Happening nearby: Epic Edmonds tall ship sea battle a blast for young and old

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The two tall ships of Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain, made a call at the Port of Edmonds this weekend, offering old salts and armchair sailors alike the chance to tour the ships, talk with the crew, and take a sail in the waters off Edmonds. The outings range from peaceful sunset cruises to heart-pounding 19th-century-style naval engagements, where seamanship is tested as the two ships maneuver around each other and blaze away with cannon filling the air with sound, smoke and fury.

Saturday’s battle cruise began in the doldrums, with barely enough wind to make way, but the afternoon breeze picked up nicely, giving the vessels the chance to maneuver for the optimal angle to train their guns for maximum effect.

“The best shot we can get is to hit their rudder,” explained Schyler, chief gunner on the Hawaiian Chieftain. “Without the ability to steer, they’re out of commission, and a sitting duck for us to board and take her as a prize. So we always try to keep the weather gauge (i.e., stay to windward), get behind them and let our cannons blast away at their stern. That takes top-notch seamanship, and our crew is the best.”

But the Lady Washington gave as good as she got, with her skilled crew tacking and wearing ship to keep out of the Chieftain’s sights and get a solid bead on her quarry. The crew used her aft-mounted swivel guns to good advantage, and while their shot isn’t as heavy as the main cannons, they’re able to hit home from almost any angle.

But despite the sound and fury, it was all in fun, and as the smoke of battle cleared, the two ships came alongside with the crews giving each other a loud chorus of hearty “huzzahs.” Then it was back to port to welcome the evening cruise customers already lining the dock.

Camille Delphine is one of the newest crew members, now in her first full season as crew. “I was working in a coffee shop in Anacortes when one of the officers of Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport walked in and noticed my nautical tattoos,” she said. “We got talking and she suggested I show up at the boatyard where the Chieftain had been hauled out for maintenance and offer to volunteer. I did, I learned a lot, and they asked me to stay on. Now I live below, right here on the Hawaiian Chieftain!”

Badger, the cook on the Hawaiian Chieftain, prepares all the crew meals. Crew members live aboard, and all speak highly of Badger’s expertise in the galley. A graduate of culinary school in Boulder, Colo., Badger signed on just this year as ship’s cook. “Cooking for these guys is a pleasure,” he smiled. “I’m usually cooking for 10 or 12 crew, and they burn a lot of calories. It keeps me hopping, but I feel blessed to be part of it.”

The tall ships will be in Edmonds through Monday, and while the special eclipse cruise on Monday is sold out, there are still tickets available for dockside tours and the Sunday battle sail. For more information and to purchase tickets, go to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport tickets and information page here.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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