Out & About: Ahoy, from the Lady Washington

Submitted photo by Thomas Hyde The Lady Washington visited Astoria June 2 to 15.

The sky shone bright blue, and the briny smell of the water was sharp on the breeze. Baying sealions called for attention, but we had a greater destination in mind: The Lady Washington was docked at the East End Mooring Basin, and it was open for tours.

The official ship of the state of Washington, the tall ship is a replica of the original 18th century Lady Washington, which sailed from Boston Harbor in 1787 around Cape Horn to the Pacific Northwest. It was the first American ship to visit Japan and Hong Kong.

The replica was launched in 1989 for Washington’s centennial. Now it travels up and down the Pacific coast and the Columbia River, giving tours, teaching students, and providing sailing excursions to the public. The ship is manned by a professional and volunteer crew; a minimum of 10 people can operate the ship, and it can accommodate 22 — though 14 is a more comfortable number, the first mate told me.

Made of wood and outfitted with rigging and sails, the Lady Washington stood in stark contrast to the modern boats moored at the basin. Climbing aboard was like stepping back in time.

Though he didn’t demonstrate, a crew member explained the shrouds and ratlines, which form a ladder for members to climb up to set or stow the square and fore-and-aft rigged sails on the ship. Going aloft definitely sounded like a balancing act — and a set of skills most people aren’t familiar with nowadays.

“It’s romance, pure and simple,” the captain, David Haslam, told me about the Lady Washington’s appeal. Anyone can volunteer to be a crew member, and your stay can last from two weeks to several months. “We get all kinds. We’ve had doctors, lawyers, architects,” he said.

I noticed several fluffy balls evenly spaced on rigging overhead. “What are those puff balls?” I asked.

“They’re called baggywrinkles,” the captain said. Made from old, unraveled bits of rope, baggywrinkles help protect the sails. When sails come into contact with standard rope, chafing can produce holes, so soft baggywrinkles provide a cushioning barrier between the sails and rigging.

“Where’s the wheel?” an inquisitive young girl asked.

“We don’t have one,” the captain replied. He gestured to a long, heavy bar at the stern: It was the tiller, which the helmsman uses to steer the rudder. “Want to try it out?” Haslam asked.

The girl heaved and pushed; the tiller glided to the side. She had all the makings of a fine future crew member.

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