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Tall Ships Extravaganza is Fun, Well-Organized, Profitable

More than 3 million spectators thronged the waterfront to see enormous, multi-sailed ships

IT was smooth sailing for tourists who came to see Boston's Tall Ships celebration.

After all the hullaballoo and harried planning, this historic Northeastern city is basking in the glory of a well-planned, major revenue-raising event. By week's end, more than 3 million spectators and 8,000 ship crew members are expected to participate in Boston's 500th anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus's journey to the Americas. Central to the festivities are the 225 participating vessels from 35 different nations. The event is expected to bring in $360 million to the state.

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Jammed with tourists and traffic, this normally subdued city has been bursting with activity. On July 11, 1.5 million spectators lined Boston's waterfront to watch a six-hour display of ships breeze through the harbor in the much-touted "Grand Parade of Sail." Spectators also filled hundreds of motor boats, sail boats, yachts, and canoes anchored in prime viewing spots along the harbor.

During the week, tourists waited in long lines to board the vessels, now berthed in Boston Harbor. Rumors swirled that President Bush was viewing the ships somewhere in Boston over the weekend while on July 13, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, made an official appearance. People also flocked to a Boston Pops concert, a nautical ball, a fireworks extravaganza, games, exhibits, and parties.

With all these activities going on, organizers have had their hands full with traffic, safety, and crowd-control issues. Over the weekend, police filled the streets with 1,000 city and 1,000 state officers on patrol as well as 1,600 national guardsmen. To rein in traffic, the city closed off four neighborhoods from nonresident cars and strongly urged the use of public transportation.

"Put on a good pair of sneakers, leave your car at home, and keep it at nonalcoholic beverages," warned Boston Superintendent-in-Chief William Bratton last week.

To encourage use of public transportation, the transit system (or "T" as Bostonians call it) ran on a rush-hour schedule during the weekend. Special shuttle buses transported spectators from T stops to waterfront viewing areas. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which runs the T, even minted special commemorative subway tokens for the occasion.

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates a number of Boston transportation facilities, sent out interpreters fluent in 14 languages, to Logan International Airport to help assist foreign travelers. They even set up 585 portable toilets along Boston streets near the waterfront.

The transporation situation took a sour turn as Boston taxi drivers threatened to strike late last week. Cab drivers were upset over the city's plan to issue 300 more medallions, or permits allowing taxis to operate; afraid the move would hurt their businesses. But even that issue was worked out after the drivers called off the strike.

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On July 11, most spectators seemed unbothered by transportation hassles. Many visitors either traveled by foot, bicycle, boat, or rode the T, which was working efficiently.

Spectators chose a variety of ways to deal with the crowds. Ray and Janice Colbert, of Greenfield, Mass., along with their two young sons, Andy and Jamie, got up at 4 a.m. Saturday to make an early morning jaunt into Boston. It was worth it to see the Tall Ships, they said, even if hotel accommodations weren't ideal. With Boston hotels filled two weeks in advance, they had to stay overnight in a nearby city.

Gabriella Mikula, of Richmond, Vt., followed the ships to Boston with her husband after first seeing them in New York City. She says things were much more organized here.

Tricia Prewitt, of Wrentham, Mass., staked out a viewing spot through a chain-linked fence on Northern Avenue, providing a far-away glimpse of the majestic ships parade. She figured it was the best she could do with her young daughter, Elizabeth, 4, in tow. Originally from Texas, she said she couldn't face her relatives back home without telling them she saw the Tall Ships in Boston.

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