Tall ships, six-story rubber duck heading to Alpena

Courtesy Photo The World’s Largest Rubber Duck will visit Alpena July 15 to 17 during the Festival of Sail, which will also feature three replicas of historic ships, sailing in from all over the country and world, including one from Seville, Spain. Pictured here is a man standing in front of the six-story rubber duck, which was made in a factory in the U.S.

ALPENA ­­– She’s a big rubber ducky, and Thunder Bay is about to be her bathtub.

For the first time ever, the Festival of Sail is coming to Alpena July 15 to 17 at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. The festival will feature historic ships and an enormous yellow duck.

Mama Duck, the World’s Largest Rubber Duck, was “born” in the U.S. in 2014, in a factory near Cleveland, Ohio, called Scherba Industries. She made her first appearance in August of that year in Los Angeles.

“I’ve been producing these tall ship festivals for about a dozen years,” said duck owner and Festival of Sail producer Craig Samborski, who hails from Duluth, Minnesota.

He travels all over the country with the duck, who is inflated at each location. When she is fully inflated, she stands 61 feet high, 69 feet wide, 79 feet long, and weighs 31,500 pounds, or roughly 15 tons, including the steel pontoon she sits on, Samborski said. Mama Duck alone weighs only 1,250 pounds, but she needs a lot of support.

Courtesy Photo The Nao Trinidad from Seville, Spain, is one of three ships scheduled to visit Alpena July 15 to 17 for the Festival of Sail, along with the World’s Largest Rubber Duck.

So, yeah, she’s kind of chubby. But that’s what makes her so awesome.

“She’s a portly gal,” Samborski said.

The giant duck plan was born among drinking buddies. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

“You know, when you’ve had a few beers, everything sounds great,” Samborski said with a laugh. “I woke up the next morning going, ‘Oh my god, what did I commit to?’ But, about 12 weeks later, I took delivery of the World’s Largest Rubber Duck.”

He still thinks it’s a good, even great, idea.

Courtesy Photo The Pride of Baltimore II is one of three ships scheduled to visit Alpena July 15 to 17 for the Festival of Sail, along with the World’s Largest Rubber Duck.

So does almost everyone who meets Mama Duck, including multibillionaire Elon Musk.

“Elon Musk is a fan of the duck, and he and Tesla had us bring the duck to the grand opening of his new Gigafactory in Austin, Texas, which was a wildly cool experience for us and our team,” Samborski said.

Samborski is proud to own the gigantic vessel or toy, whichever floats your boat. She actually does float, with the help of a large steel pontoon, also made in the U.S., in Ontario, California.

“That thing is just enormous — it travels via semi,” he said of the pontoon base.

Samborski is bringing Mama Duck and her baby duck, which is a mere 10 feet tall, to Alpena.

Come for the ducks, but stay for the ships, as three historic replicas are sailing in, one all the way from Seville, Spain. That ship is the Nao Trinidad, and she will be joined by the Pride of Baltimore II and the U.S. Brig Niagara.

“They’re like the ships you see in the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies,” Samborski said.

“It’s extraordinary,” Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary Resource Protection Coordinator Stephanie Gandulla said of hosting the festival. “We were thrilled when Craig reached out to the sanctuary to say he wanted to bring the Festival of Sail to Alpena. We have developed a reputation for being very welcoming to many different guests, but especially the tall ships and network that sail the Great Lakes.”

She looks forward to presenting more maritime history to guests.

“This is maritime history, really, from around the world,” Gandulla said. “One of the ships is coming from Spain, the Trinidad … the Niagara is such an integral part of Great Lakes history, Pride of Baltimore, American history, so it is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about what we focus on here … A reminder that we’re connected to our waterways around the world.”

When Samborski approached the sanctuary about hosting the festival, Gandulla thought, “that’s right up our alley.”

Shipwreck alley, that is.

“What better way to celebrate our maritime history than with something so affiliated with water,” Gandulla said of hosting the World’s Largest Rubber Duck. “So I think it’s going to be pretty special to Alpena to have something so unique.”

Samborski first visited Alpena about a month ago, and he looks forward to coming back.

“I think Alpena is incredibly cool and charming,” he said. He visited the Red Brick Tap and Barrel while here, and he will definitely eat there again. “For a community that size, it just seems so vibrant. It’s so beautiful. I think when you think of Norman Rockwell’s America, Alpena, for me, would come to the top of that list.”

The festival runs 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on July 15, 16, and 17. Tickets are available online at alpena.festofsail.com.

Ticket prices vary, based on whether you want to tour the ships or sail out onto the water on the Pride of Baltimore II, which is scheduled to set sail each day at 4:30 p.m.

Daily festival entry starts at $19 per person. All ticket prices include viewing the giant duck up-close. On-board tours include festival entry at $33 per person per day, or discounted family pricing of $29 per person per day.

“It’s truly a festival,” Gandulla added. “They’re arranging vendors and musicians. It’s something you don’t want to miss.”


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