PORTLAND (AP) — Spectators lined the coast Saturday to watch a sea of canvas as the Coast Guard’s Eagle, the El Galeon Andalucia from Spain and other vessels arrived for the largest tall ships event in Maine’s largest city in 15 years.

The floating parade from the Portland Head Light and into Portland Harbor marked the official kickoff of USA Tall Ships Portland, a three-day festival on the city’s waterfront.

The event celebrating the state’s 400-year maritime history provided a look back in time.

“The idea of having all of these tall ships come to a city is a great way to remind people of this maritime heritage that built this country,” said Amy Lent, executive director of the Maine Maritime Museum.

Maine is the place where English colonists built their first vessel — the Virginia, in 1607 in Phippsburg, site of the Popham colony, up the coast from Portland.

Maine also boasts the distinction of having built more schooners, square-rigged ships and other sailing vessels than any other part of the country through the 19th century.

The square-rigged vessels, often used for international trade, were so synonymous with Maine in the latter part of the 1800s that they were called Down Easters. Providing the key to trade and transportation up and down the U.S. coast were schooners, which utilized different type of sails and rigging.

Back then, shipbuilding provided a linchpin to the economy, driving the lumber boom, providing boats for fishermen and making Portland an international hub for trade and travel to exotic places.

“At a time when most people traveled only a few miles from home, people from Maine were traveling around the world,” Lent said.

Vessels participating in the event, sponsored by Iberdrola, the Spanish parent of Central Maine Power, included a replica of a Spanish galleon, El Galeon Andalucia. The gleaming Coast Guard Eagle was another crowd pleaser. Other participating vessels came from Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The event was the biggest tall ship event in Portland Harbor since OpSail 2000, a tall ship extravaganza that celebrated the new millennium up and down the East Coast. Former President George H.W. Bush participated in that event, riding aboard the Coast Guard Eagle, one of two-dozen participating vessels.

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