Tall ships sail into battle

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



If you go: Tall ship tour

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

When: May 26-27. Check website for tour times.

Where: Vancouver Landing, 100 Columbia St.

Cost: Dockside tours: $3. Excursion prices range between $29 and $60, depending on the event and day.

Info: http://historical... or 360-532-8611.

Tall Ships Battle on the Columbia

Two tall ships treat passengers to a mock battle and cruise on the Columbia River.

As the Hawaiian Chieftain pulled away from the Vancouver Landing dock for Saturday's battle sail, Addison Mosso, 2, dressed in a pirate costume, stood on deck with her mother, Valerie Horn. Addison --who choreographed a pirate jig for the occasion -- was the youngest person on board.

Don Berry, 79, on a field trip with Glennwood Place Senior Living, was one of the oldest. Passengers of all ages seemed to enjoy the three-hour battle sail as the Chieftain and the Lady Washington pelted each other with gunpowder shot from three-pounder guns.

But the crews who spend days and nights for weeks on end in close quarters at this work, were downright jovial.

Eric Ahlvin from Corvallis, Ore., known as the "boat papa," balanced on the ropes high above the water, casting gaskets to unfurl the sails.

His son Teddy Ahlvin, the bosun in charge of everything from the deck up, was busy ensuring all the lines were working as they should.

Captain Jordan Smith, barefoot and with his hair pulled into a ponytail, stood at the wheel, and ordered, "On your braces! Brace square!" to his chief mate, Kent Gorham.

Gorham shouted to the crew: "Brace square! Brace sharp port!"

And the crew responded to the order, hurrying to their stations and hoisting lines to maneuver the sails to catch the wind.

Working alongside the crew, Gorham hummed as he hoisted lines. He said he's planned to work in the mountains, but a volunteer stint on the Lady Washington 12 years ago changed his mind. He's been working on tall ships ever since.

The petite ship's purser, Sarah Idczak of Anacortes, hoisted and secured lines with the men.

"The boats come to my hometown every year," she said. "I started out as a volunteer on Lady. Last summer I volunteered on Chieftain. Now I'm paid crew with a contract."

When the boat tacked and was positioned for a shot at the Lady Washington about 150 feet away, engineer and gunner Myron Kingsbury began a practiced ritual of running a wet swab in the gun to put out embers, cleaning it with a corkscrew called a worm, running a dry swab to dry the barrel, ramming home the new charge, puncturing the charge and then pouring finely ground gunpowder into the touch hole to prime the gun.

When the charge was ready, he shouted, "Prepare for gunfire!"

This is the warning for passengers to cover their ears.

"Fire!" Kingsbury shouted.

The gun erupted with an enormous boom. A cloud of smoke shot toward the Lady Washington.

The Chieftain's passengers responded by cheering, whooping and whistling.

Now it was the Lady Washington's turn to fire on the Chieftain.

Idczak and some other crew members were introduced to the tall ships program in the "two weeks before the mast" trainee program where novices learn 18th-century sailing basics. The program costs $500 and includes room and board on either the Lady or the Chieftain. Those who successfully learn the basics can become volunteers as space is available on one of the tall ships. The Chieftain has six volunteers and six paid crew members at this time, but the crew of the Chieftain ebbs and flows, much like the water she cuts through.

As the ship returned to the dock, cook Brandon "Knuckles" Webber, stood a couple steps below deck in the galley, preparing English muffin pizzas and strawberries for a post-sailing snack for the crew. All that hoisting and tacking works up an appetite.

Through Monday, the ships will be in Vancouver. Then they'll sail upriver to Hood River, where tours will be offered starting Friday.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools; susan.parrish@columbian.com