With their elegant lines and fine craftsmanship, it’s hard to take a bad photo of a tall ship. But as the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain dock in Newport this week, they offer the chance to walk way with souvenirs that are more tangible than a snapshot. A blister on the hand from helping to raise the sail, perhaps: or a serious case of tinnitus leftover from the roar of cannon fire during the vessels’ thrilling Battle Sails.
These vessels are far more than just a pretty backdrop. They are working sailing ships that give would-be sailors the chance to learn everything from navigation to how to swab a deck.
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 mariners goes to fund educational programs for 4th, 5th and 6th graders.
This is the fourth year running that the ships will glide under the welcoming arch of the Yaquina Bay Bridge as part of their annual tour of West Coast ports.
The vessels are scheduled to dock at the Port of Newport from Wednesday, May 17, through Sunday, May 28, offering a living history experience with demonstrations of tall ship handling, sea shanty singing and maritime storytelling.
Guests can admire a lot of the craftsmanship that went into the vessels by taking a walk-on tour for a suggested donation of $5. But to get the full experience of technology and teamwork coming together, nothing beats climbing aboard for an Adventure Sail or an Evening Sail.
Adventure Sails give guests the chance to help raise a sail, learn a sea shanty or even take the helm, conditions permitting. Guests can get a similar experience at a slightly lower price during one of the vessels’ Evening Sails.
But the sparks really start to fly when the ships set out for a Battle Sail — a faithful recreation of an 18th-century naval skirmish, complete with real cannon, real gunpowder, but thankfully no cannon balls.
And on Friday, May 26, the ships will team up with Newport’s very own scallywags to offer a Rogue Brewery Battle Sale, with ales, porters, stouts and lagers on offer to get people into buccaneering mood. Tickets to this 21-and-over sail include one free drink, with further grog charged at $5 a time.
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.
Meanwhile, 103-foot Hawaiian Chieftain has a steel hull and two engines. Follansbee said the vessel, which was built in Hawaii in 1988, 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.