This summer is shaping up to be one of the busiest seasons ever on the Delaware River — starting with the return of two historic hometown vessels and the launch of the cruise season.
In the 10-plus years Joe Brooks has worked for Penn’s Landing Corp., the upcoming season stands out as one of the more promising.
"I’m generally excited about this lineup of events and activities this summer," said the senior vice president.
For starters, the Moshulu finally reopened as a floating restaurant May 5. The world’s largest and oldest four-masted sailing vessel is berthed between the USS Olympia and the Spirit of Philadelphia between Dock and Locust streets.
Since the early 1970s, the Moshulu (pronounced Mo-SHOO-loo) had been docked at Pier 34. After the tragic collapse of the pier in May 2000, the wooden vessel seemed almost a ghost ship in the murky waters of the Delaware — its doors closed and future uncertain.
For a while, there was talk about relocating the Moshulu to the Camden or Baltimore waterfronts.
Last summer, the ship’s owner, HMS Ventures, Inc., signed a five-year contract with Penn’s Landing Corp. to dock the mighty Moshulu in the Penn’s Landing Marina.
"We were glad to see it stay in Philadelphia," said Dominic Sabatini, president of Penn’s Landing Corp.
Marty Grims, a Center City and Main Line restaurateur, is the driving force behind the revived Moshulu.
"I really feel that the waterfront is Philadelphia’s last great untapped resource," he said. "It’s phenomenally romantic at night. The views are phenomenal. It’s perfectly situated as far as Philadelphia, the suburbs and New Jersey. I really see that the Moshulu can now become one of the anchors of Penn’s Landing."
The restaurateur calls the Moshulu’s new image trendy and hip. "It’s no longer a tourist attraction. It’s meant for the residents. It’s such a wonderful resource. I think that people will want to come down to the waterfront."
Philadelphia possesses a significant and very interesting piece of history in the old ship. Built in Scotland in 1904, and originally christened Kurt by her German owners, the 394-foot vessel survived two world wars, sinking and salvage. After being captured by American forces during World War I, President Woodrow Wilson’s wife renamed the ship Moshulu, a Senecan Indian name meaning "fearless."
In its day, the ship transported coal, copper, ore, lumber and grain.
The Moshulu has had a vast and varied sailing history. It sailed around Cape Horn a whopping 54 times; 28 people lost their lives aboard the ship. A 1989 fire gutted the interior, resulting in an $11-million restoration.
The Moshulu is one of the few crafts to make an appearance in two Oscar-winning movies — The Godfather and Rocky.
Another hometown ship that made it to the silver screen also will be reberthed at Penn’s Landing. The historic Gazela appeared in Interview with the Vampire and The Widow of Saint-Pierre, as well as documentaries.
After a two-year absence for an extensive restoration, this tall ship will return to its original berth at Penn’s Landing on Saturday.
The nonprofit Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild owns the Gazela. Using 90-percent volunteer labor, the guild worked for two years to replace the entire deck and plumbing, said Bobby Flemming, volunteer and guild office manager.
"A wooden boat that old needs a lot of work to keep her alive," Flemming said.
The same volunteers also make up Gazela’s sailing crew. The 177-foot wooden vessel will be missing from the waterfront most of the summer as its crew sails the East Coast. The few weekends it returns home, the ship will be open to visitors, Flemming said.
The Gazela was built in a shipyard in Portugal. Although its records date from 1901, there is good evidence that many of the timbers used in its construction are from the ship Gazella (the original had two L’s), built in 1883. The wooden, three-masted vessel was originally built to carry fishermen to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
This October, "Haunted Ship" returns after a two-year hiatus, Flemming said. Crew members and other volunteers will transform the Gazela into a floating Halloween attraction, complete with pirates, corpses and frightful scenes and surprises.
In other shipping news, the Jeanie Johnston, a recreation of the proud Irish immigrant ship, will dock at Penn’s Landing from June 12-23. Open for tours, the ship offers a unique insight into Irish immigration during and after the Potato Famine.
"The arrival of this ship is a touchstone event for many Irish in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley," Brooks said.
The Jeanie Johnston set sail from Dublin in February, retracing the historic transatlantic voyage the original made 150 years earlier.
The U.S. Coast Guard Barque Eagle, a training ship for U.S. Coast Guard officers, will cozy up to Penn’s Landing Aug. 15-18. Home ported at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., Eagle is the only square-rigger in government service.
"The Eagle is the largest tall ship — that’s breathtaking. It’s an amazing sight when she comes up the river. In this patriotic time, there are going to be a lot of people who will want to come aboard and see this ship," Brooks said.
A bit farther down the river, the Port of Philadelphia’s spring cruise season set sail May 6. Passengers embarked on the Carnival Legend for a trip to Bermuda. More than 2,000 passengers set sail from South Philly to the Caribbean destination, said My Linh Nguyen, spokesperson for the Delaware River Port Authority.
"It was very successful based on feedback from our customers and the cruise line," said Nguyen.
Located in the Philadelphia Naval Business Center, the terminal opened in 1998 as the area’s only dedicated cruise facility.
During the last four years, the city and the port authority spent $11 million in capital improvements to upgrade the capabilities of the terminal, said Nguyen. Construction of a mooring dolphin, extending the boarding platform and adding an adjustable elevated boarding platform were just some of the projects.
This year, five major cruise lines — Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Carnival Cruises and Holland America Lines — will sail from the terminal in South Philly.
Starting Aug. 31, the Celebrity Horizon cruise ship will make seven trips to Bermuda. The same ship will close out Philadelphia’s cruise season on Oct. 19 when it sets sail for the Eastern Caribbean.
In addition, the Port of Philadelphia and Camden signed a four-year deal with Norwegian to launch 29 cruises from Philadelphia to Bermuda, beginning this fall.
"We’re very excited about that because Norwegian is always pioneering new things to do for cruising," Nguyen said. "They have recognized us as a region — being close to a very large population base that can afford to travel. They are capitalizing on that and so are we."
The Norwegian Sea will be the first ship in the water — at least locally — as it sails five times in September and October.