CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman reports it was a Fourth of July celebration for a new millennium designed to outshine anything seen in the last millennium. And that's just what the organizers of OpSail 2000 wanted.
"This is the largest maritime event in history, the largest gathering of ships in history," said Bob LeBanco of OpSail.
The festivities kicked off when the Coast Guard barque Eagle passed beneath the Verrazano Bridge. Behind it were two dozen warships, "tall ships" from around the globe and an assortment of lesser craft from schooners to speedboats.
It's believed about 4 million watched as thousands of craft filled New York Harbor.
"This is exciting!" said Woodrow Keitt of Bayonne, N.J., who crossed the Hudson River to grab a spot near the USS Intrepid Museum on the West Side. "They say this is supposed to be the largest one. I figure I want to be a part of it."
At Battery Park, where the Statue of Liberty provided a backdrop for the event, Isabel Cruz of the Bronx stood on a park bench in hopes of a better view.
"I think it's wonderful," she said. "There's some really awesome ships here."
The warships were anchored overnight as part of an 11-mile line marking only the sixth International Naval Review in history.
The "parade of sail" featured about 30 large wind-powered ships from 19 countries. Most, like the Coast Guard's square-rigger Eagle, are government-owned training vessels for sailors.
Among the armada was the 129-foot schooner Amistad, a replica of the ship made famous after its slave cargo of 53 Africans revolted in 1839. Launched March 25 in Mystic, Conn., it will return to New Haven, Conn., where it will be a floating history lesson for schoolchildren.
President Clinton was on hand for the ceremony, as were thousands of onlookers on shore in New York and New Jersey.
|President Clinton named the next generation of destroyers after the late Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., architect of the modern U.S. Navy.|
About halfway through the review, gray clouds and haze vanished, giving Mr. Clinton a better view of Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the New York skyline and the more than 18,000 U.S. and foreign sailors and Marines who participated. Some stood at attention on the decks of their ships and saluted Mr. Clinton as he passed.
The oldest of the ships parading through New York Harbor was the Gazela of Philadelphia, a 178-foot square rigger built in Portugal in 1883.
Mr. Clinton watched them, sails billowing, from aboard the USS John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier named after the former presidentan avid sailor who formed the nonprofit Operation Sail in 1961 to promote international good will and preserve maritime history.
The president swore in new naval recruits as well as re-enlistments.
"I've heard about this my whole life heard about the Statue of Liberty, 4th of July, fireworks and having the president aboard," said Ensign Tanya Porter, USN Medical Corps. "It's just amazing the whole thing."
And 19-year-old Rosa Norales-Nunez, a navy seaman, who joined the service even before she became a citizen, got the good news two weeks ago that her application had been accepted. She represented the nation's newest citizens in the swearing-in ceremony aboard the Kennedy.
"This is my first hour as a citizen. I am so proud to be an American," said Norales-Nunez.
Standing in the shadow of Lady Liberty, Mr. Clinton used the occasion to plead for tolerance.
"We must resolve never to close the golden door behind us, and always not only welcome people to our borders, but welcome people into our hearts," he said.
The Coast Guard predicted as many as 70,000 craft would be in the harbor this week for a celebration capped by what organizers said would be the biggest fireworks display ever.
New York is the main port of call in the tall ships' nine-week coastal cruise. The summer tour, the fifth since OpSail began, started May 19 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The parade left Baltimore early Thursday, led by the 170-foot Pride of Baltimore II, with cannons firing. After leaving New York, the ships are to stop in New London, Conn., and Portland, Maine.
The first OpSail celebrated New York City's World's Fair in 1964; others coincided with milestones such as the 1976 U.S. bicentennial and the restoration and centennial of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.
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