The age of sailing ships may be over, but the romance and adventure they inspired still blows our hair back.
This summer, majestic, one-of-a-kind tall ships may be coming to a city near you with their sails unfurled. In the Great Lakes, captains will repeat a waterborne war that hasn't been seen in 200 years. In Miami, a spectacular Spanish vessel will join a 500th birthday celebration. And the West Coast's largest tall ship festival promises a party for 200,000 visitors.
First, let's take a moment to appreciate the tall ships.
These boats are run by fearless sailors who sprint hand over hand up masts that stretch 100 feet into the air. While the ship rolls and pitches with the wind and waves, the crew members work in unison to unfurl massive sails measuring 45 feet wide. In a stiff wind, these sails can pull a 400-ton ship across the water at 20 mph.
Tall ships ruled the ocean for centuries and changed the world from flat to round. Sadly, they also fueled the slave trade, while helping a new nation stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Today, replicas and other traditionally rigged sailing vessels reflect some of the deepest-seated aspects of American culture: independence, mobility and team work. They remind us that because wind power was a renewable resource, hundreds of years ago, it opened the door to global travel for the first time in human history.
Here are five events guaranteed to be a sailor's delight this summer:
1. Tall Ships Challenge, Great Lakes region
This is the captain of American sailing events.
From June through September, more than a dozen vessels from around the world will show off in spectacular fashion in Chicago; Cleveland; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Duluth, Minnesota; Toronto; Erie, Pennsylvania; and elsewhere.
Without a doubt the highlight will be the bicentennial re-enactment of 1813's Battle of Lake Erie on Labor Day weekend.
Never before has there been a better American opportunity to get your "Master and Commander" on.
For the first time in 200 years, 17 tall ships will line up against each other and fire black gunpowder cannons to recreate the fight against the British that allowed the United States to secure its current border with Canada.
Stars of this massive choreographed water dance include the stunning 210-foot, 86-year-old training vessel Sorlandet -- which will sail all the way from its home in Norway.
Also look for the Pride of Baltimore II, a 100-foot replica of a 19th-century privateer schooner.
But the big daddy of this battle is the 110-foot U.S. Brig Niagara, which bills itself as the largest wooden square-rigger in the United States that still takes people sailing. It's one of only three remaining U.S. Navy ships from the War of 1812.
When the shooting starts at noon September 2, expect the sound of cannon fire to carry at least five miles to the nearby Put-in-Bay, Ohio, resort area. Tickets to board the warships range from $285 to $975. Expect about 1,000 pleasure boaters to make the 40-mile trek from Cleveland or Toledo, Ohio, or Detroit to the battle site in the middle of Lake Erie. "Let's just say the west end of Lake Erie is going to be busy with a lot of traffic," Niagara Capt. Wes Heerssen said.
The budget for this once-in-a-lifetime event totals around $850,000, which -- in addition to everything else -- will help pay for a fireworks display, concerts, food, entertainment, arts and crafts, the Ohio State University Marching Band and a live TV broadcast of the battle.
2. Festival of Sail, San Diego
They say it's the West Coast's largest tall ship festival.
And in the California tradition, it's got a movie star.
The festival draws about 200,000 visitors to San Diego's North Embarcadero area each Labor Day weekend -- many who come to see the tall ship HMS Surprise, star of 2003's "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" with Russell Crowe.
The Surprise is a replica of a 24-gun British frigate.
The fun starts on August 29 when the tall ships strut into the harbor and fire off their canons before docking.
"We'll have two or three ships in a battle out here on San Diego Bay, and you can hear it from all over the place," said Maritime Museum of San Diego's Robyn Gallant.
Also check out the parade, fun pirate culture and memorabilia.