Famed tall ship coming to Carquinez Strait

Lady Washington under sail at sea. The tall ship will pass through Martinez Oct. 14, on its way to Antioch were visitors can come aboard. (BOB HARBISON / On File)
Lady Washington under sail at sea. The tall ship will pass through Martinez Oct. 14, on its way to Antioch were visitors can come aboard. (BOB HARBISON / On File)
By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
Martinez Tribune

A week ago, the Hawaiian Chieftain that once called the San Francisco Bay Area home, passed by Martinez on its journey to Sacramento to offer maritime history lessons for several months.

Those traveling to the state capital from Martinez will find the elegant vessel tied to a floating dock on the east bank of the Sacramento River at Front and L streets just above the Tower Bridge and near the Delta King and Hornblower boats in Old Sacramento, a short walk from that city’s Amtrak Station.

The Hawaiian Chieftain was launched in 1988 and is a modern sailing ship patterned after packet ships that delivered mail and merchandise on a regular schedule as part of early California commerce. It is open to the public. For $3 donations, visitors can take walk-on tours from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays until it departs Dec. 5 to sail downriver and past Martinez again.

But Martinez residents will get a chance at another tall ship sighting soon.

The Hawaiian Chieftain’s sister ship, the Lady Washington, has left its home port in Washington on a trip that will take it past Martinez to Antioch.

Both ships belong to Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, a nonprofit organization that uses the two ships for multiple educational programs.

Among them is the intensive “Two Weeks Before the Mast” sail training that lets participants learn firsthand what it is like to be a tall ship sailor and the “Voyages of Discovery” three-hour trips that teach children and adults about the life of officers and sailors, taught by deck hands at various stations aboard ship, as well as maritime trade history.

Even the dockside tours, which are like a shipboard open house, offer opportunities for visitors to learn about the specific vessels as well as shipboard life.

During the Lady Washington’s stay in Contra Costa County, the public will be able to take tours as well as join the crew on sails aboard a vessel that may be better known for its portrayals of pirate ships than as a replica of a Revolutionary War-era brig.

For tall ship and maritime fans, the Lady Washington’s stop in Antioch will be a chance to inspect the sails and rigging of a ship that has been patterned as closely as possible to the original Lady Washington, one of the first American-flagged ships that sailed in Pacific waters after the original colonies gained their independence.

For movie and television fans, it’s the opportunity to walk the deck where the Klingon Worf was shoved from “The Enterprise” into the brink in “Star Trek: Generations,” and to stand where Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow commandeered the vessel in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.” It’s also where Captain Hook of the “Once Upon a Time” television series commands his enchanted “Jolly Roger.”

In each case, the ship cast in those roles has been the Lady Washington.

“‘Star Trek: Generations’ was her break-through role in 1996,’” said Joe Follansbee, Grays Harbor Historical Seaport communication director. “But she is best known for the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ as the HMS Interceptor.”

For that role, the Lady Washington sailed to St. Vincent in the Caribbean. Unlike her earlier namesake, this ship took a shortcut through the Panama Canal instead of sailing around the dangerous Cape Horn. The trip and the shooting schedule lasted six months.

By the time “Once Upon a Time” producers decided their Captain Hook needed a live ship, “we had a reputation as a go-to vessel,” Follansbee said.

However, “movie star” is neither vessel’s primary duty. Like the Hawaiian Chieftain, the Lady Washington’s mission is to “promote and preserve maritime heritage,” Follansbee said. That’s particularly true for elementary school children, who learn what it was like to be an 18th century sailor and officer, and learn about the nation’s history as well.

The Lady Washington was built to be launched in 1989 for Washington State’s centennial, and it’s the official ship of that state. The Lady Washington makes annual trips from Washington south to visit multiple California ports, where it provides educational opportunities to fourth, fifth and sixth graders as well as to adults.

The original Lady Washington was a merchant ship that sailed from the 1750s on the East Coast, Follansbee said. Researchers have tried to document the first ship’s exact history, he said, trying to determine the truth of such speculative stories that suggest the vessel was a Colonial privateer during the Revolutionary War.

It became a cargo ship for a Boston, Massachusetts, company after the war, and sailed south around Cape Horn to engage in the Pacific fur trade, especially in otter pelts. The ship reached Vancouver Island and crossed the Pacific to become the first American-flagged ship to reach China, and then went on to circumnavigate the globe.

During the Lady Washington’s last voyage, its crew may have decided to become independent of the ship’s owners, according to another story that states the company lost touch with them. What is known is that in the 1790s, the ship fled to the Philippine Islands, hoping to find a safe port from a raging oceanic storm. But the storm won and the original Lady Washington was destroyed.

The square-rigged brig that sails as the Lady Washington today is fully certified by the United States Coast Guard and has modern amenities the original vessel did not have. The current crew has better accommodations and a modern galley, and engines can propel the ship when winds are still.

But as much as possible, the ship replicates the sailing ships of the 18th century.

Visitors will see the ship is steered with a tiller rather than a wheel. That wheel gripped by Captain Jack Sparrow was just a movie prop.

The crew is dressed in attire of the earlier tall ship era, and orders are given in vintage language. Those boarding for the sailing trips not only can learn some of those commands, they may take part in pulling lines, wrapping belaying pins and singing the shanties that both provided crews with entertainment and helped sailors perform their work in unison.

The Lady Washington will pass by Martinez on its journey to Antioch, where it will arrive Oct. 14. The ship will be open to visitors from 4-5 p.m. Oct. 15, 16, 20, 21, 22 and 23 and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Oct. 17, 18, 24 and 25.

Adventure sails will take place at 2 p.m. Oct. 17, 24 and 25. A special three-hour sail, the “Encounters and Explorations: Echoes of Early Expeditions” will be from 2-5 p.m. Oct. 18, when those on board will hear members of California Native American tribes and a Fort ross Historic Park historian describe the impact on indigenous people of early European and American explorations of the West Coast.

Cost of the walk-on tours is a requested $3 per person donation, with no reservations required. Adventure sails and the Encounters and Explorations sail are $39 for children 12 and younger and $47 for adults. Reservations for the sailing trips are needed, and tickets are available at www.historicalseaport.org and by calling 800-200-5239.

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