Even without sails showing, all of the vessels in the parade of ships contributed to the day's theatrics, he said. Uniformed personnel lined the large modern naval vessels; crews danced and sang from the shrouds of the foreign tall ships; a fire boat sprayed ceremoniously into the air.
Within minutes of docking, the ships' crews began preparing to entertain and educate the crowds.
On the Pride, that meant stringing up explanatory signs about the parts of the ship, putting out pamphlets on the vessel's history and welcoming people aboard. On the Dewaruci, the crew came down the gangplank with drums and began performing a marching band routine on the pier.
"That was fabulous," said Carmella Diehlof Hazelton, Pa., who spent most of the day at Fort McHenry watching the ships pass by but caught the Indonesian performance when she got back to the Inner Harbor.
Diehl and her husband, Sonny Diehl, planned to spend the night in Harrisburg, Pa., and come back to Baltimore with friends on Thursday. They enjoyed their day in the city and appreciated the ease of getting around with public transit, Sonny Diehl said.
"That worked beautifully," he said.
Sailabration's debut in Baltimore was not limited to the seas Wednesday. Clifton Mansion, once the home of War of 1812 Capt. Henry Thompson, joined the festival with a re-enactment, exhibits, tours and an 80-foot-high view of the city from its landmark tower.
Visitors saw military history spanning 200 years, from War of 1812 militiamen to five Navy SEALS, who parachuted 6,500 feet to a field near the mansion grounds in Clifton Park, trailing green smoke.
Large crowds spread across the mansion's lawns and lingered on its porches. Some trekked up a winding staircase to the tower where Johns Hopkins, the home's second owner and the city's well-known philanthropist, could watch ships coming into the harbor.
"You should be able to see all the way to the Key Bridge from there," said Johns Hopkins, a distant relative who shares the name and had just made the climb with his children. "Who would not want to be here today?"
Joan Woytowitz, a history teacher at Towson University, said she had never seen the mansion. She came with her 88-year-old father, who remembered jogging through Clifton Park. The two also planned to take in the tall ships in the harbor.
"I hope this event brings history to life," she said. "I have students who don't know about the Vietnam War, much less the War of 1812."
Page Naimoli of Perry Hall said her children already were excited about Sailabration. They played small wooden flutes as they meandered through the mansion. She thought they would start the week off at Clifton Park and then visit Fort McHenry and tour a few ships.
"I want them to see as much of this history as they can," she said.
Stefan Hieken, 10, of Reisterstown, just studied the Revolutionary War and his mother thought Sailabration would give him a look at the next phase of American history.
"He is a real history fan and I just said we should learn more about it right here in Baltimore," she said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.