It didn't take Canadian seaman Richard Thompson long to get quite a bit of Baltimore under his shiny gold belt. Tapas at Harborplace. Shopping for sunglasses. And a beery romp with some American sailors at Power Plant Live that left him with a different sort of souvenir.
"It was a mechanical bull," said the crewman from the frigate Ville de Quebec, pointing to a fresh bruise on his lip. "In case you're wondering."
Thanks to this week's Sailabration commemorating the War of 1812, Baltimore is getting a taste of Fleet Week — and some of its legendary exuberance. Dozens of ships in town. Thousands of sailors. And all of them wanting to have as much fun as they can without staining their dress whites.
More than 40 ships have stopped in Baltimore for the week — with a few still on their way.
Though they all have duties here, mainly showing off their vessels, they also have a lot of free time. While what they do with it is largely up to them, event organizers have tried to steer them to the choicest attractions.
Free tickets to Orioles games, the zoo, museums. Shuttles to attractions. Complimentary water-taxi rides. Even discounted food, drinks and nightclub cover charges. Officials with Sail Baltimore, the event organizers, have not only wrangled all of it, they've tailored excursions to the tastes of various foreign crews.
The Japanese, baseball lovers, scooped up all the passes to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Sports Legends Museums.
The Indonesians had to see Annapolis.
And Arundel Mills, of all places, was a huge draw because the foreign sailors wanted electronics from Best Buy.
"When you come to a city, no matter where you're from, it's often hard to get your land legs," said Sail Baltimore spokeswoman Lisa Shenkle. "We're just trying to facilitate a good, safe time for them."
Friday morning, sailors in crisp, pleated whites roamed the Inner Harbor. They were everywhere. Impossible to miss. Buying tickets to the National Aquarium. Posing for pictures with tourists. Meandering deeper into the city to see things off the beaten path.
More than a few made it over to the Scores strip club, where a waitress saluted them with a rendition of the U.S. national anthem.
One Mexican sailor, a big reader, stopped first at Edgar Allan Poe's grave.
An Ecuadorean got up early to head to Broadway to find a cheap cellphone and do his laundry. After he tossed his clean clothes back onto the ship, Galo Navarro, who's 22, said he intended to head right out to visit "the more places I can," especially Annapolis, which he's heard a lot about.
"There is an academy there I want to know," he said in near-perfect English. "In my country, many are told about the school — and I saw it in the movie."
What Navarro was particularly looking forward to were the nightly cocktail parties hosted by the various ships. At the fete on his ship, the Guayas, people could dance to an Ecuadorean band. The Colombians' affair was "too similar" to Ecuador's to be interesting. But the Mexican bash — now that, he thought, was something not to miss.
"They give a special drink — tequila," he said, a big smile spreading on his face. "Tequila. Free. There is a lot of tequila."
Beer was the beverage of choice Friday for three Canadian sailors sitting under an umbrella at the Hard Rock Cafe's outdoor deck. Their drinks and plate of nachos were all half-off, just because they were in uniform. Many businesses around the harbor and in Fells Point were offering sailors the same sorts of deals.
Though some sailors had the option of changing into street clothes and wearing rubber wristbands to get the discounts, Etienne Laurier, Yohan Desjardins and Kyle Hooper, all in their 20s, were told they had to keep their uniforms on for the entire trip — partly so they could be ambassadors for Canada and partly to keep them in line. In whites, Hooper said, "everybody behaves. It looks bad if somebody's doing something illegal or stupid."
That said, their curfew was 7 a.m. Plenty of time for clean-cut trouble, right? "Exactly," said Desjardins.
The shipmates were looking forward to taking the train down to D.C. and staying overnight to see the White House and the Washington Monument. They were even considering a trip up to Philadelphia.
But there was one place they couldn't go, the only spot their commander declared off-limits: