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Thousands visit Kenosha lakefront for Tall Ships Festival
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Thousands visit Kenosha lakefront for Tall Ships Festival

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The vision of what Kenosha could someday achieve quite possibly arrived on Saturday.

Thousands of local residents and out-of-town visitors packed the downtown lakefront in a culmination of local events — none bigger than the Tall Ships of America Tall Ships Challenge in the Kenosha harbor — creating what is certain to be a weekend to remember and an intriguing glimpse of the future.

Kenosha, a fast-growing community with plenty of small-city charm and big-city appeal, earned plenty of new fans this weekend.

Boasted by near-perfect weather and a stunning Lake Michigan backdrop, over 10,000 people were expected for the Tall Ships Challenge on Saturday. Combined with the Kenosha HarborMarket, Pike River Rendezvous on Simmons Island and the Border War Beer Fest in Pennoyer Park — not to mention the closing events of Relay for Life Kenosha — it would have to be one of the busiest days ever on the Kenosha lakefront.

“It’s so nice to see it all come together,” said Kris Kochman, city community relations liaison. “This is exactly what we were hoping for.”

Gates open at 10 today

Visitors lined the Kenosha harbor Saturday for Day Two of the Tall Ships Challenge. Gates open at 10 a.m. today for the final day of the festival.

Ticket prices are $18 for adults and $9 for kids (ages 6-17). A family pass is also available for $45. A limited number of sail-away tickets were still available as of Saturday afternoon for today’s final cruises. Tickets can be purchased at the gate or online at www.kenoshatallships.com.

General admission includes boarding the ships as well as entrance to the art fair, food court, children’s area and the Miller Lite Music Stage.

Sail-away event popular

Sarah Hall, 59, of Plymouth, stayed in Kenosha for the first time this weekend. She joined her family on a sail-away aboard Kenosha’s own Red Witch.

“My great-grandfather was a ship’s carpenter on vessels like this and I always wanted to be on one,” Hall said. “We thought this would be a pretty cool thing to do for a quick getaway. Kenosha has always been a stop for us or an exit on the highway, but we’ve never been (downtown). We’re pleasantly surprised.

“This community has a different flavor to a lot of other places we’ve been to in Wisconsin. It has that Chicago character, but yet it’s not a big city. It’s a really nice combination. We’ll be back,” she said.

Del Swanson, 77, of Minneapolis, also sailed off on the Red Witch. It was his first trip to Kenosha.

“It’s a nice, small town,” Swanson said. “It’s well-organized and very clean.”

Local students on Denis Sullivan

Kenosha, hosting the tall ships festival for the first time since 2004, is one of 11 stops throughout the Great Lakes for the Tall Ships Challenge. Several ships took part in a race from Algoma to Kenosha on Tuesday, including the S/V Denis Sullivan and its crew comprised of several students from the Kenosha Community Sailing Center.

The students boarded the Milwaukee-based ship on Monday and served as deckhands throughout the week.

“They stood watch, did the lookout, worked the helm, set sail, did the dishes,” said Jonny Slanga, chief mate and relief captain for the S/V Denis Sullivan. “They helped us out a lot.”

Grant, sponsors fund events for kids

Through an available grant and a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Kenosha, Kenosha YMCA, City of Kenosha Parks Alliance, the city invited 450 local kids into the festival one hour before the gates officially opened 10 a.m. Friday.

All of them were provided with lunch and 150 of them enjoyed a free sail-away.

The festival’s opening ceremony included a Parade of Sail on a picture-perfect Thursday evening. The seven ships traveled a figure-eight pattern from Pennoyer Park to Kemper Center before funneling into the downtown channel and docking.

Festival ticket confusion

Thursday’s festivities created some confusion for some people, a small portion who believed they could use their Tall Ships Challenge tickets and have access to the festival grounds and tour the ships on Thursday. This was not the case, however. The festival didn’t officially open until 10 a.m. Friday.

“People showed up on Thursday thinking they had a ticket to come in,” Kochman said. “Some people were drawn in because the Denis Sullivan and the Pride of Baltimore II were picking up passengers for the Parade of Sail. We didn’t kick anyone out. We secured the gates so more people wouldn’t come in. We had maybe one person we had to refund. I think they had the idea that they were trying to beat the crowds, but there was nothing to see yet.”

About 1,000 people attended Friday’s performance of Beatles Tribute band American English at the festival, nearly twice as many as expected for the $20 show.

“It was a really good draw,” Kochman said.

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