A Tall Ships spectacular

On May 30 Boston once again surrendered to the fascination of the sea. In this harbor the Tall Ships met, and intrepid sailors unloosed canvas billows of white for all to gaze in rapt delight at the procession of graceful hulls, spider-web riggings, and tapered masts.

Over 70 giant sailing craft helped kick off a summer-long 350th celebration of a town that once built great ships and sailed them. (On June 4 most of the Tall Ships race to Norway.)

Tens of thousands New Englanders gathered on grassy harbor islands to hail the fleet. Spectator boats tilted to one side as passengers aimed for the best picture.

Hanging up in the ships' wooden crosstrees, sea-beaten crewmen sang the songs of ancient mariners ("Blow the Man Down"). Cannons boomed in salute as the smoke rings rose like angel's halos. And rolling masts traced an arc across Boston's skyline.

It was nautical romance. "Ships are the nearest things to dreams that hands have ever made. . . ," wrote poet Robert N. Rose.

Aboard the lead ship USS Constitution (Old Ironsides) -- the oldest commissioned US warship and the only onenot under sail in the six-hour birthday parade -- Commander Robert L. Gillen (with surreptitious help from a tugboat) took his 18th-century square-rigged vessel out of its berth below Bunker Hill, past Old North Church, and flew the colors under the 25-story-high deck of the John F. Kennedym aircraft carrier. "It's hard for the traditionalist to accept the transition away from sail power," he said.

As sailors say, the port was won.

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