Tall Ships & DragonBoats

US Brig Niagara on the way to the 2016 Tall Ships Duluth Festival





Duluth Twin Ports Welcomes Tall Ships & DragonBoats

Two big watercraft festivals are being held in Duluth and Superior in August 2016.

  • Duluth Tall Ships Festival: August 18 – 21st
  • Lake Superior Dragonboat Festival: August 26 – 27th
The Pride of Baltimore II entering the Shipping Canal during the Parade of Sails.
The Pride of Baltimore II entering the Shipping Canal during the Parade of Sails.

The Tall Ships Festival occurs in Duluth every two or three years as part of the Great Lakes Tall Ships Challenge Race, an event to celebrate classic sailing ships and train new sailors in the venerable art of sailing big ships. The ships arriving in Duluth will be participating in the Lake Superior Race between Duluth and Sault Ste. Marie.

The festival begins on Thursday with a parade of ships from Duluth’s outer harbor through the shipping canal under the Aerial LIft Bridge to the inner harbor. Festival goers line both sides of the canal to get an up close look at these fantastic vessals under sail and later when the ships dock along the harbor lakewalk. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, some of the ships will offer dockside tours and others day sailing trips.

In 2013 we were able to do the Dockside Tour of the US Brig Niagara and the Peacemaker. The Niagara is a replica of the vessal that participated in the War of 1812 under the command of Oliver Perry. A fascinating view of the conditions and inner workings of a 200 year old sailing ship. The crew sailing the ship today uses the same sailing and navigational technology as the original US Brig Niagara and lives under the same “rustic” conditions.

Food, beverage, and musical entertainment round out the festival. The Bayfront Park Art Festival is occuring during the same time period and is only a short walk from the Tall Ships Festival grounds.

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Just learned that a sailing education organization based in Bayfield, WI (Lake Superior Tall Ships) is raising funds to build a modern replica of the Alice Craig, a US Revenue Cutter that was based in Bayfield, WI on Lake Superior from 1859 to 1887. Learn more about the Alice Craig project here.


Photo finish at the Lake Superior Dragonboat Races in Superior, Wisconsin
Photo finish at the Lake Superior Dragonboat Races in Superior, Wisconsin

The Lake Superior Dragonboat Festival , on Barkers Island, hosts one of the largest dragonboat races in the country with almost 100 competitive teams. Dragonboats are large canoe-like boats modeled after traditional Chinese ceremonial vessals with 20 paddlers (10 pairs side-by-side), a drummer, and a steersperson. The bow and stern compliment the dragon motif. The rules require a minimum of 8 women on the paddling team. There are also all-female teams competing and in the past some of these all-women teams have been strong competitors for the overall championship.

The festival begins Friday evening with an entertaining parade of teams and opening ceremonies and entertainment. Food and beverage tents abound on the festival grounds. The races begin on Saturday morning with the first of two heats. With four boats per race, there are about 20 to 25 races in the first heat. The second heat occurs after lunch and then the combined times determine which teams are in the finals as well as divisional champions. Music entertainment occurs all day long and Saturday evening are the closing ceremonies and more entertainment.

We’ve attended three or four past festivals (we last attended the 2014 Dragonboat Festival) and always have a good time. We have fun guessing who might win the overall championship as well as the various divisional competitions. Also we have some favorite teams that we always root for. We manage to get in some good exercise along the trails that line the race course watching the race from different viewpoints from the starting line to the finish line.