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She's a beauty.

It was the prevailing opinion Buffalonians had cutting through Lake Erie's waters Monday upon a reconstruction of the US Brig Niagara - the flagship Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry commanded to victory in the pivotal War of 1812 Battle of Lake Erie - during a pair of day sails aboard the historic vessel.

The crew and officers of the Niagara shared the identical sentiment about the Queen City after concluding an exceedingly successful run of days docked at Canalside as part of Navy Week, which officially wrapped up with Niagara's return to Erie, Pa., on Monday night.

"It is nine ports so far this year, Buffalo was so much our favorite," said Claudia Bankert, a volunteer crew member aboard the Niagara who said the city lived up to its motto as the "City of Good Neighbors."

"They've extended that to us and really made us part of the city by hosting us in the most friendliest fashion."

The Niagara - a certified U.S. Coast Guard sailing school vessel - made its first voyage to Buffalo in about a decade. After enjoying a week as part of Navy Week with more than 3,000 people boarding the ship Saturday alone and selling out both day sails Monday, Bankert said she looks to a quick return voyage.

"The historical knowledge in the city is quite impressive. And, not just the knowledge - the interest," said Bankert, acknowledging that visitors in Buffalo seemed to most appreciate the ship's authenticity.

"It's history. You can touch and feel and smell that this is the real thing. It's like stepping back in time 200 years. This is the real thing. There's nothing fake about this ship."

That was what lured folks like Brian Rollason - who traveled down from Barrie, Ont. - to board the ship as "students" for the nearly four-hour instructional day sails Monday.

They were invited to participate with the crew in helping set sail and tacking the ship while out on Lake Erie.

They felt the shock of a two-pound black powder cartridge packed and a loaded by a gun crew and then fired off the side of the ship from a 32-pound carronade.

And they got a detailed account of Perry's strategic victory - replete with maps - in the Battle of Lake Erie from Niagara Capt. Wesley Heerssen Jr.

"Whether it is American or not, it gives me an appreciation of what life was like on a ship like this," said Rollason, a War of 1812 buff and a descendant of British rifleman Robert Wagstaff, who was wounded at the Battle of New Orleans. "Just to actually feel what it was like - you can smell the rope all over the ship."

That's just one element that has Ardrey Manning traveling to Erie about once a week to volunteer aboard the Niagara.

Buffalo's sole volunteer representative aboard the vessel, which also attracts volunteers from Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Erie, Manning fell in love with the Niagara about a dozen years ago. This stop was especially meaningful to her.

"I can show off Buffalo and show off my ship," Manning said. " is so thrilled Buffalo's waterfront is becoming so vibrant. They can't say enough about it."

Crew members were hopeful Buffalo's affinity for the Niagara translates into residents coming to visit the ship at its home port. Specifically, the Erie Maritime Museum, where it's docked. For more information, visit www.flagshipniagara.org.

Kaitlin McGee Chmura, a spokeswoman for the Erie County Harbor Development Corp. who was also on board, called the Niagara "a perfect fit" for Canalside during Navy Week. Development agency officials estimate that up to 100,000 visitors could have attended the Navy Week events that, besides the Niagara, also drew in four other ships from the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy.

"It definitely met and went beyond our expectations," Chmura said. "We got great exposure for Canalside and the Naval and Military Park."





email: tpignataro@buffnews.com