BOSTON (Reuters Life!) - The Spanish Navy's dramatic tall ship, the Juan Sebastian De Elcano, crept into Boston Harbor early Tuesday morning, sails down, as part of a seven-month journey from its home port.
The 370-foot (113 meter), top-sail schooner, the third largest tall ship in the world and one of the oldest, dropped anchor with the city's gleaming business district skyline as a backdrop, ready to welcome hundreds of sailing enthusiasts on board.
"People are immediately drawn to it," said Boston Harbor Cruises captain Chris Robbins. "While it was a big part of our history, it isn't any longer," he said of the mystique surrounding massive, traditional sailing ships.
The ship, named after the Spanish explorer who completed the first circumnavigation of the world, boasts four masts and 20 sails, and is the official training ship of the Spanish Navy.
Boston is the final port of call on the Elcano's current swing. After setting sail from Cadiz, Spain on Jan 3, the schooner visited such South American cities as Montevideo, Uruguay and Guayaquil, Ecuador, before heading north.
The first order of business for the 49 midshipmen aboard will be to take a final exam on navigation, while the rest of the 233-member crew prepares the vessel for visitors.
Still, most visitors aren't interested in seeing the classrooms where fourth year midshipmen study navigation, forecasting, maneuvers and English.
Instead, a glimpse into the sleeping quarters, dining room, captain's ward room and chapel is expected to draw the crowds, said Jacobo Casares, supply and public information officer aboard the ship.
Training aboard the traditional sailing ship, rather than more modern vessels, is the best way for Spanish naval officers-in-training to "feel the sea, to know the sea," said Casares.
When the Spanish Navy takes its annual cruise, it looks to visit friendly nations, but not to repeat a harbor for two years, said Casares. The 83-year-old vessel last visited Boston in 2006.
The crew, he said, is looking forward to six days of relaxation in Boston before a 26-day voyage home.
All Spanish naval officers have studied and sailed aboard the ElCano, which has sailed around the world 11 times, making 158 stops in the United States and 12 port visits in Boston along the way, said Manuel De la Puente, Elcano's captain.
De la Puente, who last visited Boston in 1980 as a midshipman, is the third generation in his family to command the Elcano. His father was at the helm 25 years ago and his grandfather's brother steered the tall ship in 1946.
Reporting by Lauren Keiper; editing by Ros Krasny and Patricia Reaney