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Ships set sail toward Twin Ports

Imagine climbing 100 feet up a pole. Now imagine that the pole is the mast of a ship, and you're on Lake Superior, with heavy waves shaking ship, mast and you.

Imagine climbing 100 feet up a pole. Now imagine that the pole is the mast of a ship, and you're on Lake Superior, with heavy waves shaking ship, mast and you.

"It's really rocking and really windy," said Carrie Ronstrom as she pointed at a picture of herself doing just that. "And so they send me up there, and while you're climbing up ... there's really room for one foot and one hand by the time you get up there. It's really scary ... especially when it's that rocky. I thought the ship was going to throw me off."

It was last summer, and Ronstrom, a pre-med student at the College of St. Scholastica, was an apprentice on the U.S. Brig Niagara dispatched to take in the sails with a storm brewing. It was the third straight year that Ronstrom, 22, spent part of the summer on the tall ship Niagara.

This summer, taking classes and prepping for her senior year and her Medical College Admission Test, Ronstrom stayed ashore.

But the Marshall School graduate, who lives with her grandmother in Duluth, will be in the Canal Park crowd this weekend, when the Niagara, the Lynx and the Pride of Baltimore II are in town for the Duluth Music and Maritime Festival.

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The Lynx could arrive as soon as today, said Gene Shaw, spokesman for Visit Duluth, the sponsoring organization. It will be the first visit to the Twin Ports for the California-based Lynx. The Niagara and the Pride of Baltimore, which appear likely to arrive sometime on Thursday, are getting to be regulars.

"Excitement for arriving to Duluth builds among the crew," Jamie Trost, the Baltimore's captain, wrote in a blog on Sunday. "This is probably in no small part because in my four consecutive years of sailing there -- three aboard PRIDE II and once with the schooner DENIS SULLIVAN -- I have come to like the city and its unique status as the inland-most port in the world."

If crews of the tall ships like Duluth, the feeling must be mutual. Last summer's armada of nine tall ships brought an estimated 250,000 people to town. But any number of tall ships seems to draw a big crowd.

"I still remember in 2008 when the ships sailed in, and one of the crew members on board the Pride looked at me, and he said, 'Does anybody in Duluth work?' " Shaw related with a chuckle.

"And he said, 'You have more people here welcoming us than we got when we were in New York City for the Fourth of July.' "

Ronstrom was in the crowd that weekend, waiting five hours on a hot day to get on board the Niagara. By the time she got on the ship, her mind was made up. She approached a crew member, the crew member introduced her to the captain, and she filled out an application.

A few days later, she was a trainee aboard the Niagara, shelling out a little more than $1,000 for two weeks of hauling sails, working four-hour shifts in the middle of the night and sleeping -- or trying to sleep -- in a hammock in such close quarters she could have rolled into the hammock next to her.

She adapted to the hammock, and the night shift had its rewards.

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"Even though you're not getting any sleep, you're looking at the stars and the shooting stars, and sometimes you're looking at the northern lights -- things that you can't see when you're stuck in a city," Ronstrom said.

She came back in 2009 as an apprentice for a six-week voyage from the Niagara's home port in Erie, Pa., to Montreal via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Last year, she sailed for another six weeks from Erie to Duluth and Chicago. Ronstrom still had to pay to sail, but only about $200 each summer, she said.

Ronstrom has tickets for the Music & Maritime Festival and hopes to link up with friends on the Niagara and even take a day trip or two. She knows she'll feel pangs for the sailing lifestyle.

"I wish I was on the ship," Ronstrom said. "But you can't live a fairy tale forever."

Festival facts

The Duluth Music & Maritime Festival is Friday through Monday in Canal Park. All three ships are offering Sail Aways, taking passengers on Lake Superior for about two hours. As of Tuesday, a small number of tickets remained for Sail Aways, said Gene Shaw of Visit Duluth. Prices range from $95 to $125. Tickets can be ordered at (877) 435-9849. If any spots remain, passengers will be able to purchase tickets at the ships. Sail Away gates will be open at 8 a.m. all four days.

This year's festival will not include on-board tours.

The festival grounds behind Grandma's Sports Garden and the Paulucci Building in Canal Park will open at noon on Friday, 9 a.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. on Sunday, with evening concerts on Friday and Saturday. Festival grounds will be closed on Monday.

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Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the gate and at the Electric Fetus, 12 E. Superior St. A Multi-Day Festival Pass is available for $40, including all evening concerts; $20 for daily passes including evening concerts; family weekend passes for $25, daily family passes for $15 (evening concerts not included); individual daily passes for $10 (evening concerts not included).

For more information, go to: http://www.visitduluth.com/maritimefestival/ .

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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