No matter how many times Captain Walter Rybka sails into Buffalo’s port, he marvels at the World War II vessels that fill the Buffalo & Erie County Naval & Military Park.
Rybka isn’t piloting any ordinary boat, either. He’s steering a warship from another era, the U.S. Brig Niagara.
“She can move through the waves, throw spray and roar along like a freight train,” Rybka said. “You feel like you’re going faster than you really are.”
On Thursday morning, Rybka was on course for arrival between 2 and 4 p.m. Friday to signal the start of the third annual Maritime Festival. Rybka talked over a cellphone, his voice at times drowning in the wind that fuels the replica of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s victorious flagship from the War of 1812.
“Sailing this wooden ship is an ancient effort that harnesses the power of many hands,” Rybka said. “It’s a social undertaking, something that shows how well people can work together.”
The 40 sailors that make up the crew are participating in the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, spending an undergraduate semester studying man’s relationship with the sea onboard a fully rigged sailing ship.
“The point of the trip is training and sailing,” Rybka said. “The challenge is just deciding how far you can take students unfamiliar with a tall ship.”
The intense 10-day segment for the trainees started in Erie, Pa., and will culminate for them Sunday.
“This is a tougher ship to sail,” Rybka said. “She is rigged as a warship as opposed to a merchant vessel, and was designed to be sailed by a relatively large crew of 150.”
Friday’s arrival of the Brig Niagara features an escort by the Edward M. Cotter Fireboat, the world’s oldest working fireboat. Once canalside, the Niagara will be open for public tours. A tribute will be held from 8:30 to 9:15 a.m. Friday at the Naval Park to remember those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Freedom Waters Celebration sponsored by the Buffalo Lighthouse Association takes place Saturday at the Outer Harbor. Festivalgoers will be able to ride the Queen City Bike Ferry for $1 each way to the Outer Harbor for more maritime sights and sounds.
From 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, the 75-piece Buffalo Niagara Concert Band featuring the Greater Buffalo Firefighters Pipes & Drums will play a free concert.
Bring your lawn chairs and witness a boat parade from Seven Seas Sailing. Buffalo Lighthouse tours run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday for $10.
The Niagara Frontier Antique & Classic Boat Show runs from 3 to 9 p.m. Friday and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at Canalside.
On Saturday, highlights include live music, all-day children’s programming, a corn-on-the-cob eating competition, a Chowder Challenge and a top-of-the-hour lecture series on topics including boat restoration, Erie Canal’s salty history and boat builders great and small.
For a complete listing of activities visit buffalomaritimefestival.com.