Because of the National Park Service Centennial, the Mist of Avalon was a special attraction at Rendezvous this year. The Mist of Avalon is a Grand Banks schooner that started life as a fishing ship in Nova Scotia before being abandoned. It was salvaged by George Mainguy in 1992 who converted it into the schooner. In 1997 the ship, rechristened the Mist of Avalon, returned to sea for her maiden voyage under sail.
Since that time, the Mist has appeared in numerous feature films and documentaries and been the star attraction at maritime festivals. The Mist of Avalon was appearing at the Duluth Tall Ships Festival this next weekend. So the Grand Portage staff arranged for it to come up here the week before and be the star attraction at the Rendezvous.
Originally the park applied for, and received, permission for people to board the ship and take tours. But the Coast Guard in Duluth decided that it was too dangerous for people to take a ferry to the Mist, transfer from one ship to another, and take the tour. Grand Portage Bay is too shallow for the Mist of Avalon to come to the dock. Instead, they gave permission for hour-long tours of the bay on the ferry Voyageur II or Sea Hunter III (they usually run to Isle Royale and back).
I worked dock operations on Friday, the first day for the ferry rides. On that day we were supposed to be taking members of the Grand Portage band and community and staff here at the park out to the Mist of Avalon. Two things quickly became apparent. First, many people who had picked up tickets did not show up for their tour. Second, the tours were only taking 20 to 25 minutes. People boarded quickly, the ferry cast off, traveled out and around the Mist of Avalon, and then got back to the dock.
The captain of the Voyageur II suggested we take people out every half hour. So, for the rest of the day, we loaded everyone who wanted go on the ferry and sent them out to see the Mist of Avalon. It worked very well and was extremely efficient. By the end of the day over 600 people had gone out to the ferry – and only half of them had originally received tickets.
On Saturday, the tickets were handed out first-come, first-served basis. People picked up tickets and stood on the dock waiting for their turn on the ferry. The Sea Hunter III ran on Saturday and could take 50 people at a time with each voyage about 25 minutes. Usually people waited less than 45 minutes for their turn. Everyone was very positive about the experience and felt it was really worth the money (it was free). By the end of the day over 1,300 people rode the ferry out to see the Mist of Avalon.
Most of the crew for the Mist of Avalon are college students who sign on for the summer. Once the ferry runs were over for the day, they came in on the ship’s zodiac and enjoyed the activities of the Rendezvous. The re-enactors were glad to feed them and show them a good time. The crew told me on Sunday that they enjoyed this festival more than any other they had been to all summer. Those of us that got to ride the ferry to see the Mist of Avalon felt the same way.