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The Tall Ship Festival

Every three years, Bay City, Michigan holds the Tall Ships Festival on the Saginaw River.  A bunch of sailing ships from all over the world and many different eras dock in Bay City, and a festival grows up around them for four days.  Darwin, the boys, and I love history parks, and we decided to take a day and visit.  My mother and her husband Gene live nearby, and they joined us.

We actually went up the night before and stayed at the Montague Inn, where Darwin and I got married last fall.  We love staying at the Montague, and the innkeeper remembered us.

After we checked in, the four of us went out for supper, then went to see THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. It was cute and entertaining.  I would recommend it to a friend.

That evening, I went for a walk around the grounds of the inn.  Hoyt Park is across the street, and a quick check with my Pokemon Go app showed it had three Pokespots.  A steady stream of cars was wandering through.  :)

I also found a family of skunks browsing for breakfast down by the river.  They were very cute, from a safe distance.  I took a picture of one and texted it to Darwin with the caption, "I found a kitty! Can I take it home?"

In the morning, all four of us trekked up to Bay City.  After a little confusion about finding each other, we finally hooked up with Gene and my mother.  Yay!  Our first observation: the festival needs to have better signage.  They only had a sprinkling of dinky signs to give directions--and the festival's web site tells you to go to the wrong place!

After a happy reunion--it had been a whole week since we'd seen each other at Bethany's wedding, after all--we headed down to the festival entrance.  We thought about taking the advertised shuttle bus, but the line was more than a block long, and we could see the entrance a couple-hundred yards away.

The shuttle bus line, we were to learn, was an oracle.

When we arrived at the entrance,, we found a looooong line--two of them, actually.  One was for people who had already bought tickets, and one was for those who hadn't.  We had ours, so we joined that line.  After some standing around, the line finally got moving and we were admitted.

Huge sailing ships lined the riverbank in the park.  Neat rigging made webs between the masts.  There were all kinds of ships, but the biggest was a Spanish Galeon.  On the other side of the river were several smaller ships and a recreations of a Viking ship from Norway.  A number of other entertainments had also sprung up--music tents, a food court, ice cream stands, sword fight exhibitions (because pirates), a place to try various weapons (throwing axes, knives, stars), and other things.

In order to get into the festival, you have to buy an admission ticket.  If you want to board the ships and look around, you have to buy another ticket.  We had all bought both and were interested in seeing the ships.

This was a Friday, and the festival was CROWDED.  Seriously crowded.  In fact, when we approached the first ship--a two-masted schooner that sailed the Great Lakes--we discovered the wait at least an hour.  We gave that a pass and wanderd down to look at the other ships.  The waits were even longer.  The lines snaked across the sidewalk that ran alongside the river and into the park beyond.  The line for the galeon was the longest, since that ship was the most interesting.  It snaked back and forth through the park--people had instinctively formed into a queue maze--until the end disappeared into the distance.  I'm not exaggering!  We couldn't see the end.  We hunted for it, dodging through people and avoiding toes, getting farther and farther away.  Gene finally gave up and sat at a picnic table, declaring he'd wait for us.  When we found the end, only the masts of the ship were visible.  I estimated the wait was at LEAST three hours, probably longer.

We all came to a fast consensus--no ships.  Seriously.  The festival was only open from 10 to 5.  Waiting in line for two ships would wipe out the entire day!  And who wants to wait in line for three hours for anything?  Nothing is worth three hours in line.  We wrote off the ticket money as a donation to the festival and decided to do other things.  The ships were quite interesting to look at, even from shore, in any case.

All of us wandered about, chatting and checking things out.  We had some lunch and walked across the drawbridge to see the other side.  Here we discovered another weakness of the festival--no good way to get around.  The lines for the shuttle buses were so long that you were better off walking, with rest stops, wherever you wanted to go.  The festival was also structured so that you had to cross the extremely street on the bridge in order to get where you wanted to go, and THEN cross over the river.  But there was no way to cross the street.  No traffic light, no stop signs, no crossing guard.  People were forced to wait for a lull in traffic and run for it.

We decided to start across the river (it was about a quarter-mile walk) and wait for a chance to hop over to the other side as we went.  When traffic cleared, I shouted, "Cross!" to our group.  We all bolted for it.  As it happened, a bunch of other people took advantage of the moment and went with us.  Not all of them made it, which forced the oncoming cars to stop while they finished, which meant MORE people started across, which forced more cars to stop.  It was like watching the Exodus.

The other side of the river was much less crowded, and we were able to board a couple of smaller sailing ships, which was fun.  The Viking ship had at least a two hour wait, so we had to pass on that, but I examined it from the shore.  This side was also where all the weapons were!

Aran and Maksim tried on some armor, then hit the archery section, threw some knives and throwing stars, and basically messed about.  I tried some axe throwing and learned I'm no good at it.  :)

At last it was time for a trip to the ice cream shop and then to leave.

Verdict?  The Tall Ships Festival has outgrown its facilities.  It's too crowded for itself.  The festival needs better organization--more signs, a clearer web site, better crowd control, and a way to get more people on board the ships.  It was a very nice famly day out, but unless they make some changes, we won't go again.

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