By Michelle Perras-Charron

Families can immerse themselves in the maritime history of Boston this month when the Tall Ship fleet sails into Boston Harbor June 17-22 -- the first time they have visited the city in 17 years.

A fleet of more than 40 Tall Ships is taking part in the Rendez-Vous 2017 Tall Ships Regatta -- a 7,000-nautical mile trans-Atlantic race that began April 13 in Royal Greenwich, UK, sailing to ports in Portugal and Bermuda before a stopover for Sail Boston 2017. From here, the Tall Ships will head to Québec City and other destinations as part of the five-month regatta. The race ends when the winning ship cruises into Le Havre, France, the last week of August.

A Tall Ship is a traditionally rigged sailing vessel. They can be categorized by the number of masts/shape of the ship, according to Sail Boston. Some modern-day examples of Tall Ships are barques, brigs, brigantines, and topsail schooners. The tallest and longest ship attending Sail Boston 2017 is the Peruvian Navy training ship Unión, which is a barque.

Sail Boston will kick off with opening ceremonies at Rowe's Wharf at noon, Friday, June 16, with performances by the United States Coast Guard Band, the Boston Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums, and the Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes and Drums.

"This event really seems to capture the hearts and minds of New Englanders," says Robin Reibel, spokesperson for Sail Boston 2017.

The showstopper event occurs on Saturday, June 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., when the Tall Ships sail into Boston Harbor for the Grand Parade of Sail. During the parade, participating Tall Ships will form into flotillas and be led by the United States Coast Guard Barque Eagle through Broad Sound into the main channel of the harbor. The ships will then make a turn at Charlestown prior to proceeding to their berthing areas.

According to organizers, public viewing of the parade will be best from Castle Island, the Seaport District, the Boston Waterfront, East Boston, the North End, and Charlestown. A spectator anchorage map displays more information.

"There has not been a parade and sail of this magnitude in 17 years," Reibel notes. "With almost 50 ships, this is an opportunity not to be missed. This is an opportunity to really connect with Boston's seafaring and maritime history that is really special."

Boston's history is married to the water, and this event will give families a chance to explore not only United States maritime history via educational programming throughout the event, but also international maritime history, as many of the Tall Ships come from other countries, including Germany, Spain, Finland, and Chile.

The Tall Ships will be berthed all around Charlestown Navy Yard and Boston Fish Pier, where festivities will be taking place throughout the week. Free public boarding of the ships will be available on Saturday, June 17, from 3 p.m.-10 p.m., and June 18-21, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. During public boarding hours, families will have the opportunity to chat with cadets and crewmembers about the ships, home countries, culture, and sea experiences, Reibel says.

"It's a very hands-on, interactive experience," she adds.

Additionally, great entertainment is on tap as spectators will have the opportunity to see the Boston Gaelic Column of Pipes and Drums perform Saturday, June 17, at Charlestown Navy Yard. Organized in 1992, the Gaelic Column is the Boston Police Department's bagpipe band. The Middlesex County Volunteers Fifes and Drums will also perform that day, and both organizations will make multiple appearances throughout the week of festivities and entertainment.

Spectators can also enjoy an evening of musical and military entertainment with the Sunset Salute from 7 p.m.-9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 20, and Wednesday, June 21, at the Charlestown Navy Yard and the Fan Pier, respectively.

Reibel cautions this is a "know before you go" event, as there will be limited parking, restricted travel, and road closures throughout the festival. One option for getting into the area is the reservation-based Sail Boston Express, which will provide service into Boston from Park & Rides throughout eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

For more detailed information about the Tall Ships participating in Sail Boston 2017, the schedule of free festivities, and how best to travel into Boston to enjoy this family event, visit sailboston.com.