PORT ORCHARD — With tall ship Lady Washington and companion vessel Hawaiian Chieftain circling each other menacingly offshore in Sinclair Inlet — setting aside the modern-day backdrop of Bremerton and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard — Port Orchard took on the aura of a salty 1788 seaport on a hazy August Sunday afternoon.
The historic ships, replicas of sailing vessels from an earlier era when they ruled the seas in the 18th century, carried several dozen passengers who served as witnesses and participants in a three-hour “battle sail” after departing from the Port Orchard Marina. These cat-and-mouse sailings recreate some of the emotion and calculation of two ships engaged in a seafaring fight, complete with booming cannons and close-quarter maneuvering just off the city’s waterfront.
While the passengers weren’t in any danger during the mock battle, the boom and the smoke erupting after each fuse was lit lent a sense of danger as the tall ships tangled in the afternoon waters of Puget Sound.
The passengers arriving for the sailing experience stepped aboard with little more than wide eyes, eager expectations and their cameras poised to capture crew members following Captain Jamie Trost’s shouted directions to maneuver the rigging and sails of Hawaiian Chieftain.
The two ships — each with a crew complement of 12 to keep them operating in tip-top shape — have some latter-day help to and from the port with power provided by twin diesel engines. But until they are started to head home, Trost’s crew quickly untied mast lines and repositioned rigging so the vessel could keep pace with its exercise foe.
Lady Washington, the official tall ship of Washington state, was built not in 1989 — not 1789 — by Grays Harbor Historical Seaport and launched in Aberdeen, Washington.
The full-scale replica of the original Lady Washington, which was the first American vessel to make landfall on the North American West Coast, Hong Kong, Japan and Honolulu, has been a regular visitor to Kitsap County ports over the past several summers.
Sister vessel Hawaiian Chieftain was built in 1988 in Hawaii originally for cargo trade among the 50th state’s archipelago of eight major islands. After changing hands in the 1990s and 2000s, the ship joined Lady Washington to bring educational programs and tall ship sailings to communities along the west coast throughout the year, according to Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, which purchased it in October 2005, and now operates both vessels.
Some of the passengers aboard both vessels — many of them children — donned attire befitting seafaring pirates. And a few of them were lucky enough, despite their craven clothing giveaway, to be asked to help out with the lines.
Matthew Blair, 6, and his sister Sabrina, 9, took turns watching and advising Trost and his crew as the Hawaiian Chieftain repositioned repeatedly so it could fire on its Lady Washington rival. The youngsters, who live near Salem, Oregon, nonetheless kept a pirates’ map handy, presumably should an opportunity arise to abscond with the vessel.
While Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain managed to rattle waterfront windows with an occasional cannonball blast, both vessels sailed back to port without a scratch.
The tall ships visited Brownsville and Bremerton earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Aug. 21, both vessels will be open for tours at the Port Orchard Marina from 3-5 p.m. for a $5 donation. An evening sail will take place from 6-8 p.m. Tickets range from $42-$49. And on Wednesday, Aug. 22, Lady Washington will twice depart on an “adventure sail” between 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Tickets are also priced from $42-$49.
On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 24-25, additional tours and sailings are scheduled. Then on Sunday, Aug. 26, another “battle sail” will take place from 2-5 p.m. Ticket prices are $42-$79. That event will be preceded by vessel tours from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and an adventure sail from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The vessels will depart Port Orchard Aug. 28 and head to Olympia, where they will take part in that city’s Harbor Days celebration.