Time was, some 200 years ago, that the South Street Seaport bustled with seafaring commerce. It’s possible to recapture some of that old-time ambience on the quaintly cobbled, shop-lined lanes. A fleet of the vessels that once filled New York Harbor with their acres of canvas sails and smokestacks are berthed at docks that are part of the South Street Seaport Museum.
Dockside galleries are filled with photographs and other mementoes of seafaring days of yore. Among the ships that can be boarded are the Peking, a clipper from 1911 and one of the largest sailing ships ever built; the Wavetree, a fully rigged wrought-iron vessel that saw duty carrying jute for rope-making from Bangladesh to Scotland; and the Ambrose, a lightship that once guided mariners across the sandbars in the mouth of New York Bay.
Harbor cruises set off from the seaport aboard the Pioneer, a late 19th-centry cargo sloop, and the Lettie G. Howard, a fishing schooner. The W. O. Decker, a 1930s tugboat, pokes through the backwaters of New York Harbor. Two historic craft of Manhattan by Sail, the Sheerwater and Clipper City, also ply the harbor, with daytime, twilight, and evening cruises (tel: 212-619-0907, 800-544-1224, www.manhattanbysail.com).