offered a first look at ships like the Nao Trinidad, based on explorer Ferdinand Magellan's flagship. They sailed in from Burlington Bay, followed by an entourage of recreational boaters and at least two kayakers — Jen Smith and Cliff Hanson — who slipped into wetsuits and took off from the Agate Bay boat launch in the morning before the festival began.
Hanson, who grew up in Two Harbors, said they started scouting the water for kayak potential as soon as the festival was announced.
"That doesn't happen very often," he recalled saying. "Let's go see that."
The kayakers were warned by officials not to get too close to the ships, but they got close enough.
"They're massive," said Smith. "The water was calm and the boats are just like what you see in movies."
The Festival of Sail is typically held in Duluth, but was moved up the shore because of uncertainties about construction on the seawall behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The event is smaller, but organizer Craig Samborski said there is more room to roam than at its previous home in Bayfront Festival Park. He estimated 3,500 people had come through the gates by early afternoon Thursday.
Duane Bradley of Woodbury said he owned a fishing charter that operated out of Barker's Island in Superior, Wis., for a decade. He and his wife, Karen Bradley, said they are drawn to Lake Superior — and the sight of these grand vessels.
"All these ships are ancient," he said. "Where else would you see something like this?"
Several of the ships have local connections, including Charley, a 60-foot steel schooner that pays homage to one from the 1800s, which was referred to as "that faithful old tub," that delivered goods on the North Shore. Its owners, both who have spent much of life near Lake Superior, offer excursions. The Gerhard Folgero was refitted in Knife River, Minn., and named for a Norwegian explorer.
Early in the day, a man nicknamed Scurvy pulled a wagon decked out like a Revolution-era ship. He wore a homespun striped shirt and duck trousers, but admitted his boots were a Hollywood touch. Real privateers — sanctioned pirates with paperwork — would slide off a ship without the right footwear, he said.
Scurvy, played by Jim Stone, traveled with Captain Kid, who is his 8-year-old son Leo, and Debbie Robie, the wife he referred to as "Lady Rose" before she corrected him.
"Just Rose," she said.
The crowd on Thursday included mostly out-of-towners. Samborski estimated that 95% of ticket sales came from outside of the Two Harbors community. Parking is available at Two Harbors High School and the Lake County Fairgrounds, but there is also nearby on-street parking. Some local businesses offered pop-up sidewalk food and drink service.
"Honestly, we're pretty excited about all of this," Janelle Jones said earlier this week. She is involved with both the Two Harbors Chamber of Commerce and Lovin' Lake County, which promotes tourism. "We look at it as such an opportunity. For us, we're looking at it as giving people here a chance to enjoy the tall ships. We hope they have such a great experience, they come back some day."