WHEN THE SHIPS COME SAILING IN At Fells Point maritime festival, history and fun arrive by sea


When the bicentennial tall ships rallied in Baltimore in 1976, it was a moment for intense civic pride. A sort of mini-replay of that memorable sailing event opens today in Fells Point, with a "first annual" maritime festival.

The two-day sail spectacular will feature 10 sailing ships up to 200 feet long -- romantic 17th- to 19th century-style vessels that will dock for two days of waterside merriment and entertainment in Fells Point. Most will be open for tours. Farther downtown, a huge, foreign sailing vessel is also participating, the Spanish ship Juan Sebastian de Elcano, docking on the west wall of the Inner Harbor.

Among historic ship restorations honoring national Flag Day this weekend at the festival will be the Federalist, a full-sized copy of a miniature ship built in Baltimore in 1788 to celebrate the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Another visitor will be the Maryland Dove, a reproduction of one of the ships that brought Maryland colonists to St. Mary's in the 1630s.

The event is under joint sponsorship of the Fells Point Business Association, Brown's Wharf marina and the Baltimore Operation Sail Ltd.

The 160-foot sailing vessel Clipper City will be scheduled to take people on sailing cruises from Fells Point through the harbor to the bay during the festival dates. A water taxi will also be available in the Inner Harbor to transport people to the festival site at Fells Point.

Philadelphia is sending the 177-foot Gazela, the largest and oldest wooden square-rigged ship on the world's waters today, according to sponsors. Among other state ships in the sail delegation will be Rhode Island's Providence and the Spirit of Massachusetts. Among larger ships at the Inner Harbor will be the 370-foot Juan Sebastian, a four-masted schooner built in 1927 for the Spanish Navy, and the Soviet Union's 342-foot Kruzenshtern.

Visiting groups during the two-day festival will include a 20-man delegation of Soviet sailors, the crew of the Juan Sebastian and the sail training staff of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Maritime lore, dramatic performances and living history will be keynotes at Fells Point's festival area at the foot of Broadway. Among interesting demonstrations will be the building of a 12-foot skiff, assembled at the site by a student crew and and raffled off for the Lady Maryland Maritime Institute program. Nick Vincent, Manchester blacksmith, will forge the skiff's fittings at the site.

The Baltimore City Life Museums will present several attractions, including a narration by "Capt. John Smith," the 17th century explorer, who will describe early life on the Chesapeake Bay. A 19th century-style phrenologist -- they "read" the bumps on people's heads for clues to their character -- will reveal the attributes of festival visitors.

Three theater groups, the Vagabonds, the Young Vic and the Fells Point Corner Theater, will perform, respectively, a "Conversation With the Fell Family," the "Pirates of Pen

zance" and a historical sketch on Frederick Douglass, the 19th century black liberator. Other performances will be given by Baltimore's Black Cherry puppeteers.

"We're going to have jugglers, fire eaters and live llamas [the humpless South American camel], too," says JoAnn Joyner, festival coordinator. Music will be North and South American folk type, plus classic jazz, ragtime, brass and steel band performance. No rock, no roll, according to Ms. Joyner.

Festival ship tours at Fells Point will be held from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. today and Sunday. The Juan Sebastian in the Inner Harbor will be closed for tours today but open from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. tomorrow. Festival shore events continue daily until 9 p.m. A Maryland-style crab feast will be served; price is $25 per person.

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