‘Spirit’ returns for Holiday Parade of Boats

Christopher Flansburg, first mate on the Spirit of South Carolina, gives out instructions to the crew Wednesday afternoon.

The 10 judges for the Holiday Parade of Boats will be in their usual spot Saturday evening — aboard the Spirit of South Carolina.

Charleston’s own tall ship returned Tuesday night, just in time, from extensive overhaul and maintenance in the Newport Shipyard in Rhode Island. It’s back at the Maritime Center on Wharfside Street, where it can be viewed from the dock. A few private events are booked, but trips aren’t expected to begin again until after the first of the year.

The trip back covered 700 miles of ocean in a fast 4½ days, due to largely favorable winds, with a burst of excitement coming around the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

A storm blew up that at one point had the port rails in the water and spray coming over the starboard rail.

“A little bit of wind and some rain,” the even-keeled first mate Christopher Flansburg said.

“That was fun,” deck mate Daniel Sheehan said. “I’m glad the whole trip wasn’t like that, though.”

The 34th Annual Holiday Parade of Boats will be held in Charleston Harbor on Saturday, organized by the city of Charleston in partnership with the Charleston Sail and Power Squadron. Thousands of spectators view the parade from shore each year.

The stream of festively lit boats starts about 5:30 p.m. near the Mount Pleasant bank of Charleston Harbor and sails around the Battery to the Ashley River. The actual start can be delayed by wind and currents as ships position themselves.

Tall ships are replicas of historic sailing vessels. The Spirit is an eye-catching, two-masted schooner. A 140-foot-long wooden ship, it was built in a field near the harbor, a labor of love among local shipbuilders. The $4 million ship, modeled on a 19th century Charleston-built schooner, launched in 2007.

By 2014 the Spirit seemed dead in the water. It was planned to be an educational offshore sailing vessel carrying about two dozen passengers at a time, and in three years had hosted more than 9,500 students. But loans taken out to speed its construction put the effort in debt.

When the ship was auctioned that spring, local businessmen Tommy Baker and Michael Bennett outbid out-of-town interests to keep it here. They plan to continue the educational effort, buoyed by other, revenue-producing uses.

After the overhaul “she is in excellent shape, A1A,” said Timothy Laughridge, a veteran boat captain who is the owners’ representative. “She is in one of the better shapes among schooners out in the water.”

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