The Day the Ships Rolled In

I stood at the Bienville Street Wharf under a heavy post-storm sky. As the gulls swooped and swarmed over the river to claim as their own that which the rains had kicked up, and the wind careened through my hair, I closed my eyes and just…listened.

The greedy gulls, the thwap-slosh-thwap of the river slapping up against the wharf, the tolling of the St. Louis Cathedral bell, and ship sails whipping in the wind.  I allowed it all to flood my ears, giving me a sense of Place, of where I was.  How happy am I, I thought to myself, to live near the water at last.

At the Bienville St. Wharf

The Bicentennial of the War of 1812 kicked off last week, beginning with NOLA Navy Week here in New Orleans.  Last Tuesday, nine ships, from all over the world, and which included the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Operation Sail, rolled in and made berth on the Mississippi river.

Several evenings before, we had received an invitation to go to the Chalmette Battlefield to witness the Baratarians as they fired cannon salute to the ships as they arrived – I hear tell that the Eagle even saluted back!  That, in itself, was a shame to miss.  But, given my last-minute second job interview late-morning that day, and then the furious rain that shortly followed, we did not make it to the river to watch them sail in and dock.  However, once things settled, we did arrive that evening to see, and revel in their presence.  I am glad we did – it afforded the ability to see them calmly, in a low-density crowd, before diving into the massive visiting hoard the next day.  And it gave me that moment, that moment of stillness and Place, that listening…to the ships, and to New Orleans herself.  With my eyes closed, it was 200 years ago, again.  What magic.

Ship tours for the afternoon were fairly well over by the time we made it down. No matter, we would be there the next day for all of that.  Thus, we ambled by the tall ships, all Barques, and gawked, and geeked out, and jumped up and  down a lot.

First, there was the Guayas, from Ecuador.

Then, the Dewaruci from Indonesia.

And lastly, the USCG Eagle.

And of course, our own girl, who always makes me smile, was there.

We eventually bade the fair vessels a “see you tomorrow,” and traded the windy riverside for dinner at Cafe Maspero in the Quarter.  After feeding ourselves copious amounts of shrimp, we took a walk around, had a drink.  By that time, the first night of SHOOOORE LEAAAVE was in full effect.  What a neat thing, to have those sailors in town.  The internationalism of it, of passing by uniformed clusters of seamen having a good time and knowing they were from the US, England, Canada, France, Indonesia, and Ecuador, to name a few…that, combined with my earlier eye-closing, and hearing nothing but the toll of the cathedral and the wind in the sails…really gave me a taste of what the old original Port City of New Orleans must have felt like, once upon a time.  At least a little.

That’s the thing about this city. Her history is still so tangible, just under the surface.  And it doesn’t take too much to find yourself reaching out, able to touch it.

Next: On Board!

Featured Image: Eagle Rigging

5 Comments Add yours

  1. I forgot to go see the shippies mang!!!!

    1. Oh no!!! Well, they’ll be back in 2015 at least!! 😉

  2. infamaus says:

    What an experience for you guys to do this, and get a first-hand feel for just how magnificent all of those vessels are. Wish I could’ve been there. Obviously, from you pics, you noticed how precisely squared all those yards were. That’s impressive seamanship and takes awhile to perfect. To me, each ship has a life all it’s own, that you can feel the second you go onboard. There’s a surge there, a straining to be well away, no matter whether it’s the Eagle or a modern aircraft carrier. I’ve always missed that, being as far inland as I am. Time may rectify that once again, but even a rowboat will do me. Excellent coverage. Should be in the Picayune.

    1. It’s so true – visiting the 4 that we did that day, you could definitely tell the individual life and vibe of each one. I was about ready to tell ’em to Cut ‘er Loose while we were on, that’s for sure!

      Thanks for the Picayune comment. 😉

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