On Sept. 10, 1813, a few miles northwest of the Bass Islands on Lake Erie, a David-versus-Goliath confrontation pitted the fledgling United States Navy against a fleet of mighty British warships during the War of 1812. The outcome of that battle — the Battle of Lake Erie — was in doubt for hours, but the final result changed the course of American history.
Then-28-year-old Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry commanded the fleet of nine U.S. ships in the battle. After his flagship, the Lawrence, was severely damaged and disabled, he transferred to the U.S. Brig Niagara, from which he and his crews kept fighting.
Shortly after the cannon smoke cleared, Perry scrawled what has since become a famous note on the back of an envelope to send to his commanding officer, Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison (who would, of course, go on to become the ninth president of the United States):
Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours.
Today, the reproduction of the Niagara is one of the most historically authentic tall ships in America, each summer representing her homeport of Erie, Pennsylvania, throughout the Great Lakes. It will be one of eight replica and restored fully rigged sailing ships that will be featured at two popular tall ships festivals this summer, both on Lake Erie. They go first to Cleveland on July 7–10, then on to Erie, Pennsylvania, Aug. 25–28.
It’s a rare chance to catch a glimpse, step aboard, or, if you choose, even go sailing for a few hours. Along with the Niagara, the 2022 fleet from the U.S., Canada, and Spain is scheduled to include the Appledore IV, Empire Sandy, Inland Seas, Nao Trinidad, Pride of Baltimore II, St. Lawrence II, and Utopia.
One of the more majestic moments of the four-day events is always the spectacular arrival of the visiting ships — known as the Parade of Sail — which occurs late the Thursday afternoon of each festival. The next three days offer opportunities to board and tour the ships, when visitors can chat with the various captains and crews. Some of the crew members are young people, ages 13 to 25, learning to sail.
The 2022 tall ships festivals include the regular fare: food and beverages, live music, street performers, kids’ activities, a marketplace, and other family-friendly activities. Ticketing, parking, and other information is available at www.tallshipscle.com/event-details for the Cleveland event or www.tallshipserie.org for Erie.