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Tall stories: brace for seafaring tales in Newport

Published on April 10, 2018 7:20PM

Hawaiian Chieftain (left) and Lady Washington (right)

Hawaiian Chieftain (left) and Lady Washington (right)

Newport’s Yaquina Bay Bridge seen from the deck of the Lady Washington

Newport’s Yaquina Bay Bridge seen from the deck of the Lady Washington

Some tall ship fans prefer the classic lines of Lady Washington. Others feel there is no substitute for the sturdy steel hull of Hawaiian Chieftain. There’s only one way to settle such a dispute — with a flurry of cannon fire on the waters of Yaquina Bay.

The sister ships will overlap for three days on this year’s visit to Newport, giving cannon-happy guests the chance to indulge their cravings for maritime mayhem by signing up for a Battle Sail between the two.

Both ships are owned and operated by the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, a nonprofit based in Aberdeen, Washington, that is dedicated to bringing maritime history to life. Money raised from their travels goes to fund educational programs for 4th, 5th and 6th graders.

And it’s not just the lure of blazing cannons that has people making their way up the gangplank. The vessels also offer walk-on tours for a suggested donation of $5, as well as a schedule of daytime and evening sails that allow guests to feel the deck roll beneath their feet without the noise and frenzy of a naval skirmish (see sidebar for details).

While the ships might look like they just sailed right out of the 18th Century together, they actually have very different origins.

The seaport authority built Lady Washington from scratch in 1989 as a replica of the original Lady Washington — the first American ship to reach the west coast of North America under the command of Captain Robert Gray. Built on a timber frame using traditional shipbuilding techniques, the replica vessel is an almost exact copy of the original when viewed from outside, although sharp-eyed observers will be able to spot the radar dome and — if the water is clear — the shadow of a propeller at the stern.

While Lady Washington is a wooden ship, the 103-foot Hawaiian Chieftain has a steel hull and two engines. Built in Hawaii in 1988, the vessel is classed as “an interpretation” of an 18th-Century trading ship rather than a replica. Designed specifically to hop between islands in the South Seas, the ship has a flat bottom that allows it to land on beaches at high tide and slip back off when the tide comes in.

The ships are on the move 10 months of the year, visiting California to Oregon from late September to early May, heading north as the weather improves.

FMI, go to www.historicalseaport.org or call 800-200-5239.

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