By Douglas Scott
The Lady Washington is most recognized as the ship, the HMS Interceptor, in the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” but its cultural and historical significance to Grays Harbor is much more than just something seen on the silver screen. In the late 1700s, the original Lady Washington was the the pride of our young nation, flying the stars and stripes in parts around the planet for the very first time.
Named for Martha Washington, President George Washington’s wife, the original ship sailed the world, becoming the first American ship to round Cape Horn and make landfall on the Oregon coast. In the 1790s, the original Lady Washington was the first American-flagged vessel to visit Japan, Honolulu and Hong Kong. For a decade, the beautiful boat sailed the oceans and rivers of the world before wrecking off the Mestizo River in the Philippines in 1797.
For nearly 200 years, the Lady Washington was lost until a replica was built in 1989, just in time for Washington State’s Centennial celebrations. Often docked in San Diego, or other ports along the west coast, the ship returns home a few times each year, giving those living in Captain Gray’s namesake harbor a chance to travel back in time and sail on a tall, wooden vessel.
For 17 days this summer, the Lady Washington returns home to Aberdeen, docking at the old Weyerhaeuser sawmill site in South Aberdeen. Resting on the Chehalis River, this gorgeous ship is open to the public for tours and adventures, thanks to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority. Tours and events are also taking place in Westport on select dates before the ship sets sail, heading up the Columbia River.
Starting June 18, tours of The Lady Washington and/or the Hawaiian Chieftain (which may be closed for upgrades) are available to the public for a suggested donation of $3. With the crew dressed in period costumes to answer questions and tell stories about the ship, their journeys and the region, this is a fantastic way to spend an hour along the waters of Grays Harbor.
If being on the boat while it is docked isn’t enough, the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority also has multiple styles of cruises available, ranging from Battle Sails to Evening Sales, Adventure Sails, and even a Fourth of July fireworks cruise.
Before you sail aboard the Lady Washington, Joe Follansbee, the Communications Director at the Grays Harbor Seaport Authority, has a few things everyone should know.
“I would recommend that guests come prepared for any weather. The conditions on the water can be different than the conditions on land, and it is often 10 degrees cooler on the water with a much stiffer wind,” Joe said. “Dress in layers, be ready for anything, but also be aware that we never sail in unsafe conditions. An attitude of flexibility is helpful, as well as being ready for the unexpected. Safety is key, so people can be assure that crews are ready for anything, as the crew is made up of licensed professionals and well trained staff.”
The Battle Sails are the most popular, as they reenact naval battles which occurred during the infancy of our nation. For three hours, sail the waters of Grays Harbor while smelling, hearing and experiencing the close-quarters maneuvers with a taste of 1800s maritime life aboard the majestic tall ships in town. Ranging in price from $39 to $75, these trips are a perfect way to spend the day aboard a historic boat.
“The Battle Sails are my personal favorite because I like the action and lots of activity,” Joe explained. “It is a little more excitement when you have two ships, as it gives you the broadest experience because you get everything. On the Battle Sails, you get a chance to see a traditional sailing ship in operation combined with a little of the fantasy elements. Occasionally, we get people who want to dress up, which is welcomed.”
Evening Cruises and Adventure Sails are more laid back. Lasting two hours and including story telling, sea shanty singing and demonstrations of ship handling, this trip is much more than a boat ride; it is a way to travel back in time. As you sit on the deck, watch the volunteers climb high above you, raising sails and fixing ropes, taking in the experience of being in a living history moment. Costing $45 for the Evening Sail and $39 to $47 for the Adventure Sail, these cruises fill up fast and sail from both Aberdeen and Westport.
The highlight of the return of the Lady Washington might be the Fourth of July Fireworks Sail. Set across the Chehalis River from the 2015 Splash Festival, the Lady Washington sets sail from the Seaport Landing for a three-hour, family-oriented cruise full of living history, sea shanty singing, storytelling and the chance to watch the amazing fireworks display from the deck on one of the most important ships in Grays Harbor’s storied history. The cost for this event ranges from $39 to $75, but it might just be the greatest way to celebrate America’s birthday.
A full schedule of events for both the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain can be found on the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority’s website.
An important note to visitors: The Hawaiian Chieftain is going through a major maintenance project. For better or worse, she gets second billing, but she is also a fantastic vessel. The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority is currently putting extra effort into the ship to get ready for the Columbia River voyage and the next few years of sailing and is still welcoming contributions to help return her to her glory. Please note that the crew will be working on the ship when she is at Seaport Landing, but the Hawaiian Chieftain should be open for tours on July 4.