Shunned by the World’s Largest Rubber Duckie

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The World’s Largest Rubber Duck turns its back on me.

Duluth is hosting a Tall Ships Festival this weekend. A newcomer to the event is the “World’s Largest Rubber Duck.” I put that in quotes because equally large or larger rubber ducks exist in the world overseas. It’s just that the U.S. creator (who happens to be a Duluthian, too) of this particular duck trademarked the phrase.

Even so, I was intrigued to view this giant yellow floating bathtub toy – in part to see if it could nudge me out of my doldrums following my father’s death – but also just because it’s novel. Like others who have attended these festivals over the years, I’ve seen plenty of tall ships, but never a sci-fi movie-sized duck. Also, I needed to attend the festival for work, to deliver some keys to a co-worker who was on one of the tall ships (the Denis Sullivan).

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A crew member barks orders on the Denis Sullivan.

The duck was participating in the opening ceremony for the festival, called the Parade of Sail. For this spectacle, all of the ships sail into the Duluth-Superior Harbor through the ship canal and under Duluth’s iconic Aerial Lift Bridge.

I left in what I thought was enough time to catch the parade. But I didn’t anticipate the number of other people who also wanted to attend. I expected a lot of people, and planned my travel route to the festival via a back way, but there were not just a lot of people. There were HORDES.

After being turned away from one event parking lot because I didn’t pre-pay a parking ticket, I ended up waiting in line for 40-something minutes for another lot.

I knew I was going to miss the beginning of the parade, so enterprising me got out of line to bribe a local business to let me park in their lot. They weren’t open to my bribe (or perhaps it was not large enough!), so I got back in line, even father back.

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The chart room, below decks in the Denis Sullivan.

As I was waiting, and gazing out my car window through a fence and a tangle of tansy weed, I saw the head of a large yellow duck gliding past in the nearby harbor. I was missing the duck!

Alas, failed bribery attempt already past, there was nothing more I could do to improve my situation. I could only hope the duck would still be around once I made my way to the event grounds.

By the time I got to the parking lot entrance, the attendants were only letting cars in once other cars came out. After another 15 minutes or so, I finally got to park my car in a swampy spot and hoof it to the harbor.

The duck apparently did not like that I was late, and would not show its face to me. It was far away by this time, across the harbor at its docking site — its back turned in disapproval at my lack of strategic event attendance planning skills. Sigh.


A crew member climbs the rigging on the Denis Sullivan as it sails under Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge. Image courtesy of Kathy Kline, Wisconsin Sea Grant.

But my spirits lifted when I ended up getting a free tour of the Denis Sullivan. I found my co-worker among the hordes and she let me aboard. The Sullivan’s home port is Milwaukee, and the ship is used for educational purposes. My co-worker had just completed a five-day sail with about a dozen Great Lakes teachers, instructing them on lake ecology and maritime history.

Enjoy the photos!


What the duck looked like to everyone else. Image courtesy of WDSE-TV.

Touring the Tall Ships on a “Short” Ship

The Schooner Coaster JJ

The Schooner Coaster JJ

I arrived at the Duluth Tall Ships Festival just when it was closing. Workers were pounding and pulling stakes out of parking lot asphalt once covered by tents, and festival T-shirts were being offered for half-off by a desperately vocal vendor.

But the nine tall ships were still in port and that’s what I was after. I was looking forward to a close-up view of the tall ships via a short, regular sailboat berthed in the ship canal in downtown Duluth. However, the craft was neither short nor regular but a gorgeous 42-foot Beneteau with cabin floors varnished so thickly it was like walking on water, and a nimbleness of handling that belied its more than adequate size. Named the Makena, the craft was one of two in the Moon Shadow Sailing fleet, which offers tours of Lake Superior and the harbor.

Joining me were a couple from Rochester, Minn., and a couple from Duluth who were friends of the captain. The sun finally smiled upon the festival, a light breeze blew; it was a perfect night for sailing. With a warning ring, the Canal Park pedestrian bridge raised and we were off.

Pictures will probably do more justice to the experience than words. Let me just say that the company was outstanding and it was an experience I won’t soon forget. Happy Sailing!

A sailor out on a (sailing) limb.

A sailor out on a (sailing) limb.

The Privateer Lynx


The Privateer Lynx and the Aerial Lift Bridge

The Privateer Lynx and the Aerial Lift Bridge

Captain Marie (and friend)

Captain Marie (and friend)

The Aerial Lift Bridge welcomes us back.

The Aerial Lift Bridge welcomes us back.