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Tall Ships Compete for July Holiday

March 17, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ The two most majestic sailing ships in the United States are being used as ammunition in a sea battle that threatens to sully the return of the tall ships to the United States in 2000.

The conflict has come about because two cities _ Boston and New London, Connecticut _ both plan to host the tall ships on the same July weekend.

Heading up Boston’s procession will be the USS Constitution, ``Old Ironsides,″ the oldest commissioned warship afloat and the Navy’s honorary flagship.

In New London, the USCG Eagle, the Coast Guard’s 60-year-old square-rigged training barque, will lead the parade.

Up for grabs are the rest of the world’s tall ships, whose billowing sails are expected to draw millions of tourists with hundreds of millions of dollars to every stop on their tour. The host cities’ campaigns to woo the ships are taking place on increasingly choppy waters.

``We believe New London will get all the ships,″ said Greg Perrin, the vice president of Operation Sail (dubbed OpSail), a nonprofit group that is promoting the tall ships’ visits to seven East Coast cities _ all but Boston.

Not surprisingly, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino disagrees.

``If you were a tall ship, where would you want to go? New London? Or Boston?″ he said. ``Boston will be one of the top attractions.″

Both sides have recruited powerful political allies, along with maritime and sail-training organizations. Both talk of flexibility _ as long as the other side does the bending. Each accuses the other of lying and whispers bad things about their rivals.

Caught in the middle are the ships themselves and at least one company, Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., which is sponsoring the OpSail tour to the tune of $5 million.

Ocean Spray is based in Massachusetts and members of the state’s congressional delegation are not pleased that the company’s financial muscle won’t be behind Boston’s effort.

``Ocean Spray was under the assumption that Boston was going to be a part of it,″ said Congressman Joseph Moakley, who has been putting the squeeze on the juice company. ``They said they would do all in their power to work this thing out so that Boston is included.″

Ocean Spray spokesman John Lawlor confirmed that the company was trying to work out a solution that would please both sides, but would say little more.

``We’re still supporting OpSail. But we’re all in favor of the tall ships coming to Boston,″ Lawlor said.

Moakley plans a March 23 meeting of Ocean Spray, the company’s Washington lobbyist, OpSail and Conventures, the promoter of the Boston tall ships tour.

The tours are scheduled for July 11-16. Each side claims it had the dates first, so the other city should compromise.

``I think the prudent thing to do would be for those in Boston to become part of the program by taking the date after ours,″ New London City Manager Richard Brown said.

``Since Boston made this mess, they ought to be able to do some shifting,″ said Norma Stanford, a vice president of the National Maritime Historical Society, which is aligned with OpSail.

OpSail has been organizing sailing events since 1964 and will be in charge of the 2000 showcase, a July 4 parade of sail in New York Harbor. The group cites a congressional resolution and letters from President Bill Clinton as proof of its quasi-official status as U.S. organizer.

That status guarantees a large turnout for New London, and doom for Boston unless it comes aboard with OpSail on a later weekend, said OpSail’s Perrin.

``State-owned ships cannot go with (Boston’s) program. They must go to New London,″ he said. ``It’s State Department protocol.″

But Dusty Rhodes, who heads Conventures and is organizing the Boston visit, said only a third of the world’s 30 or so ``Class A″ tall ships _ the biggest crowd-pleasers _ are actually owned by governments.

She and Boston officials described the process of attracting the hundreds of tall ships as one of wooing individual captains, organizations and government officials.

``There are 280 different approaches. You approach each country and each ship’s owner individually,″ Rhodes said. ``There is no such thing as official. That’s the fundamental thing.″

Rhodes and OpSail were on the same side the last time the tall ships came to Boston, in 1992.

According to a Massachusetts Port Authority study, 7 million people visited the ships over six days. The economic impact was an estimated dlrs 500 million. Twenty-eight of the ``Class A″ ships participated, along with more than 100 smaller ships.

In 1992, Massport got stuck with a $500,000 tab for the event after Conventures, Rhodes’ company, couldn’t cover the bills, according to a report by the state auditor.

This time around, Conventures and OpSail apparently broke over a $200,000 fee the International Sail Training Association wanted to charge U.S. cities for official port status for its trans-Atlantic ship race.

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