In 1964, New York hosted the World's Fair. The theme was "Peace Though Understanding." As part of the festivities, an unusual sight was to be seen in New York Harbor that summer - a sight likely not seen for at least a few decades (although probably less time than most spectators would expect) - a gathering of large square-rigged vessels from all over the world.
Operation Sail - also known as OpSail - was founded as a non-profit in 1961 and coordinates international sailing events centered around promoting goodwill and cooperation between nations as well as celebrating maritime history and sail training efforts around the world. The 1964 World's Fair was OpSail's inaugural event. On July 14, 1964, a parade of some of the world's last windjammers took place through New York Harbor. British Pathe covered the event:
"Gathering of Great Ships" by Anthony Anable, Jr.
The Jan-June, 1964 issue of Boating magazine included the following article describing the origins and plans for the 1964 OpSail:
On July 14th, if the wind is fair, New York Harbor will be treated to a sight not seen in over half a century; a fleet of square-rigged ships slipping in under thousands of square feet of sail. As they pick up their moorings in the river, they will be completing a history-making voyage that for most of them began in Lisbon six weeks ago. "Operation Sail" will be the largest rendezvous of square-riggers - now mostly maritime training vessels - assembled in any port in modern times.
As of this writing, 13 countries will send some 25 sailing craft to participate in "Operation Sail," and by the time July 14th - the rendezvous date - rolls around it is hoped that the latter figure will be doubled. While the fleet will consist of all manner of ships, boats and yachts, the most spectacular sight will be ten, or more, full-rigged ships, barks, brigantines and topsail schooners towering above their smaller sisters as they move up the river.
Nations sending vessels are, in alphabetical order: Argentina, the full-rigged ship Libertad and the yacht Fortuna; Canada, the privately-owned brigantine St. Lawrence II; Chile, the four-masted schooner Esmerelda; Republic of China (no training ship, but a contingent of midshipmen and a 70-foot junk from San Francisco); Denmark, the bark Danmark; Dominican Republic, the bark Patria; Germany, the bark Gorch Fock; Great Britain, (two yachts, as yet unspecified); and Italy, the yawl Corsaro II. Also Japan, a motor training ship; Norway, either one or all of the Christian Radich, the Sorlandet and the Staatsraad Lemkuhl, all full-rigged ships; Panama, the three-masted schooner Wandia; Portugal, the full-rigged ship Sagres; and Spain, the four-masted schooner Juan Sebastian de Elcano.
Undecided as of this writing are Sweden's Albatross; Poland's three-masted schooner Iskra; Romania's bark Mircea; and Nova Scotia's Bluenose II, a replica of the original fisherman owned by Col. Victor deB. Oland.
The United States will be represented by the bark Eagle from the Coast Guard Academy, which will be the host ship; the Icefire and Mariner from the Merchant Marine Academy; Freedom and Royono from the Naval Academy; the brigantine Tabor Boy from Tabor Academy, Marion, Mass.; and the bark Joseph Conrad and the schooners L. A. Dunston and Brilliant from Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Conn.
Operation Sail grew from one man's dream
Nils Hansell, an ardent yachtsman and Art Director of the IBM Journal of Research and Development, was among an admiring crowd gazing at the Coast Guard's stately bark Eagle lying along a New York City dock in the early spring of 1960. He wondered to himself what it would be like if most, if not all, of the square-riggers in the world were to convene in New York Harbor and then participate in the ceremonies to be held in the city and at the grounds of the World's Fair.
Contronted with Nils' idea, the Coast Guard and the State Department were among the first to endorse the proposal. An "Operation Sail" committee was formed and included Hansell, Frank O. Braynard, Director of Information for Moran Towing and Transportation Co., and Commodore John S. Baylis, former Superintendent of the New York State Maritime College and a retired Coast Guard officer. General Chairman of "Operation Sail" is John J. Bergen, Rear Admiral USNR (Ret.); Chairman of the Executive Committee is the well-known yachtsman Walter S. Gubelmann.
Further endorsement came from many sources including New York Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, who sent out invitations to more than 20 countries requesting participation; New York Senator Jacob K. Javits; New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner; General Dwight D. Eisenhower; Capt. Alan Villiers, skipper of Mayflower II; Edouard A. Stackpole, Curator of Mystic Seaport; and Prince Philip of England. Also endorsing "Operation Sail" are the federally-sponsored People-to-People Program; the Sail Training Association of London; and most recently, the late President John F. Kennedy.
