"All I Ask Is a Tall Ship" ~ My Photos of the Lady Washington
An 18th-Century Sailing Ship
A Mini Sea Adventure
"I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking..."
~ "Sea-Fever" by John Masefield, 1902
Do you remember the beginning of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie, when Jack Sparrow and Will Turner steal a small ship and head off to Tortuga? Well, she's real, and she did not get blown up by the Black Pearl!
In real life, she is the Lady Washington, a faithful reproduction of an 18th-century square-rigged brig that was at times a cargo ship, explorer, or privateer — a "legal" pirate ship sanctioned to prey on British ships during the Revolutionary War! With mostly square sails, she probably wouldn't be "the fastest ship in the Caribbean," although she'd certainly outrace a big lumbering warship. Her sister ship the Hawaiian Chieftain,modeled on colonial passenger and mail ships, is faster. But the Lady Washington is truly a lady, and she captured my heart.
These two ships sail together up and down the west coast of the United States, stopping in various ports. They offer educational tours to schools and entertain the locals with "battle sails" in which they stage mock naval skirmishes with real cannons and gunpowder (no balls). I went out on one of these sails on a clear, beautiful afternoon in January off the coast of California, with sea lions hopping out of the water just off the bows! Pelicans, gulls and cormorants soared beside us. The sea was unusually calm that day, making picture-perfect reflections.
There's a light-hearted element to these "battle sails." The crew are dressed more or less as pirates, and they encourage guests to join in with fake pirate talk and taunts. They're very popular, so it's standing room only on deck -- more like being on a ferry than a pirate ship!
Despite the theme park ride atmosphere, I found myself enchanted with the sea-longing that I've often read about in old books like Treasure Island and Moby Dick. By the time the afternoon was over, I was ready to stow away and sail with the Lady Washington to her next port.
Next year, I might. A few tickets are available for each passage from one port to the next. Their next voyage was too far to me and my arthritis — it's cold out on the water, and you need to bring a sleeping bag and be prepared to sleep on wooden bunks — but I might try to hop aboard next year from San Diego, which is only a half day's sail to the south of Newport Beach. I'm dreaming of what it's like to spend a day aboard these lovely vessels on the open sea — no tour guides, no bustling crowd, just the wind, the heaving deck, and the crew.
If you live on the west coast, check the website below to see when these tall ships are in port near you.
Photos of Two Colonial Sailing Ships
Where to Find More Information About These Tall Ships
- Lady Washington | Hawaiian Chieftain | Official Website
Information about the ships and current programs/location, as well as the nonprofit that funds them.
- Tall Ship Lady Washington History, Specifications
Includes an excellent 14-minute documentary about the historical Lady Washington and the building of the replica, as well as life aboard.
- Hawaiian Chieftain's Wikipedia Entry
A little more information about this unusual ship, which has a more modern hull married to a traditional rig. Includes a good photo.
Video I Filmed Aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain
Video by Charlie Bergstedt of Chieftain and Lady Washington
Other Tall Ships I've Toured
- Star of India, San Diego
The Star of India is an original iron-hulled bark from the 1800s that survived many harrowing sea voyages. I've only visited her and the ships listed below while they were anchored in port or in drydock.
- USS Constellation, Baltimore
The USS Constellation is a Civil War battleship, one of the oldest surviving ships in the Americas (but the Star of India is older).
- HMS Victory, Portsmouth, UK
An enormous British warship, the flagship of Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. She's the biggest tall ship I've seen.
- Cutty Sark, Greenwich, UK
The Cutty Sark is the oldest surviving clipper ship, originally launched in 1869. She suffered fire damage in 2007, but has been repaired and should be open to the public again in 2012.
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