SAILING ON THE LADY WASHINGTON

April 23, 2004 11:00 pm
Jim Rich of Lady Washington crew waits for instructions from the first mate. (The Pilot/Andrea Barkan).
Jim Rich of Lady Washington crew waits for instructions from the first mate. (The Pilot/Andrea Barkan).

By ANDREA BARKAN

Pilot Staff Writer

The Lady Washington is a tall ship replica, a movie star and – first and foremost – a teacher for crew and passengers alike of the secrets of sailing in a bygone era.

This became quickly apparent as the Lady pulled out of the Port of Brookings Harbor Thursday afternoon, 45 excited passengers aboard for the first sunset sail offered since the ship docked here Tuesday.

As the ship crossed the port bar, Steward Mary Shiflett encouraged passengers to speak up if they were inclined to help.

Ede Viale, of Brookings, started hoisting ropes with the crew in the blink of an eye.

"When they said I could (help), I couldn't volunteer fast enough," Viale said.

If possible, "I would have been climbing the ropes," she said.

"If I didn't have so many animals at home, I'd be on here with the crew," Viale said.

And she could be.

The crew that operates Lady Washington is a mix of paid employees, long-term volunteers and short-term volunteers.

Captain Ryan Meyer said paid crew spend anywhere from three to nine months aboard the Lady during one rotation.

Long-term volunteers typically stay on board for one to four months, whereas short-term volunteers stay between two and four weeks, Meyer said.

Most people who work on the Lady want to learn how to sail a tall ship. Others want a chance to do some historical re-enacting, Meyer said.

Spence Hinkel, a crew member on Thursday's sail, was in the first week of his two-week stint on the Lady.

"Master and Commander got me," Hinkel said, referring to Patrick O'Brian's book and the recent movie adaptation. "I said, "Oh, I've got to do it.' "

Jim Rich, of Cave Junction, also got the sea bug from O'Brian's books.

"My interest at first was entirely literary," Rich said.

But eventually, he said, "I had to find out what they were talking about."

A few years ago he learned about the ship from an article in The Oregonian.

His first trip was as a family camp passenger four years ago.

"Then I've been doing crew whenever I could ever since," Rich said.

The grin on Rich's face stretched ear to ear for most of the three-hour journey, whether he was aloft unfurling sails or on deck leading sailor songs.

"Going aloft on a day like this, you couldn't pay me to do that," Rich said. "I only do that for free."

Lady Washington is owned by the nonprofit Grays Harbor Historical Seaport in Aberdeen, Wash.

Built in 1989 for the Washington centennial, the Lady has always been a training and educational tool.

Meyer, a Lady Washington captain for more than six years, said he enjoys the teaching aspect of his job.

"I don't believe you truly comprehend something until you can teach it," Meyer said.

"My goal is to take what I've learned … and be able to impart that to each and every person who comes on board."

Shiflett said the crew "learn the ropes – literally," during their time on the ship.

"We're here because we love it," Shiflett told passengers Thursday. "We love what we're doing; we love the Lady."

The ship weighs 208 tons, is 89 feet at its tallest point and stretches 112 feet from boom to boom. It is 24 feet wide and sleeps 24 people.

An 8V71 Detroit Diesel engine gives it an extra 318 horsepower when necessary, Meyer said.

Its 11 sails flew proud and taut Thursday. The Lady is a square rigger because the sails that give it its primary drive sit perpendicular to the vessel's center line, Meyer said.

While in Brookings, 16 crew members are operating the ship. Six are volunteers and 10 are paid crew. The crew typically fluctuates between 12 and 16 members.

Thursday's passenger load, at 45, is the ship's maximum capacity.

Some first-time sailors were aboard the ship Thursday.

Toni Lopez, of Gold Beach, was anxious but excited as the Lady pulled out of port.

"This is the first time I've ever been out in the ocean," Lopez said.

She stared in awe at the ship's vast and complex rigging.

"What's incredible is to think about the history, when it was original, that they had the ingenuity to do that," Lopez said.

Nancy Maberry, of Brookings, was also at sea for the first time.

Maberry's husband, who was in the Navy for years, recently died, she said.

"He just loved the ocean and I thought, ‘I'm going to go for him,' " she said.

Melody Cannon, of Smith River, said the ship was smaller than she expected.

"It's lovely," Cannon said. "It's just wonderful."

The sail "was a unique opportunity," Cannon said. "One that was unexpected."

Though Shiflett joked at the trip's start that "You can't get seasick unless you've been on the boat for three weeks," a few passengers did indeed end up "feeding the dolphins."

The crew gently suggested passengers losing their battle with seasickness do so on the ship's leeward side.

"All of the crew has spent time on the rail," Shiflett said.

As the ship returned from its six-mile journey into port at 8:15 p.m., Viale yelled to the crowd waiting onshore, "It was so much fun!"

Viale said she loved watching the crew work and listening to their sailor jargon.

"This is such a beautiful boat," Viale said. "It was 10 times better than I thought it was going to be."