PORTSMOUTH – Sail Portsmouth returns to the city from August 11-16, bringing tall ships to the city for the first time since 2019. The festival has been canceled for the last two years due to COVID-19 but is making a comeback this summer featuring three historic tall ships for touring and sailing.
Sail Portsmouth, formerly known as the Piscataqua Maritime Commission, has been in existence for 25 years and is dedicated to educating young people about sailing and giving them life-changing opportunities through its Sea Challenge programme, which is largely funded by proceeds from the Sail Portsmouth Festival.
“It’s not every day that you can board a tall ship in Portsmouth. It’s a great time to capitalize on this,” said Phil Von Hemert, Chairman of Sail Portsmouth. “And since we haven’t had it for the last few years. I can imagine that there will be a lot of people there.”
“A lot of people missed it because they’re so used to going there and because it’s really good fun,” said Nita Libby, the organization’s treasurer. “So we just hope they’re all ready to come out and do that again.” Tickets for the tours and sails sell out fast, so be sure to visit sailportsmouth.org to secure your spot.
When and where is the sailing parade?
The Sailing Parade, which sees the tall ships sailing up the Piscataqua River to Portsmouth, takes place on Thursday 11 August from 10:15am
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The arrival of the tall ships marks the start of the festival and is typically accompanied by a number of private and public boats following the tall ships. Ships begin at the mouth of the Piscataqua River and end at Memorial Bridge.
Which tall ships are coming?
The ships on display this year are the Kalmar Nyckel, the Spirit of Bermuda and the Lynx.
The Kalmar Nyckel is a replica of the same name of the ship that brought the first Swedish colonists to America in 1638. These colonists were known for founding the colony of New Sweden, which eventually became Delaware. This fully rigged ship has a blue hull and features all modern safety and navigational equipment, as well as an engine that the 1638 ship did not have. It is owned by the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation of Wilmington, Delaware.
The Spirit of Bermuda is a three-masted replica of the Bermuda sloops used by the British in the War of 1812. What makes these original ships so remarkable is that they were the first ships to feature the innovation of a Marconi rig sail – the typical triangular sail seen on ships today. The Spirit of Bermuda also showcases these sails. Bermuda sloops were used in peacetime for shipping goods across the ocean. In times of war, they were used as privateers, such as in the War of 1812 when they attacked American privateers. The Spirit of Bermuda is owned by the Bermuda Sloop Foundation, based in Hamilton, Bermuda, and is directed by Alex Peacock, a native of Newmarket.
Finally, the Lynx is a replica of the Baltimore clipper ship and privateer that served as the American counterpart to the British Bermuda sloops in the War of 1812. While the Spirit of Bermuda is not a replica of a single ship, but rather a general recreation of those Bermuda sloops of yesteryear, the Lynx replicates a specific ship of the same name dating back to 1812. Owned by the Lynx Foundation, this replica is offering in the summer Day sailing in Nantucket. The Lynx is captained by Donald Peacock, father of Alex Peacock, also from Newmarket.
Where should I watch the arrival of the tall ships?
Anywhere along the Piscataqua River is a good spot. On the Maine side, try Fort McClary or Fort Foster. Good spots on the NH side are New Castle Commons, Four Tree Island, Pierce Island, Prescott Park and the Memorial Bridge where ships will eventually land. If you are a member of one of the yacht clubs along the river these are also good places to see the parade.
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Can I visit the ships?
The Kalmar Nyckel and the Spirit of Bermuda are open for tours from August 12th to 14th at Portsmouth Commercial Fish Pier, opposite Prescott Park.
The Kalmar Nyckel is a guided tour with a docent at each station for information. The Spirit of Bermuda will be a less formal tour, allowing passengers to walk around and ask the onboard tour guides any questions they might have, but it’s a more self-paced experience.
Can I sail one of the ships?
The Lynx will offer two-hour sailings from August 11 after the Sailing Parade through August 14, with passengers boarding at UNH Pier in New Castle. The captain will provide commentary throughout the excursion and passengers are welcome to help hoist the sails if they wish.
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What other activities are planned?
Sail Portsmouth will be hosting a tent at the Commercial Fish Pier at 1 Pierce Island Road which will feature a range of fun educational exhibits and even some pirates for the kids to interact with.
On Friday, August 12, from 6:30-8:00 p.m. under the marquee, there will be a kid-friendly musical theater performance called “Captain and the Troubadour,” which is a re-enactment of the War of 1812 and the Battle of Nantucket. The show stars nationally renowned troubadour Bill Schustik, who has appeared on Broadway and at the White House for former President Nixon and Indira Ghandi, and Donald Peacock, who will be captain of the Lynx.
Tickets to the show are $11 for members and $12 for non-members.
On Saturday and Sunday, Betty’s Kitchen Food Truck offers a selection of food including lobster rolls, burgers, sandwiches, sides and beverages for purchase.
Where can i buy tickets?
All tickets for the tours and sails can be purchased at sailportsmouth.org. The sails are offered to passengers 8 years and older for $65. Cruises are free for children under 12 and $12 for guests over 12. Member tickets are US$10 and family tickets for one adult and three children 15 years and under are US$30.
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Are the ships wheelchair accessible?
The three visiting tall ships are not wheelchair accessible. However, the Gundalow Company, which offers sails aboard Portsmouth’s own tall ship, the Gundalow, is wheelchair accessible and will be taking part in the sailing parade.
In addition, wheelchair users are welcome to all exhibitions and activities that take place under the tent.
Where can I park for the event?
The city operates a free shuttle from the foundry parking garage to the festival site at the pier. Parking is available on Pierce Island, but is limited to handicap parking and festival volunteer spaces. Another place to park is the Hanover Parking Garage at 2 Hanover St. in Portsmouth and from there walk to the Pier.
Can I volunteer for the festival?
The Sail Portsmouth Festival is still in need of volunteers to help out on all days of the festival. If you are interested, contact Von Hemert via the contact page at sailportsmouthnh.org.
What is the Sea Challenge and how can I take part?
Money raised by the Sail Portsmouth Festival funds the Sea Challenge programme. This is a program that runs every year where children aged 14 to 18 have the opportunity to spend a week on one of the tall ships and learn all about sailing, operating a ship and life on board a ship practical experience to learn . The organization prides itself on never turning away a child for financial reasons and will fund as much money as is necessary to enable a child to attend. The cost is $1500 for the week with a $100 deposit. In the past, they’ve even covered bail for families who needed it.
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“We always say that finances shouldn’t be something that should stop a child from going,” said John Considine, Sail Portsmouth Executive Vice President, who runs the Sea Challenge programme. “A lot of them will be very scared at first when they leave and when you see them get off the boat. … It’s just incredible how the children change.”
This year’s Sea Challenge took place only recently, but the organization is already looking ahead to next year. For more information about the Sea Challenge and Sail Portsmouth, visit sailportsmouth.org.