By SUSAN SCHELL
The Port of Brookings Harbor was not a scheduled stop on the Lady Washington's Pacific coast tour. But when the Lady sought refuge in the port Monday because of high winds and rough seas, the crew considered it a blessing in disguise.
"We've uncovered a little treasure here," said the Lady's captain, Brad Sousa. "You have a phenomenal port compared to other ports I've been to. I consider Brookings-Harbor an A' port."
The Lady Washington is a 112-foot wooden replica of the 18th century tall ship.
She was heading north to Coos Bay from Eureka when she ran into trouble.
"We had 8-to-10-foot waves very close together," said the First Mate, Ryan Meyer. "We had about 25 knots of headwind, which turned us around. We couldn't get around Cape Blanco."
The crew then learned it could dock in the port at Brookings Harbor.
"We were in need of a port of refuge that had enough water for our vessel," Sousa explained. "Having Brookings as an option was critical. Without Brookings, our options were poor from a safety standpoint. We would have been faced with losing the 100 miles we gained from Eureka, and we had very little fuel. We also had up to 12-foot swells at about six-second intervals, which is brutal."
The Coast Guard did "sounding" tests around the mouth of the channel to make sure the water was deep enough to accommodate the ship, and decided to wait until the tide came in before she could cross the Chetco River bar.
Beach-goers were surprised at the sight of the majestic wooden ship rocking and rolling in the waves outside the mouth of the harbor.
When the 170-ton square rigger slowly motored into port, spectators gathered on the jetty, smiling and waving.
Sousa said maneuvering the vessel into the port was "a cakewalk."
"There were no problems whatsoever," he said.
"We were very impressed with the Brookings Harbor jetty entrance. I've been over every bar on the West Coast, and crossing this one was a big sigh of relief."
Meyers added, "It's so nice to enter a port and get a lung full of air instead of spray."
Sousa noted the reaction of the locals when the Lady pulled up to the transient dock. "We got such an enthusiastic welcome," he said. "Within 45 minutes of being on the dock a crowd had gathered."
The crew was so impressed with Brookings-Harbor it is seriously considering adding the port to its tour schedule.
"As far as I'm concerned, Brookings is on the map," Sousa said.
The Lady visits ports up and down the coast, offering a glimpse into the 18th century. The crew gives tours dressed in period costumes. The tour also offers sailing adventures to students.
"Our mission is education and the preservation of the history of tall ships," Sousa said.
Harbormaster Dan Thompson is optimistic about the possibility of a future visit from the Lady Washington.
"I think we have an opportunity to entice them into our port," he said.
Thompson believes the main drawback in the situation is the possibility that the port may not have funds to dredge the mouth of the harbor next year. The federal government recently announced it would cut dredging funding for three Oregon ports, including Brooking Harbor.
He fears that without dredging, silt will build up in the mouth of the port, and large vessels like the Lady Washington will not be able to negotiate the bar.
Sousa also expressed concern over the dredging issue. "It was important to have this port of refuge," he said. "While going from Eureka to Coos Bay we were almost out of fuel, then boom there was Brookings."
While the ship was in port, the crew opened to the public, conducting an impromptu tour on a donation basis. In just three hours, the ship had logged more than 500 visitors.
"We're just thrilled to see a community come alive," Sousa said. "I think we could do a great service here."
The Lady Washington will offer dockside tours again today (April 24) from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 6 p.m. Admission is $3 per adult, $2 for seniors and students, and $1 for children 12 and under.
The toll-free phone number is (800) 200-LADY.