Jul 24, 2017

Tall Ships, 1976

Tall ships in the Hudson River, July 4, 1976
In 1976, I was living in Gautier, Mississippi.  As the country's 200th birthday approached, I debated where I might want to observe the occasion.  I considered going to Washington, D.C., where the museums were going all out with special bicentennial exhibits and a fireworks show that would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  New Orleans, much closer to home, was going all out, as well, with dozens of musical events planned.  I had a long tradition of joining one of my close friends, Roland Racko, a high school classmate for holiday weekends.  Roland was living in New York.  I finally decided to visit Roland for a long weekend.  The fourth was on Sunday.  I would fly to New York on Friday and return on Monday.

One tradition that Roland and I would observe when we got together was to try out new restaurants.  This trip would be no different.  After I arrived on Friday, we decided to find a Czechoslovakian restaurant.  Only in New York would we find several to choose from.  We picked the closest one (Remember using the Yellow Pages instead of Google to find a restaurant?).  It was only a few blocks from Roland's apartment on West 76th Street.  We approached the restaurant to find that it was located just below street level in an old but restored brownstone.  We stepped down a few steps and entered into a subdued and charming atmosphere.  We soon were seated and learned that each day a specialty meal was available 
à prix fixe.  That sounded like a good idea and the meal of the day included pheasant, which neither of us had eaten before.  I recall many courses, small cups of soups, little dishes of salads and appetizers, and ultimately a generous and delicious Czech entree.  The price included two or three kinds of wine and a dessert.  And price for all this was extremely reasonable.  We left the place, the name of which I can't recall, full and ready to move on to the next part of the nation's birthday celebration.

The next day, Saturday, we slept late, cleaned up, and went over to Broadway to a restaurant that had a marvelous champagne brunch.  They specialized in omelets cooked to order along with all the expected breakfast specialties -- pastries, fresh fruit, breakfast meats, fruit juices, etc.  I ordered a Spanish omelet.  We waited and waited and waited.  About 25 minutes later our omelets appeared.  Instead of my Spanish omelet ( I expected to cut into cooked potato and onion done in olive oil with a little parsley.), I encountered a dark green something combined with what appeared to be feta cheese.  I asked the server what kind of omelet I had gotten.  I got the perfect New York response, "Just what you ordered, a spinach omelet.  And we had had to go out and buy the fresh spinach!"  I quietly ate my spinach omelet, which was actually quite delicious.  In her defense, we were sitting at a sidewalk table and the traffic noise was substantial when we were ordering.

We left the restaurant and took the subway to the Fulton Street subway station and walked to the South Street Seaport to get in the mood for the next day's parade of tall ships up the Hudson River.  We visited a few shops and mixed with the tourists (of which I was one) and generally relaxed basking in New York's abundant maritime history.  After the day of walking, we didn't hesitate to turn in early in anticipation of a busy 4th of July.

We rose early and got a nice open-air breakfast at a nearby restaurant.  We proceeded west on 72nd Street past the Henry Hudson Parkway to find a place from which to observe the proceedings and to take lots of pictures.  We were shocked to find that a huge number of people had already taken their places along the Greenway that faces the Hudson River.  We walked north toward the 79th Street Boat Basin and finally found an unoccupied area with a good view of the river.  The weather was perfect with a light breeze, partly cloudy skies, and a comfortable temperature.  We set up our tripods and cameras and anxiously awaited the arrival of the tall sailing ships.  The river was already full of small craft awaiting the appearance of their larger counterparts.

The small craft filled the Hudson River in celebration as the tall ships arrived
At about eleven o'clock, the first of the tall ships made their way into view.  The sight was spectacular, made even more inspirational by reflecting on the occasion for this great tribute.  It was likely that there would never again be such a gathering.  Each vessel that appeared seemed more remarkable than the ones before.  Some of the most impressive and the countries they represented were Amerigo Vespucci (Italy), Barba Negra (Norway), Christian Radich (Norway), Danmark (Denmark), Dar Pomorza (Poland), Eagle (United States), Esmeralda (Chile), Gloria (Colombia), Gorch Fock (Germany), Juan Sebastián de Elcano (Spain), Kruzenshtern (Soviet Union), Libertad (Argentina), Mircea (Romania), Nippon Maru (Japan), Regina Maris (USA), Sagres (Portugal), Sebbe Als (Denmark), T/S Te Vega (Panama), Tovarishch (Soviet Union), Peyk (Turkey), Roseway (USA), and Transition (USA).  In addition, there were dozens of smaller, privately-owned sailboats of every imaginable sail configuration, square rigged and otherwise.  The procession upriver went on for a couple of hours.  The ships turned around at some point upriver, so that near the end of the procession, it was as if the whole "parade" began again.  Many of the ships sailed past going southbound to their anchorages for the evening.  We were overwhelmed by the magnitude and majesty of this great tribute.

Italy's Amerigo Vespucci looked especially impressive with her
newly-painted hull and dark-stained sails.  I had seen her in La
Spezia, Italy during my 1961 Midshipman cruise.

Roland and I eventually packed up our photography gear and headed back toward his residential hotel.  We rested for a while reflecting on what we had just witnessed.  It was a lot to digest.  We decided to close out our celebration by going out for a steak dinner at a nearby eatery.  The meal was wonderful and reasonably priced.  After a leisurely walk around Central Park's western perimeter, we went back to our riverside observation point to watch the evening's fabulous fireworks display.  After the long day, we were more than ready to proceed to Roland's place where we turned in and were soon asleep.

The next morning as I arose and began to pack to fly back to Mississippi, I thanked Roland for his hospitality and told him that I wouldn't trade this experience for anything.  With nearly forty years of hindsight, I haven't changed my mind.  It was a rare, inspirational, and never to be forgotten weekend.  I felt that I had really been at the heart of the celebration of our great nation's 200th birthday.

No comments: