For the past few years I have been following this event pretty closely as executive director of the American Sail Training Association (ASTA), the organizer of the TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE, an annual series of Tall Ships races and attendant maritime festivals across North America. Founded in the early 1970’s, in part to bring the 1976 Bicentennial Tall Ships event to North America, ASTA owns the registered trademark “Tall Ships” and therefore is sensitive to events that could potentially damage its brand.
Past America’s Sail events have not been a stranger to controversy and threat of litigation. In 2002 America’s Sail visited St. Petersburg, FL and reports from participants and attendees was that it was poorly organized. (Editorial and Letter’s to the St. Petersburg Times.) On April 2, 2003, the Times reported that “Tall ships provider sues organizers of Pinellas event”
The next America’s Sail event took place in 2006 in Beaufort, NC over the July 4th weekend. It is remarkable how similar the participant, attendee and press reports of this event were to those 4 years earlier from St. Petersburg. In “Sailfest dispute deepens”, The Daily News reported that “Americas’ Sail has indicated it is considering a lawsuit — one that could go beyond the alleged breech of contract — if a resolution to the dispute is not reached.”
WRAL, a NC television station, has a lot of information on this event on their website including:
Tall Ships Groups Firing Broadsides At Each Other (Oct 25, 2006)
State Bailout Possible After Tall Ships Event Runs Aground Financially – Video (Dec. 15, 2006)
While large maritime festivals are complex and costly events to organize and host, they can have an incredibly positive impact on a community if managed correctly. As an example, Bay City, Michigan has been an official port for ASTA’s TALL SHIPS CHALLENGE Series three times (2001, 2003 and 2006) and won the prestigious Port of the Year Award twice (2001 and 2006). Partly as a result of these experiences, Bay City is considering establishing a nautical heritage and education center on their waterfront to celebrate their rich maritime history.
It is disappointing and sad to hear that the NC Maritime Museum may have been negatively impacted by their involvement with the America’s Sail event. It would seem that a major reason to bring this type of event to Beaufort would have been to raise the awareness of the museum’s mission and programs. Hopefully, these “rough seas” will be like a brief summer squall and the museum will return to smooth sailing soon.