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Boston set to benefit from tall ship festival

By Martine Powers
Globe Staff / June 3, 2012
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Boston is gearing up for a six-day summer tall ship festival — but this year, the organizers have made a promise to share the profits of the event with the city.

The OpSail festival, a gathering of traditional sailing vessels to mark the bicentennial of the War of 1812, comes three years after another tall ship festival was fraught with controversy on who would foot the bill for event security.

But the city and OpSail organizers said that this year, they will be sharing revenue to help the city recoup money spent on the event.

“We have a revenue-sharing agreement with the city,” said William G. Armstrong Jr., spokesman for Operation Ship Inc., a nonprofit that hosts tall ship events throughout the country and is organizing the OpSail event here. “The city is going to make out pretty well.”

Boston’s OpSail festival will take place from June 30 to July 5. A spokeswoman for Mayor Thomas M. Menino confirmed that the city and Operation Sail Inc. have agreed to share revenue from the event, though she said the details on how much money will go to the city have not yet been pinned down.

Boston periodically plays host to tall ship festivals, and this year’s event will feature at least 14 frigates, barques, and schooners from around the world, including the USS Constitution and the Coast Guard Academy’s prized tall ship, the USCGC Eagle.

In the past, relations between the city and tall ship festival organizers have been contentious. Menino refused to pay the $750,000 in public safety costs for the Sail Boston tall ship festival in 2009, which organizers estimated drew 3.1 million people. Menino argued that the tax revenue from the large tourist event would benefit state, and not city, coffers — and that the safety costs would be an impossible burden for the city in the throes of a recession.

That lack of city funding for security caused Sail Boston to cancel the Parade of Sail, a grand entrance of the ships into Boston Harbor that is considered the highlight of the festival.

This year, Boston was chosen as one of the ports for the OpSail tall ship festival series, along with New Orleans, Norfolk, Va., Baltimore, New York City, and New London, Conn., — all cities that played a role in the War of 1812. It’s the first time in recent years that Operation Sail will hold a tall ship event in Boston.

Some of the revenue from sponsorships for OpSail will be given to the city to defray part of the costs the city must pay for police security and standby paramedics in order for the event to be held.

The mayor’s spokeswoman, Dot Joyce, said the city was glad to be working with Operation Sail.

The bicentennial of the War of 1812 is going to be a fabulous event in the city, not only because it’s part of the history of our city and our country,” Joyce said, “but also because it’s one of the most exciting times in Boston, with the 4th of July weekend.”

The 14 tall ships scheduled to participate in the OpSail festival in Boston are far fewer than the 41 that made an appearance at Sail Boston in 2009. Armstrong said that is because of an OpSail focus on Class A tall ships — navy-manned tall ships from around the world that pay their own way to the festival — rather than privately owned ships that charge a fee for appearances.

Six Class A ships will participate in the OpSail festival, including the KRI Dewaruci, an Indonesian navy ship currently on its last circumnavigation of the globe before it is retired, and the ARC Gloria, a ship from Colombia featuring an exhibition of pre-Columbian gold and ceramic artifacts.

“All these countries build these ships knowing ambassadors and presidents will come aboard,” Armstrong said. “These are very classy-looking ships.”

Chief Petty Officer Frank Neely, a spokesman for the USS Constitution, said OpSail will provide residents and tourists with the opportunity to learn about the history and workings of some of the world’s most esteemed sailing vessels. It will also draw some star power to the famed vessels, he said.

“There’s going to be lots of special guests and VIPs,” Neely said. “But nothing has been firmed up yet.”

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

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