Grace of Tall Ships meets fall sports frenzy

John Gilbert

El Galeon, the Spanish galleon that stayed in Duluth after the other Tall Ships departed, drew only a spontaneous crowd of appreciative onlookers as it left under the Aerial Bridge about an hour after sunset last Wednesday night. – Photos by John Gilbert.
El Galeon, the Spanish galleon that stayed in Duluth after the other Tall Ships departed, drew only a spontaneous crowd of appreciative onlookers as it left under the Aerial Bridge about an hour after sunset last Wednesday night. – Photos by John Gilbert.

The craziness has commenced down Twin Cities way. By that I mean the start of the overflowing fall sports season, in which the Twins are still playing, according to rumors, while the Vikings are preseasoning their way to the regular season, and Gopher football is also getting underway.
Once all three are in full swing, there will be no lulls until next June, as virtually every day is filled with either a sports event or the lead-up or follow-up to a big game.
Up here in the Northland, we’re still in transitional lull, that time when summer gracefully sinks over the big hill on the Duluth skyline, and full-fledged fall sports season is just about to burst onto the scene. During the transition, we still have the weekly Wednesday afternoon sailing extravaganza, which has enjoyed such great weather this summer.
In fact, on Wednesday of last week, sailing night was the perfect prelude to the climax of the most exciting thing to happen in Duluth in several weeks, and allows us to qualify it as a “sports event.  We all went properly bonkers when the Tall Ships sailed under the Aerial Bridge to set up shop in the harbor, with all nine of them lined up along the Aquarium, the DECC, and Grandma’s Sports Garden, entertaining throngs of curious and well-entertained people who came to check them out.
After they closed down on Sunday night a week ago, they headed out on their Eastward cruise across Lake Superior the next morning. All but one, the majestic El Galeon Andalucia, which announced it would remain in the Duluth harbor another day or two before departing. That maneuver was undetected by most citizens and/or media outlets.
Now, the Galeon was the only one of the ships that was built in Europe and made the trip to sail across the Atlantic to join the other replica ships for the big exposition. It was a reminder of the Spanish Armada, the fleet of ships that allowed Spain to dominate the seas back in the 1500s and 1600s, while they established such places as St. Augustine, Fla., in the “New World.” It also was  my new favorite, with its high-tailed stern, and those meaningful trap doors along the sides, each of which could be swung open to display the business end of a cannon.
As it turned out, my wife,  Joan, and I were down in the Canal Park area having a little light dinner on an absolutely perfect evening last Wednesday. As we walked back to the car, I suggested we should walk over and see if the Galeon was still anchored there, or had departed without us knowing.
It was still there. And there was an assortment of bustling activity on board, as the last visitors walked down the gangplank, and a couple of crewmen climbed up on the yardarms to unfasten the sails. Probably going to leave at dawn the next morning, I figured, but as the sun was setting about 8 p.m. Wednesday, we overheard somebody say the Galeon was going to depart about 9:30 that very night.
We had to stay and watch the preparations, silhouetted by a beautiful sunsest. And sure enough, after having some difficulty casting off, the Galeon used its diesel engines to slide out toward the DECC, then circle around in the gathering blackness and head for the Aerial Bridge. As I was still wondering why they wouldn’t wait until what promised to be a beautiful morning, I noticed a quite-stiff breeze.
That meant the Galeon could get clear of the harbor, unfurl those sails, and enjoy a great tailwind that would whisk the ship across the big lake in record time, and the fantastic dawn would be there to greet them somewhere ‘way out on Lake Superior.
As the Galeon slipped through the darkness and under the raised Aerial Bridge, the gathering that must have been several hundred that lined the pier burst into applause. It was an interesting mixture of celebration and appreciation for our fair city and had to send them on their way with the unmistakable memory of our hospitality.
And now we can get on with our own craziness, after one more week – and particularly Thursday night of this week – that completes the transition from summertime.