Looking at these pictures, they are the ships of summer to me, superb in the port and gone too soon. The tall ships came to our Duluth harbor for the last weekend of July. They were going to parade in Thursday at about two in the afternoon. So I posted my ebay packages downtown at 1:30 and strolled to the lakewalk. There were sails on the horizon.
I really didn’t expect to see anything at first except for the crowd that showed up. Those ships were on time and I had to trot to get closer while the first masts staggered past me. It’s too bad that I didn’t have the camera I bought since for zoom power. But maybe that’s like wishing to see a ship with a steam engine instead of sails. I had to wonder how time goes on those ships because, after spying another on the horizon, it took less than a half hour for it to swell in approach. One ship dropped out because of a fire on board during a Lake Superior storm. The ships were grand.
Usually on Lake Superior, we see lake barges. They are low, leaden, and business-oriented. In the summer, there are white tour boats. And the sailors with their small crafts, out there that day to welcome the tall ships in. The tall sails radiated on the waves all the adventure and expedition of the past. Lake Superior is not a friendly body of water so anyone who has watched its moods had to cheer these sailors. We don’t usually think Edmund Fitzgerald these days, however the courage to navigate antiquated ships on those cold waves brought a crowd that kept me from getting close to the passageway under Duluth’s lift bridge.
I had just had my historical novel The Swan Bonnet published and could imagine again what it might be like to see ships arriving along an Alaskan coast, albeit it steamships with high chimneys. Lake barges are not as romantic as past ships to see, I’m sure now, although there was a winter some years ago when the lakers were threatened by late spring ice. The city watched a stranded ship for days and the coast guard ice breakers freeing it.
These are sights that stir the imagination and feed tall stories. On vacation as a child, I remember walking up a rope ladder to a ship in the Duluth harbor. And a sailor saying "Hello 'dere" in a British accent. He was wearing white and probably bell-bottoms too, thrilling in my memory. At the new and used bookstores where I worked in Duluth many years later, people from the lakers visited from other parts of the world. The iron ore industry was over but there was still some commerce. I was like my character Dawn, watching the ships come in although these were not passenger ships. Ships materialize like dreams. Usually they are on the waters between one place and another, symbolic of isolated ventures or escapades, skirting the everyday world. Tall masts on ships came like clouds of the past when they heralded cargoes and passengers.