GRAND PORTAGE, Minn. -- The tall ship Mist of Avalon may only be 49 years old, but it’s a stunning reminder of the ways of the region’s past.
The Canadian schooner will be the centerpiece attraction at this weekend’s Grand Portage Rendezvous Days, a three-day event that will also feature celebration pow wows, games and other historical activities and plenty of authentic Aboriginal food and culture.
Deckhand Maria Bukli hails from London, Ont. and spends her summers sailing the Great Lakes, performing maintenance on the Nova Scotia-built vessel and educating the public on the history of tall ships and the two countries’ maritime past.
It’s been an incredible adventure, said Bukli, who also lived for three years with her grandparents on a boat before joining the Mist of Avalon crew.
“When I started, our first night out there was actually a big thunderstorm and that’s kind of what got me hooked. There was just so much intensity and the adrenaline rush was wonderful,” she said.
The work isn’t glamorous, but it instills a sense of accomplishment nevertheless, Bukli said.
“I do a little bit of everything, anything from cleaning to repairs to rigging. They usually send me aloft because I’m the smallest,” she said.
Although it certainly didn’t sail during the heyday of wooden sailing ships, it’s a great ambassador to a long-gone era, Bukli said.
“It’s a lot like the Grand Banks schooners that came before it. It was originally built as a fishing trawler. It didn’t have masts when it was built,” Bukli said on Friday.
Mist of Avalon is about 100 feet long and takes up about 10 feet of draft as it sails, mostly on the Great Lakes these days.
“We have seven on board right now, and that kind of fluctuates throughout the summers. We have our core five; others kind of come and go. We have room for 10, but we like to keep it smaller for storage room,” Bukli said.
Grand Portage’s Kiri Butter said the ship is a fantastic representation of the type of ships that might have sailed on Lake Superior during the fur-trading days.
Starting in about 1780, for about 40 years, similar ships were being built by the Northwest Company in both Sault Ste. Marie and Fort William for use on the Great Lakes.
They became necessary when it became apparent canoes and portaging could move enough supplies and merchandise to and from larger markets.
“They couldn’t carry livestock. Could you imagine a cow in a canoe? So they needed a ship to carry large barrels of flour and all the food stores,” Butter said.
Mist of Avalon is anchored off shore near the Grant Portage National Monument Heritage Centre. A ferry will transport visitors out to the ship for a closer look on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., though passengers will not be able to come aboard because of coast guard regulations. Rubber-soul shoes are required.
Tickets are free and on a first-come, first-served basis.