Impressive as are these, and other endorsements, the success of "Operation Sail" will be due to the efforts of Braynard, Baylis and Hansell, all of whom have given freely of their time and money to arrange the whole program.
A trans-Atlantic race will begin many events
The program will begin on June 5th with a race from Lisbon, Portugal to Bermuda. Sponsored by the Sail Training Association, there will be four classes of vessels competing; Class Ia for square-rigged vessels of 500 tons and over; Class Ib for square-rigged vessels between 50-499 tons; Class II for fore-and-aft rigged vessels of 50 tons and over; and Class III for fore-and-aft rigged vessels under 50 tons and over 30 feet on the waterline.
Those ships participating in the race will convene with others at Bermuda and will embark in company for New York City, where they are expected to arrive on July 12th. They will lie at anchor off Graves End for two days, until the fleet is complete, and on July 14th will set sail and head out to sea for about 10 miles for the benefit of press photographers and the huge spectator fleet which is expected to cluster about the windjammers. The flotilla will then come about, make for the Narrows, and will enter New York Harbor and the Hudson River. Whether they will be able to sail up the river is anybody's guess at the moment, but if a fair wind fails to materialize the ships will power, or be towed, along the parade route.
Upon making fast to moorings assigned to them, all hands will take up review positions on deck and the yardarms as the Reviewing Vessel proceeds along the formation. Although not yet assigned, either the Navy's Enterprise, the country's newest carrier, or Mystic Seaport's Joseph Conrad, the maritime museum's famed square-rigger, may be the Reviewing Vessel. Whichever wins the honor, she will have an impressive company of dignitaries striding her decks, including the President of the United States, the Governor of the State of New York, the Mayor of New York City, several Ambassadors, distinguished guests, and reviewing officers.
The second day of the planned ceremonies will see the crews of the various ships assembling at the Battery with escort contingents from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy and/or the New York State Maritime College. Thus formed, the cadets and their escorts will proceed under a ticker-tape parade to New York's City Hall for the Mayor's Reception.
Following the formalities, numerous events are planned throughout the week for officers and crew alike. A full-dress inspection of the ships is planned; a symposium for the officers and contests of seamanship for the crews will be held; and it is expected that television networks will program various national groups singing sea chanties. Receptions at the Merchant Marine Academy and various consulates are planned, as are such divertissements as longboat racing near the World's Fair Marina, soccer games between ships's [sic] crews, and sightseeing trips to Washington, D.C., the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., and Mystic Seaport.
The program will come to a close at the World's Fair grounds, where plaques, prizes and certificates will be presented. That evening an Operation Sail Grand Ball will be held at Madison Square Garden with the Naval Attaches as Honorary Patrons. The following day the cadets will set sail and the ships will disperse for their various home ports.
The project is a tribute to training under sail
In this modern age of nuclear power and Polaris missiles, it may seem odd that so many nations train their naval and merchant marine cadets under sail. However, such training has many advantages, not the least of which is learning a respect for the sea - which makes equal demands of a huge carrier or a brigantine. There is no better way to gain an intimate knowledge of these natural forces than to serve in sail.
As Nils Hansell - whose feeling for the sea resulted in the project - put it:
"Operation Sail in New York excites the imagination of so many of us. Sailing ships of all kinds, large and small and fore-and-aft and square-rigged, will crowd the harbor for a sight that few shall have seen before, and one that may never come again.
"But for all the excitement of the many masts and sails, the show will be meaningful, for these are sail training ships manned by seamen trainees. Their work aboard is not easy. Discipline is firm. They will have sailed from distant shores, on foul winds probably as much as fair or, sometimes, no winds at all.
"Theirs should prove an exciting demonstration of training under sail as a way for character building of young men in today's world."
This, then, is "Operation Sail." Not only a demonstration of training under sail, but a reaffirmation of the fact that great sailing ships still span the seven seas.
The following tall ships ultimately participated in the 1964 Operation Sail:
If you enjoyed this post and would like to support more history blog content, please make a donation to the Hudson River Maritime Museum or become a member today!
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
Become a member and receive benefits like unlimited free museum admission, discounts on classes, programs, and in the museum store, plus invitations to members-only events.
The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.