S. Brig Niagara leads the charge during Parade of Sail
ERIE, Pa. -- Rousing fanfare awaits the U.S. Brig Niagara.
Erie's flagship has been absent from the city most of the summer due to a busy schedule of Great Lakes sail-training voyages and tall ships festival appearances.
But the vessel takes center stage Thursday when it leads a nine-ship flotilla into Presque Isle Bay, starting at 4 p.m., during a Parade of Sail that opens the four-day Tall Ships Erie festival.
Here is the Parade of Sail order of ships: U.S. Brig Niagara, brigantine Playfair, brigantine Pathfinder, schooner Pride of Baltimore II, schooner Appledore IV, schooner When and If, schooner Mist of Avalon, schooner Denis Sullivan, El Galeon and the World's Largest Rubber Duck.
Niagara Senior Capt. Walter Rybka will be in command of Erie's flagship as it comes sailing in, while Niagara Capt. Billy Sabatini directs traffic from a state police helicopter.
Leading the maritime entourage past their hometown admirers will be a special moment for the Niagara's crew, Sabatini said. He was Niagara's chief mate when the Niagara led the Parade of Sail into Presque Isle Bay in 2010 and 2013.
"We come into places all the time and there are thousands of people there to greet us, but when you get to bring your ship into your hometown, and it's their ship, too, because they take ownership of Niagara, there's no comparison to that sort of feeling of happiness and pride,'' Sabatini said.
The ship returned to Erie early Thursday morning after spending the Labor Day weekend at the Sandusky Festival of Sail in Ohio. The last time the Niagara was in Erie was July 5.
"The Parade of Sail is a feeling and sense of people cheering, and everybody just lining Presque Isle the whole way around,'' Sabatini said. "What it feels like is they're all there to support us. It's almost like a homecoming sort of feeling.
"We can feel the pride that the people of Erie have for us and the ship," he said. "There's a lot of what we're doing that Erie should be proud of because it is Erie's ship.''
PICK THE PERFECT SPOT
Thousands of spectators are expected to line up along the shores of Lake Erie and Presque Isle Bay to see the Parade of Sail on Thursday, starting at 4 p.m. Some of the best places to find a good view include the North and South piers, Dobbins Landing, along the south shore of Presque Isle, and at the Bayfront Convention Center, which will open up free public viewing areas starting at 3 p.m. (space limited; first come, first served).
Can't make it to the bayfront in time for the parade? We got you covered. See the entire event live on Facebook.com/goerie, and catch up on the latest by following #TallShipsErie on Twitter.