NEW YORK — "Tall ships" sailed through New York Harbor on Tuesday, part of an awe-inspiring floating parade featuring thousands of vessels as Operation Sail returned to the Hudson River.
The festivities kicked off when the Coast Guard barque Eagle passed beneath the Verrazano Bridge. Behind it were two dozen warships, "tall ships" from around the globe and an assortment of lesser boats from schooners to speedboats.
A crowd of about 4 million was expected to watch an estimated 70,000 craft fill New York Harbor.
"This is exciting!" said Woodrow Keitt of Bayonne, N.J., who crossed the Hudson River to grab a spot near the USS Intrepid museum on the west side. "They say this is supposed to be the largest one. I figure I want to be a part of it."
At Battery Park, where the Statue of Liberty provided a backdrop for the event, Isabel Cruz of the Bronx stood on a park bench in hopes of a better view.
"I think it's wonderful," she said. "There's some really awesome ships here."
The warships were anchored overnight as part of an 11-mile line marking only the sixth International Naval Review in history.
The "parade of sail" was to feature about 30 large, wind-powered ships from 19 countries. Most, like the Coast Guard's square-rigger Eagle, are government-owned training vessels for sailors. President Clinton was on hand for the ceremony, as were thousands of onlookers on shore in New York and New Jersey.
Among the armada was the 129-foot schooner Amistad, a replica of the ship made famous after its slave cargo of 53 Africans revolted in 1839. Launched March 25 in Mystic, Conn., it will return to New Haven, Conn., where it will be a floating history lesson for schoolchildren.
The Coast Guard predicted as many as 70,000 craft will be in the harbor this week for a celebration capped by what organizers say will be the biggest fireworks display ever. Some 5,000 craft of all kinds were in the water off the southern tip of Manhattan on Monday, officials estimated.
New York is the main port of call in the tall ships' nine-week coastal cruise. The summer tour, the fifth since OpSail began, started May 19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The parade left Baltimore early Thursday, led by the 170-foot Pride of Baltimore II, with cannons firing. After leaving New York, the ships are to stop in New London, Conn., and Portland, Maine. Operation Sail was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to promote cultural exchanges. The first OpSail celebrated New York City's World's Fair in 1964.