NEW YORK -- Most of the wo ld's tall ships unfurled their sails in brilliant sunshine Friday and preened before the Statue of Liberty in a stately salute to the Lady of the Harbor during her 100th birthday celebration.
On Governor's Island, President Reagan and fi st lady Nancy Reagan watched as two fireboats spewed red, white and blue water and tugboats tooted their horns to herald the arrival of the elegant Operation Sail flotilla of 260 vessels advancing up the Hudson River.
'Perhaps, indeed, these vessels embody our conception of liberty itself, to have before one no impediments, only open spaces to chart one's own course, to take the adventure of life as it comes, to be as free as the wind, as free as the tall ships themselves,' Reagan said.
Officials touted it as the largest sailing parade in history. The fleet -- including most of the wo ld's tallest ships -- featured ships from 31 countries.
Led by the Coast Guard's 295-foot bark Eagle, 22 tall ships with their huge white sails billowing in the wind and more than 200 escort vessels glided past the Statue of Liberty to the delight of millions of spectators on land, sea and air.
Toward the end of the procession, a 40-foot Dutch flat boat and 70-foot American schooner collided, injuring a woman on the American ship, the Coast Guard said. The injury was not believed to be serious. The Dutch boat lost its mast, officials said.
Some 30,000 pleasure boats watched the 4 -hour parade -- about twice the number that came to OpSail '76 in honor of the country's bicentennial -- as 1.8 million onlookers lined the New York shore, craning to catch a glimpse of the flotilla, officials said.
Overhead, blimps and helicopters surveyed the magnificant spectacle on the glistening waters.
Fireworks erupted from Liberty Island as each of the 22 tall ships from far flung corners of the wo ld passed the statue. Musicians on a floating bandshell off the tip of Manhattan played the national anthem as the parade approached.
The flotilla assembled south of the Statue of Liberty and set sail just moments after 33 warships concluded their 21-gun salutes to Reagan in the fifth International Naval Review.
Despite the explosive power of the warships, it was the grace and romance of the tall ships that highlighted July Fourth's daytime activities. The show concludes with a 32-barge fi eworks spectacular at night when Reagan rededicates the 100-year-old Statue of Liberty.
As the white-hulled Libertad from Argentina sailed past Battery Park City in lower Manhattan with its crew at attention, Genevieve Probst, of Merrick, N.Y., gasped.
'They're all saluting, those fellows,' she said, peering through binoculars with one hand and waving back with the other. 'Beautiful. That's a beauthiful picture.'
Sherm Hotchkiss of Greenwich, Conn., who was sharing binoculars with his 12-year-old son, Bradford, said, 'I think it's the most momentous occasion our country has celebrated. It wells everybody up, rethinking our country and what we're all about.'
Edward Chang, and his wife, Isabelle, meanwhile, traveled to New York from Taiwan for Liberty Weekend.
'I think it's excellent,' Chang said. 'I wish her (the statue) a happy birthday.'
'And millions of years,' his wife added.
Officials were worried about OpSailafter 'unusual' 25 mph winds whipped up waves of 8 to 10 feet Thursday evening in Sandy Hook Bay where the tall ships were anchored to await the biggest sailing parade in history.
But the weather cooperated Friday.
The parade also was not without controversy. Many were offended by the presence of Chile's Esmeralda, which Amnesty International said was used to torture prisoners after Gen. Augusto Pinochet took power in 1973. The Chilean government denies the charge.
Some of the ships, such as Indonesia's 191-foot-long Dewaruci, sailed halfway around the wo ld for the statue's centennial. In comparison, ships such as Canada's 161-foot Bluenose and Mexico's 296-foot Cuauhtemoc were practically from around the corner.
Missing from the lineup was the Atlantis from Panama. Officials said the ship developed engine trouble at sea and notified organizers Thursday it would not arrive in time.
The two largest ships in the parade were Spain's Juan Sebastian de Elcano and the Esmeralda, both more than 350 feet, while Belgium's Zenobe Gramme at 95 feet was the smallest.