Bay City’s tall ship fest draws for ‘living history’

Jacob Carah
Special to The Detroit News

Bay City — The most important aspect to know about those who work aboard tall ships, according to one captain: “We’re not pirates!”

Tiffany Kriwhan, captain of Great Lakes schooner the S/V Denis Sullivan, says a crew knows “to have fun, educate people about the environment.”

The educational vessel and replica from Discovery World, a science and technology center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is also the flagship of the state. The ship was the first to pull into Wenonah Park’s waterfront Thursday in downtown Bay City on a particularly windy day as part of the city’s Tall Ship Celebration.

It’s the sixth time Bay City has played host to the tall ship festival, which features 12 vessels and runs through Sunday.

As a senior captain for the last eight years, Kriwhan said conditions on the ship can vary from day to day, “but it’s always a lot of hard work.” The crew spends a lot of time cleaning and providing general maintenance.

But Kriwhan said the daily effort pays off: “Everything goes quiet and you get such a beautiful view of the stars,” she said. “You can’t get a view like that anywhere.”

Each boat in Bay City’s festival represents a certain style of vessel, Kriwhan said.

“The Denis Sullivan is a traditional Great Lakes freighter, in fact, this was the boat that helped settle much of this area of the midwest,” she said.

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Kate Wicks, a former public educator in Florida and now the educational officer on the Sullivan, said she had gone on an educational training trip on a tall ship, “and I just loved it so much, I thought, why not just do this full-time.”

The goal, Wicks said, is to inform people who love these ships of the other issues going on in the Great Lakes region.

“I understand a lot of people enjoy the historical aspect of these ships, but we deal specifically with the science education of the Great Lakes region,” she said

For Wicks, informing fans of these ships, especially children about the larger issues involved with environment, including invasive species, is an important detail of the job.

“We take out kids as young as first grade up to high school,” Wicks said. “We teach them the science and nautical issues, and getting them passionate about science on this platform.”

As crowds gathered on the banks to see the Mist of Avalon, Pathfinder and replicas of a Spanish galleon and viking longship cut through the inlet waters of Bay City’s Saginaw River, Mary Herlache chuckled to herself.

“Kind of ironic that you have a bunch of sailing vessels having a hard time getting in because of high winds,” said Herlache, 63, a board member for the festival.

Bay City is celebrating 15 years of maritime celebration. Crowds gathered along a barricade, anticipating the parade of sails, near downtown at Wenonah Park and tents set up on the opposite side of the river at Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday.

Herlache, whom moved to Bay City in 1979, said she has worked on five festivals, and this year is expected to be the biggest turnout yet.

“We usually expect around 90,000 to 100,000 people to come out, but because of advanced ticket sales, we’re expecting a bit more.”

Dressed in pirate regalia, Maranda Dahl and Megan Fitzko, college students from Flushing, said Thursday they came to enjoy the “living history” the boats represent.

“We came to see ships and dress like pirates,” Dahl said. “I have a thing for old ships, and it looks fun, but it’s also a way to connect with our history.”

If you go

What: Tall Ship Celebration

When: Through Sunday

Where: Veterans Memorial and Wenonah parks

Tickets: $10 daily admission, $10 souvenir passport to board and tour ships (good for weekend)