Travel Magazine

A Guide to the Tall Ships of New York City

By Ripleydaniels @mikesobol

Operation Sail (Op Sail) is a unique maritime series of events which culminates in a parade of tall ships from across the globe sailing into New York City’s harbor. Created by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, Op Sail’s purpose is to commemorate special occasions, celebrate maritime life and promote good will and cooperation between countries.

Different types of vessels can be considered tall ships. They are typically broken into three classes. 

Class A: Ships over 131 feet in overall length, including square-rigged vessels
Class B: Ships under 131 feet in overall length and a waterline length of 30 feet which are traditionally rigged
Class C: Ships under 131 feet in overall length with a waterline length of 30 feet which are modern-rigged without carrying spinnaker-like sails

There have been only six Op Sail celebrations throughout the years, each celebrating a different aspect of American history. The first Op Sail took place in conjunction with the 1964 World’s Fair.  The 1976 event was part of the Bicentennial celebration and 1986 was a salute to the Statue of Liberty. The 1992 Op Sail was to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus arriving in America.  The Op Sail Millennium Celebration was held in the summer of 2000. The most recent of these events was in 2012, commemorating the War of 1812 and the writing of the “Star Spangled Banner” and was held in conjunction with Fleet Week. Each Op Sail requires an act of Congress and planning for the next one has just begun. 

Op Sail 2012 featured nine tall ships from various countries as well as many privately owned vessels.  Prior to its arrival in New York Harbor, the tall ships made ports of call in New Orleans, Louisiana; Norfolk, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; Boston, Massachusetts; and New London, Connecticut.  At each stop, the ships were made available for viewing to the public at no charge.  Notable amongst these ships are:

USCGC Eagle:
This barque (a sailing vessel with three or more masts) is 295 feet in overall length and began its life as a Nazi training vessel during World War II.  Given to the U.S. as a war reparation, the Eagle now serves as a training vessel for officers in the US Coast Guard.  The ship is the only steel hulled vessel in active service across the US military. The Eagle led the parade of ships into New York Harbor during the 2000 Op Sail.

ARC Gloria:
Gloria is Columbia’s official flagship and training vessel, taking its name from that country’s national anthem, Oh gloria inmarcesible (O Unfading Glory).  The barque is
212 feet in overall length and legend states that it was promised to Admiral Lemaitre by General Gabriel Reveiz Pizarro, the Colombian Defense Minister on a napkin.  The gesture was a response to Lemaitre’s insistence that the Columbia Navy needed a training ship.  It took two years for the promise to be fulfilled and the Gloria was actively commissioned in 1968.

Juan Sebastián de el Cano:
The third largest tall ship in the world, the el Cano serves as a training vessel for the Royal Spanish Navy.  The ship is 370 feet in overall length and is a steel-hulled schooner with four masts. Named after Juan Sebastián Elcano, the Spanish explored and captain of Megellan’s last fleet, the ship was built in 1927.

The planning stages for the next Op Sail have begun, though no official date has been announced.  However, there is one tall ship that makes its home in lower Manhattan named Clipper City all year round.  Docked at the South Street Seaport, this 158 foot schooner is available for touring the harbor and visiting the Statue of Liberty until Operation Sail arrives in New York once again.

Logan Peterman is a professional blogger that shares his knowledge and advice on maintaining your yacht. He writes for, the best place to get all of your marine lights, accessories and more.

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