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Elected officials, stakeholders discuss Tall Ships Festival plans

Elected officials, stakeholders discuss Tall Ships Festival plans


Jump aboard mateys! That’s the spirit being touted by promoters of the next Tall Ships Festival scheduled to sail into the port of Kenosha in August 2019.

Patricia Lock, director of special projects for Tall Ships America, was on hand Tuesday morning at the Kenosha Civil War Museum to stir the waters of civic support and community participation for the event.

Attending the breakfast meeting were Mayor John Antaramian, elected officials and community stakeholders.

Things have changed since the first time Tall Ships sailed our way in 2003, Lock said.

“In 2002, when we planned that first festival and said ‘Tall Ships,’ people thought we meant the Nina and the Pinta,” Lock said. “When ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ came out, my job got a whole lot easier.”

In her presentation, Lock detailed the mission of Tall Ships America, a Newport, R.I.-based nonprofit aimed at promoting sail training in North America.

Much of TSA’s outreach is aimed at youth to stem the tide of aging out in the marine industry, Lock said. “Sail training is education on board; it’s a living classroom.”

It is “edu-tainment,” she said — a blend of education and entertainment.

The education component consists of involving youth to help crew the ships and using the ships to teach lessons about water conservation and preservation.

Youth and adults are encouraged to sign up during the festival to crew the vessels.

“It’s become a ‘bucket list’ for a lot of people,” Lock said. “We get the kids to get their feet wet; get them on board and think about careers in the coast guard or be Bob Ballard, the (undersea) explorer.”

Each year a fleet of ships does a tour of ports in one of the following: the Great Lakes, East Coast, West Coast and, most recently, the Gulf Coast. After 2019, it won’t be back to the Midwest until 2022.

The “challenge” portion of the event consists of races among the fleet vessels for bragging rights of being first to the next port. “The challenge was organized so that TSA member vessels could work under race conditions,” she said.

Lock showed a short video of the vessels in action during previous races. “Doesn’t it just make you want to jump on board?” she asked.

Another big part of the Tall Ships Challenge is helping cities draw visitors to their downtowns and harbors. In 2004, when the ships last came to Kenosha, 40,000 visitors came to see them, Lock said. “We’re hoping to replicate this success in 2019.”

Kenosha is one of only a small group of port cities able to welcome a fleet of tall ships.

“Not every port can do this,” Lock said. “Not every one has a deep-draft dock or can host a fleet.”

Organizers are hoping that six to 10 ships sign on for the challenge. That number depends on the outcome of an analysis of the north wall of the channel, as well as responses to invitations, Lock said.

At this point, the potential lineup includes the U.S. Brig Niagara, the largest ship in the Great Lakes fleet, and Picton Castle, a three-masted barque from the Cook Islands.

Firm commitments have come from the Pride of Baltimore, a topsail schooner; the Denis Sullivan, a three-masted schooner out of Milwaukee; and the Red Witch, a schooner that has called Kenosha home since 2016.

On Aug. 1, 2019, the fleet will arrive in a “parade of sails” led by the Red Witch.

For the next few days, festival attendees will have the opportunity to board and tour docked ships and take part in 90-minute sail-aways on the lake.

“Some people come for the first festival just to see what we’re about, and by their third event, they’re sailing away with us,” Lock said.

Live entertainment, food and beverage vendors, and children’s activities will also be on hand during the event.

Antaramian said he hopes to “capture and keep” the event in Kenosha long term.

The Tall Ships Challenge is funded primarily through ticket sales to visit the vessels. Tickets may range between $12 and $15, but definite prices will be set closer to the festival, Lock said.

The city is seeking sponsors to collaborate with Tall Ships America and the city to support this event. For sponsorship details, contact Kris Kochman at 262-653-4177 or email


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