Operation Sail, often referred to as “OpSail,” was the brainchild of late maritime historian Frank Braynard and IBMer Nils Hansell, who shared a vision of fostering global goodwill in an era of global uncertainty by bringing together the world’s remaining windships; they envisaged a nautical spectacular that would culminate in a parade of sails in New York Harbor. Operating on little more than contagious passion, the duo traversed the globe to rally support and recruit participants. Their humble efforts eventually gained the attention of President John F. Kennedy, an ardent seaman who enthusiastically offered his endorsement of the idea in May of 1963. “I am looking forward eagerly to Operation Sail,” Kennedy wrote. “The sight of so many ships gathered from the distant corners of the world should remind us that strong, disciplined, and venturesome men still can find their way safely across uncertain and stormy seas.”
With the assistance of Sail Training International (then the British Sail Training Association), the first Operation Sail was held in the summer of 1964 in conjunction with the New York World’s Fair and became instantly iconic. It was met with such success that plans for a second event were soon set into motion. There have been four Operation Sails since the debut sail, each larger than the last and each tied to a landmark American historical event, such as the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976 and the restoration of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.
In 1996, Operation Sail received a congressional resolution commending it for its “advancement of brotherhood among nations, its continuing commemoration of the history of the United States,and its nurturing of young cadets through training in seamanship.” The resolution also encouraged Operation Sail “to continue into the next millennium to represent and promote the United States of America in the international tall ship community, and to continue organizing and participating in tall ship events across the United States and around the world.”
“World peace through world trade is the purpose behind OpSail,” Frank liked to say. As one reporter recalls, when he was planning for an OpSail event he could be found at all hours of the day and night zipping around his One World Trade Center office wearing a “lived-in-look cardigan, his OpSail fundraising tie, a pair of slacks with a rip in the seat, and his St. Nicholas smile.”