Tall Ships, pirates and families will descend on Bay City July 18-21 for the Tall Ship Celebration. This charming city on the banks of the Saginaw River is the home port for the schooners Appledore IV and Appledore V, and regularly hosts tall ships from around the globe. Tall Ships America has voted Bay City “Port of the Year” four times.

During the maritime festival, 11 vessels will dock along the river against a backdrop of events taking place at Wenonah Park on the east side and Veterans Memorial Park on the west. Daily, three-hour sailing excursions aboard the Appledore ships depart from Veterans Park.

The Tall Ships arrive July 18, when these maritime vessels shoot off cannons and unfurl their sails. The parks are open to the public that evening for casual viewing of the ships.  

Beginning on the 19th, the ships open to the public and offer deck tours and educational lectures. Families roam the ships, take photos and imagine what it was like to sail on Spanish galleons or Viking longships.

During the three-day International Maritime Music Festival, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday through Sunday, musicians from Michigan, other states and even other countries fill the parks with sea songs, stories and a variety of music. As evening falls, Ballads and Brews begins. Tom Mason & the Blue Buccaneers have become a staple at the Tall Ship Celebration performing, as they say in full pirate fashion, “a medley of styles plundered from all over.”

Throughout the festival, family activities abound. Face painting, storytelling, sword fight demonstrations, kids’ crafts and more are available in the parks.

The Tall Ship Celebration is a great time to check out Bay City’s restaurants, pubs, art galleries and shops. This is an antiques shopper’s paradise, including Michigan’s largest—and supposedly haunted—antiques store. Saint Laurent Brothers, a candy and nut house popular with the locals, is near the 3rd Street Waterfall Park, also a lovely spot to view the river and ships.

Visit tallshipcelebration.com for the full schedule of events and to purchase tickets, and Go Great Lakes Bay for visitor information.


Craig Sterken is a freelance photographer and writer who lives with his wife in central Michigan. See more of his work at craigsterken.com.