Sarah Crump, The Plain Dealer

SARAH CRUMP and PAT GALBINCEA, Plain Dealer Reporters

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Lake breezes puffed the sails of the 11 18th and 19th century-era ships that paraded grandly across Cleveland’s lakefront Wednesday.

But the gentle winds did little to cool the crowd that turned out in afternoon temperatures in the mid-90s for the opening of 2010 Cleveland Tall Ships Festival.

Still about 7,000 spectators came to see the stately procession, including Felucca Fink of Lakewood and her mother, Haydee Phillips of Parma Heights. They brought an umbrella to shield themselves from the unrelenting sun at their prime viewing spot at the tip of Ninth Street Pier.

“I feel bad,” said Fink as the Parade of Sail was delayed 45 minutes while the Coast Guard herded curious boaters out of the way of the ships. “I wish I had enough umbrella to share with everyone.”

Chris and Wendy Sigeti of Belleville, Mich., found some respite from the heat in the shadow of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Chris snapped photos as the HMS Bounty glided by North Coast Harbor. The Sigetis, who were married Tuesday, were enjoying a Cleveland honeymoon along with Chris’s son Ryan, 15, and mother, Becky Sigeti, both of Payson, Ariz. They had seen a sign for the festival at the Great Lakes Science Center when they visited Tuesday.

Ryan was less impressed with the nautical show. “He said, ‘another ship just like the last one went by,’ ” said Chris. (Oh, well, in a few minutes they’d tour the Rock Hall, which stays open late on summer Wednesdays.)

Up on the top deck of the William G. Mather, the retired ore carrier permanently docked at the science center, Eric Henkel, 13, said he liked the ships because they are historical and loud — cue the cannons that boomed every few minutes from the ships.

He and his grandpa, Bruce Henkel of Dayton, had a first-rate front row spot at the rear of the Mather to view the Pride of Baltimore II, a 157-foot topsail schooner, as it sailed by. The old ore carrier’s stern points toward open water.

The ships — some sporting a dozen sails — were perfect to capture some children’s attention, said Stacey Smith of Lakewood, who waited for the parade to begin at the North Coast Pier. “They look like pirate ships — that’s the important thing,” she said. Her daughter Alexanderia, 11, disagreed with her mother’s enthusiasm about the ships. “I have no clue what they are.” She would have rather been swimming, she said.

And on a scorcher like Wednesday, who could blame her?

Smith’s friend Holly Bodi of Westlake, who fashioned tents out of two bed sheets for the eight children she and friends brought, also planned to take a short “sail away” on one of the ships Friday. Three of the ships are offering the brief trips during the festival.

“I’m excited,” she said while waiting with her children, Annabelle, 5, and Andrew, 7, for the Parade of Sail to begin. “It’s a very interesting way to introduce history to kids. Perhaps when they see them, they’ll start asking questions.”

Previous tall ship festivals were here in 2006, 2003 and 2001. This year, the festival had difficulty finding a sponsor, but the Rotary Club of Cleveland donated $100,000 in seed money to bring the classic ships to the city. The club celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

“This is the result of thousands and thousands of man hours,” said Mikel Harding, Rotary co-chair of the event. “We want everyone to appreciate these vessels. It’s a unique opportunity to see something you don’t see every day.”

“I think to [some] people, tall ships are something enigmatic and elusive — kind of like unicorns,” said LeeAnne Gordon, chief mate aboard Lynx, a modern version of the speedy privateers that nabbed British cargo ships during the War of 1812.

Gordon, whose ship is at this year’s Cleveland festival, corresponded with The Plain Dealer by email on the ship’s journey to Sandusky last weekend. She said she also is pleased to present young visitors with an idea for a career they may not have thought of before.

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Story Courtesy Of The Plain Dealer

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