Monday, September 14, 2009

The First Annual Michigan Schooner Festival

I’ve always had an interest in sailing ships going back to when I was a little girl. One of my father’s colleagues once gave me an American Heritage magazine that had an article on clipper ships with lots of beautiful paintings in it. I treasured it for years and even copied one of the paintings, but it turned out pretty crudely.

So many of us humans are fascinated by the sea and great bodies of water. After all, what is more romantic and adventurous than setting sail into the unkown on a beautiful sailing ship? Since Michigan is surrounded on six sides by waters of the Great Lakes, sailing ships are very much a part of our heritage, whether they were helmed by explorers, armed navies or merchantmen. Even today there are replicas which sail from port to port to educate the public about sailing these beautiful ships in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and even into the early days of the twentieth century.

Many years ago I did a series of drawings for an older gentleman who loved Great Lakes ships. Not all of them were sailing ships, but doing that series rekindled my interest in the subject. I did a small watercolor and ink version of one of the ships for my own benefit; the well known Christmas Tree ship, the Rouse Simmons, which used to deliver Christmas trees to the citizens of Chicago from the northern Michigan woods. I sold prints of it for a while along with the story of the ship and how it was lost in a storm in 1912. But, my version paled in comparison with the two paintings that Charles Vickery has done of the Rouse Simmons so eventually I stopped showing it.

Frankly, I know next to nothing about the subject of sailing ships, which is one reason I’ve hesitated to do a ship painting since. I know that people who collect marine art are sticklers for accurate details in rigging and so forth; just as many horse art collectors are fussy about accurate portrayals of horses and their tack. I did, however, buy some books on rigging and Great Lakes ships and shipwrecks to educate myself but haven’t had much opportunity to observe these beautiful ships in person on the water.

So, when I read in the paper on Saturday that the first annual Michigan Schooner Festival was being held in Traverse City this weekend, I jumped at the opportunity. We headed for TC good and early Sunday morning, and took in the activities on the waterfront. Several ships were moored along the breakwall, and crew members were giving tours, some of them complete in period pirate costumes which thrilled the little kids. There was even a marine artist who had some very nice paintings of sailing ships.

After some time, one of the ships, the Appledore, a two masted schooner, headed out into Grand Traverse Bay. To my disappointment, she was pretty far out before she unfurled her sails and continued sailing away from us into the hazy dawn. Before long she was out of site.

Meanwhile, we watched two crew members climb the masts of another schooner, the Denis Sullivan of Milwaukee Wisconsin. I presume they were unfastening things so that the sails could be unfurled. It wasn’t long before the Denis Sullivan also set sail. Instead of heading straight up the bay as the Appledore had done, she went out a ways, turned and sailed past the breakwater as she unfurled her sails. Everyone got excellent photo opportunities and thrilled to the sight of this beautiful ship.

The Inland Seas was also scheduled to sail, but my very patient husband was getting bored and didn’t want to wait. Here she is moored to the breakwater.

Two other ships present were the nineteenth century replica schooner the Madeline and the sloop Welcome, a replica of an eighteenth century ship that sailed the Straits area.

There were many dogs which also visited the festival, and I was particularly taken by this beautiful pair of standard poodles and the wonderful backlight in this shot.

It was truly thrilling to look out onto Grand Traverse Bay to see tall ships sailing its waters; something that was a common sight a century and more ago. I will definitely be back for the second annual Michigan Schooner Festival next September. I am now inspired to paint these beautiful ships, even if it’s just for my own pleasure.

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