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The usual fleet of retired warships docked at Canalside is playing host to another vessel with World War II credentials early this week – but the newcomer looks nothing like the hulking battleships visitors to Buffalo’s waterfront are accustomed to.

The Empire Sandy, a former British deep-sea tugboat given new life as a replica 19th century tall ship, arrived Tuesday at Canalside for a two-day visit sponsored by the Buffalo & Erie County Naval and Military Park through a grant from the Niagara 1812 Bicentennial Legacy Council.

The tug-turned-tall ship’s backstory is an interesting one. Equipped with anti-aircraft guns and a thick steel hull designed to withstand light shelling, the 200-foot-long tug moved British military equipment as far north as Iceland and as far south as Sierra Leone during World War II.

After the war, the ship was sold, renamed and repurposed several times until it wound up in the hands of Toronto entrepreneur Norm Rogers, who traded its steam engine for sails and converted the ship into the commercial tour vessel it is today. The transformation took five years.

Viewed from Main Street on approach to Canalside, the ship cuts an impressive figure, its three 116-foot steel masts seeming to graze the Skyway overhead. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, the ship’s many flags fluttered in a light breeze as curious visitors came aboard to tour Canada’s largest tall ship.

Though the Empire Sandy’s seven sails will remain furled and the vessel stationary for the duration of its visit, crew members said the ship moves well for a craft its size.

When its 11,000 square feet of sail catch a strong enough wind, the ship can reach top speeds of 16 knots – “which, for a 338-ton vessel, is flying,” said crew member Ian Clarke.

Deputy Director Bob Pecoraro said proceeds from the ship’s visit will benefit the park’s annual landscaping efforts.

Public tours continue today. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased in the park’s gift shop from 9 a.m. to noon or dockside after noon.

In addition, tickets are still available for the second of two parties aboard the Empire Sandy, which starts at 6 tonight and will be co-hosted by the park and a number of local nonprofits.

Tickets are $25 per person and can be purchased at the door – or gangplank, as it may be.

email: hglick@buffnews.com