Mark Collins remembers Op Sail 76

In ’76 I did not sail on the journey down to New York, although I did see pictures and hear many stories on how much fun it would have been.

I attended Waupoos for the standard week of training before a normal cruise. Except this was no normal week as we were heading for New York to meet the boats there. So on Waupoos we also included many a drill on marching, standing for long periods in formation, and info sessions on  what we might expect. Of course too we were issued our “whites” for the event.

July 4th (Sunday)

This was the big day with the Grande Parade of Ships.

I think this was also the day that departed for New York, leaving Waupoos very early in the morning. I don’t remember much of the bus trip as I think we were all just very excited about getting to the boats. I think it was late in the afternoon or so when we arrived. They ships were docked, somewhere about Pier 92 or so (I can’t remember exactly). Clearly the city had been “done up”, or at least in the key areas where the ships were docked. Many of the ships were docked nearby, but a few (Kruzenshtern I think) were anchored offshore. After all, the cold war was still on wasn’t it?

On the boats was normal except the faint but noticeable ping sounds from various sonars. I’m guessing that overall security was out there, but at that time it was not forefront in people’s minds.

July 5th (Monday)

This was an “Open Ship” day. When on watch we answered questions of those people that thought the “small” ships might be interesting. Otherwise it was free time.

At Pier 88 they had a Hospitality Centre (in the then new passenger ship terminal) for all of the sailors to hang out, leave messages and munch down on the provided food. Any time I was there it seemed fairly quiet, but I guess mostly people were out exploring the city. It was open on July 5-7 from 10h00 through to 22h00.

Although I did not go, we could have seen a Yankees game for free, with our uniform as the admission requirement.

In our free time we could explore the city with our New York City subway pass. I remember at one point the lines were too long, so we just showed the pass and hoped the turnstiles to the subway.

We got stopped on street corners by strangers as they wanted a picture (we wore our whites in the city I seem to remember. And the city was ‘crawling’ with sailors from all over.

We had easy access to tour many of the other ships too. I remember seeing the anti-aircraft guns on deck of Amerigo Vespucci (I believe). An odd thing really given the rather restricted access to a clear sky on a tall ship. One must ask, did they ever test them after installation? Did she have 4 masts at one time?

Given that we had no bathroom facilities on the brigs, we had been given special access to DDH280 HMCS Iroquois, which was docked just astern of us. It was quite amusing to walk (in shorts and a towel around your neck) by the hundreds of people lined up for their tour of the destroyer right to the front of the line and be escorted below decks to the washroom facilities.

Not sure whether this was the right day…

One evening we were bussed over to Morristown,New Jersey for a garden party at a large home. It was a champagne party. Whomever was hosting was well connected as they had police out the front… and the teenagers out the back. Did I mention the champagne?

July 6th (Tuesday)

One of the big land based events was the ticker tape parade up Broadway, from Battery Park up to City Hall. A pretty awesome memory. One of those that I wish there really were pictures.

This was an “Open Ship” day.

I remember visiting the then fairly new World Trade Centre. I’m not sure I grasped the scale of the buildings as it was probably overwhelming with being in New York City and with Op Sail happening too.

July 7th (Wednesday)

This was another “Open Ship” day.

July 8th (Thursday)

We left the city early in the morning and headed out past the Statue of Liberty. Another key memory moment. Then we sailed out from the protection of the city and out into the ocean. Although we had a good sea running, the ocean waves were not as punishing. I was not standing watch as I was Bosun’s Mate for the day. I recall being aloft in the healthy seas. Good fun. It made for a good sail down along Long Island and around to Sag Harbour.

July 9th (Friday)

Arrived Sag Harbour.

In the afternoon and evening there were events organized for the crews, although I don’t remember the specifics.

July 10th (Saturday)

I elected not to ride the journey back up through the Hudson River & Erie Barge Canal with sticks on deck. No specific reason that I can remember really. So I spent the time on the long bus ride back to Toronto.

I spent a week or two at home and then headed back to Waupoos as a Petty Officer for most of the rest of the summer, expect heading onto Playfair for the last cruise of the regular season heading up through the lakes.

In some respects it was all a bit of a blur, with some key images stuck in my brain. An awesome experience, and something I’ll never forget for sure.



For more information about Toronto Brigantine at Op Sail 76, click here.


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