Get to Know Three Tall Ships from Charleston and Beyond

Photo provided by: Priscilla Parker

Imagine life aboard a Tall Ship - the billowing sails, the creaking of timber, and the slap of the rigging as the magnificent vessel plows through the waves. Imagine the excitement of the crew when the words "Whales!" or "Land ho!" are shouted from the crow's nest by the lookout.

Well, you don't have to just imagine. Experience it for yourself at the Tall Ships Festival where you can board nine of these beautiful ships that linked Charleston to the rest of the world in an era gone by.

Before you go, learn about some of the most fascinating tall ships.

Spirit of South Carolina is a 140-foot, traditional sailing vessel called a schooner, a type of sailing vessel of archetypal American design dating to the 1800s. The American schooner achieved world-wide fame when, in 1851, it defeated a fleet of British yachts in a race circumnavigating the Isle of Wight to win what came to be known as the America's Cup.

Spirit of South Carolina gets her name from the passion that built her. South Carolina shipwrights and volunteers laid each plank and drove every fastening near the ship’s home port in downtown Charleston. Frames, planks and interior finish were shaped from South Carolina live oak, cypress and long leaf yellow pine, widely regarded as the finest natural materials for shipbuilding. Extensive varnish work showcases the raw beauty of these native woods and the fine craftsmanship joining it all together. 

With six sails and a graceful, sleek sheer, this schooner is fast. Built to accommodate 30 people overnight, it is well equipped for long-distance passages and can sail anywhere in the world. The ship’s primary mission is to provide the public with unique learning experiences about sailing and the history of tall ships in Charleston.



El Galeon is a 17th-century Spanish galleon replica, harkening back to a time when galleons were the boats that took the lead role in trade and cultural routes named the Indies fleets. El Galeon was built in 2009 and 2010 by the Nao Victoria Foundation and designed and developed by Ignacio Fernández Vial at the Punta Umbria shipyard in Spain.  

El Galeon has covered more than 35,000 nautical miles between 2010 to 2013 along the world’s largest seas and oceans, visiting ports in four continents and participating in many cultural projects. The ship has sailed across the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans, as well as the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Southern China Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Bosporus Strait and the Caribbean Sea.



Built in 1917, the Oosterschelde is celebrating her 100th anniversary this year. Board the one and only historic Dutch three-masted topsail schooner and try your hand at the sails. It can be a tough job because the Oosterschelde does not use any winches to hoist the sails. Trainees can sail from Charleston to Bermuda for the next leg of the Tall Ships Challenge Atlantic Coast 2017 Series.

Sailing on the Oosterschelde is a way to experience true tall ship history. This schooner is one of very few tall ships restored to its likeness 100 years ago.

While the Tall Ships Festival welcomes ships from around the globe, organizers emphasize tall ships’ history here in Charleston.

“It's tall ships that brought Charleston to life in the first place and it's tall ships that made Charleston's economy grow,” says Reg Brown, Director of Tall Ships Charleston. “It's large ships today that continue to support the prosperity of the region. That on-going history is worthy of celebrating and honoring with this festival of tall ships.” 

The Tall Ships Festivals is May 19-21 at the Veterans Terminal Docks at the old Charleston Naval Shipyard. The festival also includes food trucks, vendors, music and a wooden boat show. Participate in the Family Boat Building event and construct your own 12-foot wooden skiff. For tickets and information, visit