Portsmouth Tall Ships Festival Scrapped For This Summer

Jun 16, 2017

Tall ships coming into Portsmouth along the Piscataqua River.
Credit Monika McGillicuddy

 Boston Harbor will host more than 50 tall ships this weekend, bringing thousands of tourists to the area.

But in a break from tradition, there will be no such display of the historic vessels along the Piscataqua River in Portsmouth later this summer.

Organizers of Sail Portsmouth say they’ve had to cancel this year’s tall ships festival due to contractual issues with the event in Boston.

Chad Chadwick is chair of the Piscataqua Maritime Commission, which organizes Sail Portsmouth. He joined NHPR’s Morning Edition.

What happened here? What’s the issue?

It’s really two or three issues. One, it’s a contractual issue. Boston has been planning this tall ship event for that last five years. And we just found about it about a year ago at the tall ship convention when they made it public. They basically went out and captured just about all the tall ships that we would have looked at, and we only bring in like one or two. But what happened is contracts with the ships included noncompetitive clauses. They put in a geographical exclusion that goes as far north as Portland and down into Massachusetts if they go to Boston. They’re paid by Boston, and they’re paid a large sum of money, and that’s funded both by the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts. Here in Portsmouth, we get no funding from the state or the federal government or the city. We rely upon donors, both individual and corporate, to raise money.

So this is basically a noncompete issue; they want to make sure they’ve got kind of a monopoly on the event.

That’s correct. And so facing that, what we did was for the last 10 years, we have been taking underprivileged children, whether it’s social or economic, out to sea and they learn to be seamen.

This is the Sea Challenge you have going on later this summer.

Right, so we’re doubling our efforts. So this year, instead of having one ship, we’ve got two ships. That’s happening Aug. 7.

Is there hope you’re going to be able to bring the tall ships back next summer?

Yes. We are already negotiating for next year with a large ship that is in Boston now and we will probably bring that back in the last two weeks of July or the first week of August.

And I would imagine this event is a boost to the local economy.

Yes. The city and the Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce have acknowledged this is a very large boost to the economy of not only Portsmouth, but of the Seacoast area. And it’s been going for a while.

Have you had any communication with Boston officials about why decided to flex their muscle on this?

Well, they didn’t flex their muscles, it’s just one of those things. They’ve been planning this for five years, and every five years they go full length. Last time in 2012, they didn’t put any exclusions in, but this time they put their legal beagles together and said this is the contractual requirements of noncompetitive geographical boundaries. We’ve talked to them and it wasn’t an adversarial relationship, but it certainly was this is our show and that’s it.