Life Afloat: Weekend offers tall ship tours, dragon boat races

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter


photoA dragon boat team paddles down the Willamette River in Portland in April 2007. Thanks to Vancouver’s Jeff Campbell, dragon boating fans can now watch or participate in the sport at Vancouver Lake.


If you go

Paddle for Life Dragon Boat Spring Sprints

■ What: 20-paddler and 10-paddler 250-meter sprint races. Fundraiser for the nonprofit Paddle For Life, which helps disabled veterans participate in dragon boats and crew.

■ When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday May 26.

■ Where: Vancouver Lake Park, 6801 Northwest Lower River Road, Vancouver.

■ Cost: Free.

■ Info: Vancouver Lake Crew or 971-222-3679.

Tall Ship Tour

■ What: The brig Lady Washington, the official ship of Washington state, and the topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain, come to Vancouver as part of a seven-week tour of Columbia River ports.

■ When: May 24 to May 27. Check website for tour times.

■ Where: 100 Columbia St., Vancouver.

■ Cost: Dockside tours, $3. Excursion prices vary between $30 and $60, depending on the event and day.

■ Info: Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority or 360-532-8611.

A bit of acting was required when our official state ship, the Lady Washington, played the role of the H.M.S. Interceptor in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

In the film, one of the British guards tells Captain Jack Sparrow that “there’s no ship as can match the Interceptor for speed.”

But the real Lady Washington was a cargo ship. It launched from Boston Harbor in 1787 and was the first American-flagged vessel to land in the Pacific Northwest in 1788.

It was designed to transport fur, tea, porcelain and other goods across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, said Joe Follansbee, a spokesman for the modern-day Lady Washington, which is a reconstruction of that vessel.

“Fast is kind of a relative term,” Follansbee said. “I think she goes 6-8 knots, but she wasn’t designed to be fast. She was designed to carry stuff.”

The Lady Washington and its companion, the Hawaiian Chieftain, which is a modern interpretation of a traditional 19th-century trading vessel, are visiting the Port of Vancouver through the long holiday weekend.

The two ships travel down the Columbia River each year and offer visitors a chance to learn about Maritime traditions in the 1700s and 1800s, including the original voyage of the Lady Washington, which was named after First Lady Martha Washington.

Visitors can pay $3 to go on dockside tours of the two ships from 4 to 5 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday through Monday.

“One of the most popular questions is ‘where did Johnny Depp stand in Pirates of the Caribbean?’ ” Follansbee said. “We’re happy to tell them.”

The Gray’s Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which owns the ships, also offers excursions, including a three-hour sail and a re-created battle with cannon fire and fancy maneuvering. Those events cost between $30 and $60 each, depending on the day and time.

The historical Lady Washington first came to the region with a companion ship, also flying the U.S. Flag, called the Columbia Rediviva. That ship, which was much larger, is the origin of the Columbia River’s name, Follansbee said.

The agency that owns the boats wanted to re-create the Columbia Rediviva as well, but because of its size, it would have cost a lot more than the Lady Washington, which launched in 1989.

If you’re looking for something a bit speedier for your Sunday, though, you might want to look somewhat inland from the river — to Vancouver Lake, for the first of what will hopefully be an annual tradition of dragon boat races, said Jeff Campbell, director of the “Paddle for Life Dragon Boat Spring Sprints” event.

“It’s just bothered me for years that I live in Vancouver and I have to travel to Portland for dragon boat races,” said Campbell, who owns Double Fifth Dragon Boating in Vancouver. “Spectators are more than welcome to watch us. We hope this will be a great cultural event. It will be a whole lot of fun.”

The event is free for spectators, but donations to “Paddle for Life” are encouraged. The local charity helps disabled veterans participate in dragon boat racing and crew.

“Dragon boating is just perfect for (disabled veterans),” Campbell said. “It gets them off the couch and outside. It’s a team sport. A lot of these guys miss their units, and it ends up being like a floating support group.”

The charity already has some adaptive rowing shells, but it’s hoping to gather enough money for more of them, and to help improve facilities at Vancouver Lake so more veterans can participate, he said.

As of last week, about 400 people, in either 10-person or 20-person crews, had signed up for the 250 meter sprint races. If others want to sign up today, which is the deadline, the cost is $400 for a 10-person boat and they can call Campbell at 971-222-3679.