Flying a Colombian flag almost as tall as its three masts, the Colombian navy’s sailing ship ARC Gloria docked in downtown Miami Sunday for a four-day visit.
Thousands of Colombians braved the heat and muggy weather, plus pushing, shoving, rains and not too far-off lightning, to tour the training vessel at the Museum Park’s pier.
“When you see that huge flag, your heart fills with pride and you don’t mind a little discomfort if you’re Colombian,” said Medellín native Jorge Escandar as he and his son Carlos jostled just to stay on the line to board the ship.
Gustavo Rodriguez, a Colombian marine serving as part of the 180-member crew, said it’s usual for the ship to get a crush of visitors when it visits any port with a large Latin American community.
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Dressed in a green camouflaged uniform that set him apart from the white-clad sailors, Rodriguez said the crew was looking forward to visiting Miami “to do a little shopping, maybe a little entertainment.”
Maria Teresa Lemus, a Florida International University biology student born in Bogotá, said she wanted to shake hands with some of the crew and thank them for their service to the nation.
The 212-foot long vessel, a three-masted barque built in Bilbao, Spain, and commissioned in 1969, will be open to visitors until Wednesday at noon, when it sails for the Colombian island of San Andres in the Caribbean.
The ship, which carries almost 14,000 square feet of sail and displaces 1,300 tons, is regarded as one of the tallest of “tall ships” – usually military-run sailing vessels like the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Eagle.
It name, Armada Nacional Republic de Colombia, is a reference to the country’s national anthem, Oh Gloria Inmarcesible! – O Unfading Glory.
ARC Gloria sails abroad every year to promote Colombia and its culture with a crew of Navy officers and fourth year cadets, including several women. It also carries marines and army, air force and police officers, as well as invited guests.
The Gloria was reported to be the brainchild of Vice Admiral Orlando Lemaitre Torres, commander of the Colombian navy in the 1960s, who continually prodded the Ministry of Defense for the funds needed to build a training ship.
Lemaitre was so persistent that Defense Minister Gen. Gabriel Reveiz Pizarro eventually took a napkin and signed it under the words, “vale por un velero” – valid for one sailing ship.