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Vela Sud America: tall ships sail to Veracruz

Thaddeus J. Koza

Vela SudSailing Schedule
and Ports of Call

1 Rio de Janeiro
February 2-7
2 Mar de Plata
February 21-26
3 Montevideo
February 28-March2
4 Buenos Aires
March 4-9
5 Isla de los Estados
March 18
6 Ushuaia
March 19/20-23
7 Cabo de Hornos
March 23/24
8 Punta Arenas
March 26-29
9 Talcahuano
April 6-10
10 Isla Robinson Crusoe
April 12
11 Valpariso
April 14-19
12 Callao
April 27-May 1
13 Guayaquil
May 6-11
14 Cartagena de Indias
May 19-23
15 La Guayra
May 29-June 3
16 Veracruz
June 18-23

What could be more beautiful than tall ships with sails billowing in the wind as they surge across the ocean? These wonderful sailing ships carry a sense of history and adventure. In June of 2010, many elegant vessels come together in a regatta that will culminate in the port of Veracruz, Mexico from June 23rd through the 28th — a great opportunity to see them in action. What's behind it?

Vela Sud America is an enterprising, bicentennial commemoration of the creation of the independent South and Latin American navies in the early 18th century. To celebrate, the fleet is circumnavigating South America from the Atlantic to the Pacific to finish in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Ships

The fleet will be composed of 12 Class A tall ships representing 12 separate nations. The Juan Sebastian de Elcano from Spain, the Sagres II from Portugal, the Europa from the Netherlands, Cisne Branco from Brazil, Capitan Miranda from Uruguay, Libertad from Argentina, Esmeralda from Chile, Guayas from Ecuador, Gloria from Colombia, Simon Bolivar from Venezuela and, Cuauhtemoc from Mexico will be joined by the USCGA Eagle for the last leg of the regatta. All but Europa are sail-training vessels, dedicated to preparing young midshipmen to be officers in their respective navies and coastal services.

Each of the tall ships has a unique history and national personality, and each deserves some attention in the form of a photograph and caption to describe it. They have unique lengths and rigs, picturesque figureheads, and colorful crews. The ships and their crews have sailed all the seven seas, and have acted as good-will ambassadors for their countries in international festivals and regattas, and state visits.

Juan Sebastian de Elcano
Juan Sebastian de Elcano is named in honor of the sole captain of Magellan's famed fleet to survive the passage of circumnavigating the globe in the 16th century. The historical Juan Sebastian de Elcano received the title "primus circumdedisti me" from King Carlos V upon his triumphant return to Spain in 1522.

Sagres II
With its celebratory figurehead of Prince Henry the navigator, Sagres II takes her name from the Portuguese prince Sagres. In the 15th century, he founded the navigational school that send forth the great explorers of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

Mexico's Cuauhtemoc carries the figure of the last Aztec emperor on its bow.

The other tall ships each have a national contribution to the history of South America.

Venezuela's barque Simon Bolivar honors the founder and liberator of the independent South American nations and navies.

Cisne Branco
The wonderfully fresh clipper ship, Cisne Branco or "White Swan" from Brazil was built in 1999-2000. This tall ship embodies the speed, elegance, and mission of the continent's largest country.

Two southern entries from Uruguay and Argentina represent innovation, and adaptability.

Argentina's Libertad was the first sail-training ship in the South American fleet. Built in 1956 of classic riveted steel-plates, this traditional full-rigged ship incorporated the traditions and the disciplines of the European "sailing school ships."

Tall Ships in Vela Sud America
Cuauhtemoc Mexico Barque 290 ft 1982
Juan Sebastian
de Elcano
Spain Topsail schooner 370 ft 1927
Sagres II Portugal Barque 293 ft 1937
Simon Bolivar Venezuela Barque 270 ft 1980
Cisne Branco Brazil Ship 256 ft 1999-2000
Libertad Argentina Ship 356 ft 1956
Capitan Miranda Uruguay Staysail schooner 205 ft 1930
Esmeralda Chile Barquentine 371 ft 1952-54
Guayas Ecuador Barque 257 ft 1976
Gloria Colombia Barque 249 ft 1968
Europa The Netherlands Barque 185 ft 1911-1994
Eagle USA Barque 295 ft 1936

Capitan Miranda
On the other hand, Capitan Miranda began her life on the water with the mission of charting and defining the coastline and waterways of Uruguay. After she completed that mission in 1950, the Uruguayan Navy then converted the oceanographic motor-trawler to an elegant three-masted stay-sail schooner.

Europa is the only non-military tall ship in the fleet. She was originally a "light-ship" that signaled a particularly critical navigational position on the ocean, in her case, the mouth of the Elbe river leading to the port of Hamburg. Retired with technological advances in GPS systems and radar, the Europa was restructured. She had higher masts added and ballast removed to emerge from the conversion as a three-masted barque. Europa has been a successful sail-training cruise ship with a regular schedule of cruises around Cape Horn to the Galapagos Islands and the continent of Antarctica.

Gloria and Guayas
The two remaining "sister-barques" are the Gloria from Colombia and the Guayas from Ecuador.

Both tall ships will host the Vela Sud America fleet in their homeports of Cartagena and Guayaquil. Built from the essentially the same plans, the two have the extended bridges, which overlap the main deck from port to starboard sides.

The Eagle, which became the property of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, is interestingly a "sister-ship" to the Portuguese Sagres II. Both were built in Germany in the 1930s.

Finally, Mexico's Cuauhtemoc will host the regatta in Veracruz and welcome the U.S. Coast Guard Eagle to the festivities. Interestingly, the Eagle has hosted all of the vessels in the OpSail events in New York in 1976, 1984, 1992, and 2000.

By all means, plan to be in Veracruz from June 23rd through the 28th to enjoy this event and see these extraordinary ships.

Published or Updated on: June 2, 2010 by Thaddeus J. Koza © 2010
Contact Thaddeus J. Koza

Thad Koza is author of Tall Ships: an international guide and Tall Ships: the fleet for the 21st century In 2002, the 3rd edition of his book was published with 35 additional vessels. The 5th edition was released in 2009, with minor changes. In addition, a calendar that features his photographs of tall ships, is available through his website.

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