The full-rigged, three-masted Libertad from Argentina sails into the Inner Harbor this week to open the 2007 Sail Baltimore schedule.
Since 1975, Sail Baltimore, a mostly volunteer, nonprofit economic, cultural and educational harbor program, has been the official host committee for visiting ships.
Laura Stevenson, Sail Baltimore's executive director, expects about 100,000 visitors to Sail Baltimore ships.
"Sometimes 10,000 people will come down on one weekend to visit the ships," she says.
Along with adult visitors, Sail Baltimore also brings groups of school children to the harbor for a "Learn the Ropes" program aboard the ships. The students are taught about the history of the ships.
The Libertad this year will be followed by some 35 more ships, including the Major General Robert Smalls, the first U.S. Army vessel named for an African-American hero of the Civil War.
Smalls was a slave pilot who commandeered a Confederate steamer in South Carolina's Charleston Harbor on May 13, 1862, and sailed past the Rebel forts to the Union blockade.
Hailed as a Union hero, Smalls became the first African-American captain of a U.S. naval vessel. After the Civil War, he served five terms in Congress.
The 313-foot Smalls will dock at the west wall of the Inner Harbor, and visitors can board on June 23 and 24. The Smalls is a logistics support vessel, the largest powered watercraft in the U.S. Army.
The Libertad, built in Buenos Aires and commissioned into the Argentine navy as a sail training ship in 1963, has a crew of 357.
The ship has sailed 735,000 miles and visited 486 ports in more than 60 countries. Every Argentine midshipman has to complete a journey aboard the Libertad before commission.
And it's very fast. Libertad established a world record in 1966 for big sailing ships crossing the Atlantic when it sailed 1,741.4 miles between ports in Canada and Ireland in 6 days and 4 hours.
The Libertad comes to Baltimore Harbor as a distinguished ship among distinguished ships.
The 249-foot Gloria, a Colombian navy ship, arrives in port this weekend.
Next up is the Indian navy Tarangini, a three-masted Indian naval barque. The ship circumnavigated the globe in 2002. The name derives from the Hindu word meaning waves.
It, along with the 249-foot Brazilian navy ship, Cisne Branco, will come into port June 13-18.
The schooner Virginia, at 122 feet long, and the schooner Bowdoin, a Maine Maritime Academy ship, at 94 feet, will be at the harbor June 15-17. Bluenose II, June 16-19, honors a beloved Canadian schooner - Bluenose - the most famous Nova Scotia fishing vessel. The Bluenose II was launched in 1963, built by the same shipyard and many of the same men who worked on the original schooner.
On July 5, the 440-foot Norwegian naval ship Fridtj of Nansen comes to the harbor. It is named for an extraordinary Norwegian scientist, explorer and diplomat awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 for work as a League of Nations High Commissioner.
You can see these ships and more at the various piers along the Inner Harbor through Dec. 2.
Go to sailbaltimore.org for a full schedule. Tours of the ships are free. For more information, call 410-522-7300.