NORFOLK, Va. - In majestic procession, the tall ships left this naval port yesterday to send Operation Sail 2000 on its way to its next stop: Baltimore.
The 31 sailing ships that will turn Baltimore harbor into a municipality of masts will start arriving in the Inner Harbor today.
The first three are expected to dock before noon. They are the Guayas, a 258-foot barque from Ecuador; Italy's 331-foot, full-rigged Amerigo Vespucci; and the 191-foot Indonesian barquentine Dewaruci.
The fleet will be docked around the city waterfront, from the Inner Harbor west wall along the piers, at Fells Point and out to Locust Point and Canton.
In Norfolk, 48 tall ships were at the heart of a five-day celebration of seafaring that brought tens of thousands of residents and visitors to Norfolk's river front.
"I love these beautiful ships," said Bob Waugaman, a retired professor from Pennsylvania. "I have taken time to read about them. It's unbelievable how these ships developed. The history of the ships is really something."
One by one, the ships took their leave of Norfolk - the Chilean naval cadets aboard the 371-foot Esmeralda singing traditional songs, the crew on the Indonesian ship dancing in the rigging, the band on the Ecuadorean training ship playing Latino music.
By Friday afternoon, all the vessels should be tied up in Baltimore and ready for the opening of a seafaring festival billed as "the largest tall ship and maritime event in history."
To the sound of ships' horns and ceremonial cannons, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley will officially welcome the ships, their captains and crews at a Harborplace ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday.
The weeklong OpSail program includes tours of the ships, educational family events, concerts, a film festival and a crew party.
Norfolk city fathers projected up to 3 million visitors to the city's quayside, bringing $20 million in festival-related business. Official figures await the results of a survey of hotels, businesses and vendors.
A city-run shuttle service from satellite parking areas carried 15,000 visitors to the riverside Friday and 28,000 Saturday, exceeding projections, said Maria Miglioretti, Norfolk marketing director of OpSail 2000.
"Everything has been a success, outstanding," she said, noting that visitors had to wait up to two hours to board the most popular ships, such as the Amerigo Vespucci and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's flagship, the Eagle.
The weather - fiercely hot when the ships arrived, wet and windy just before they left - hardly swelled the crowds.
A storm, which brought a tornado warning, put an abrupt end to Sunday night's festivities as visitors fled for shelter in the huge Nautilus Naval Museum.
Sunday's winds, with gusts of up to 77 mph, broke a floating pontoon loose with two of the tall ships - the Cisne Branco from Brazil and Portugal's N.E. Sagres - berthed alongside.
The pier lodged under the stern of the German tall ship Gorch Fock II, and tugboats were used to extricate and secure the vessels. No one was hurt.
Heavy rain also put a damper on Monday's turnout, and the sky was overcast yesterday for the sparsely attended departure.
"Ah, well, the weather has to be expected," said Bill Graham, the festival's public address announcer. "A lot of people thought the crowds were low in the area. But it wasn't just Norfolk. There were events going on in all the cities surrounding us.
"I think the neat thing about it has been the regionalism, all the surrounding cities tied into OpSail. It was great to have it so spread out."
At the waterside soft-drink stall run by Troop 15, Norfolk, of the Boy Scouts of America, there were more helpers than customers yesterday, and troop leader James Curth predicted their worst day of a disappointing fund-raising effort.
The boys had hoped to sell $3,500 worth of soft drinks a day and come out with $2,000 profit from the five days. They never sold more than $2,700 on a single day, and Curth estimated the overall profit would be less than $1,000, which will be used to help finance a weeklong summer camp for 12 boys.
Back at the microphone yesterday, Graham told the few hundred people who turned out to see the ships leave: "We will never forget the Parade of Sails. We will never forget the fireworks."
The parade in Norfolk was held as the ships arrived Friday. In Baltimore, the highlight parade will be held at the end of the visit, with the Pride of Baltimore II at the head of the fleet.
The ships will gather off Fort McHenry at 11:30 a.m. June 29 for a final display as they head under the Key Bridge into the Chesapeake Bay en route to New York and the July 4 holiday.
Their departure from Norfolk yesterday was led by the Eagle, built in 1936, acquired as German reparations for World War II and used since for training cadets from the Coast Guard Academy. The Eagle is not among the vessels expected in Baltimore.
As each ship left Norfolk, it was blessed by the Rev. David F. Lassale, Episcopal chaplain at Old Dominion University.
Not all the ships leaving Norfolk were headed for Baltimore. For some, the next ports of call were Philadelphia; Wilmington, Del.; and Newport, R.I., before they reassemble in New York for Independence Day celebrations.