While in port here, ships fill up for sailing, singing

Deckhands Jas, right, and Teddy lead passengers on the Hawaiian Chieftain in singing sea shanties during a sailing excursion from the Port Orchard Marina this week. - Tim Kelly/Staff photo
Deckhands Jas, right, and Teddy lead passengers on the Hawaiian Chieftain in singing sea shanties during a sailing excursion from the Port Orchard Marina this week.
— image credit: Tim Kelly/Staff photo






Port Orchard likely will remain an annual destination for the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain on their summer tours of Puget Sound, judging by the sold-out evening sailing excursions on the ships during their visit this week.

“I’ve always loved pirate ships,” said Crystal James, who came with her mother, Christi, from Gig Harbor for Tuesday’s sail on the Chieftain.

Although the brig Lady Washington made an appearance in one of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, you don’t hear any phony “Arrrr, matey” blabber aboard these traditional vessels. No peg legs, parrots or eye patches, either, (although a deckhand named Jas once won $100 in a Jack Sparrow lookalike contest.)

The mission of these ships is educational, explained Captain Rocky of the Chieftain.

They’re operated by The Historical Seaport in Grays Harbor. The organization offers programs for school groups and five-day family and youth summer camps on its Expedition Voyages in the San Juan Islands, to provide “authentic living history experiences.”

The ships sail south to spend the winter along the California coast, and the crew said those voyages encounter more challenging sea conditions than what was found on the placid waters near Port Orchard.

But even though there wasn’t much wind in the sails this week, the crew kept the passengers entertained by letting folks haul lines (all those ropes you see on the ship are called lines) to set the sails.

Only the deckhands were allowed to climb up in the rigging, but everyone was encouraged to join in the robust singing of sea shanties. Those tunes were utilitarian back in the day, sung as a way to coordinate the sailors hauling on the lines.

The seafaring lore shared with passengers included Captain Rocky’s tale about how the figurehead of a Hawaiian king on the Chieftain’s prow “went swimming” several years ago. But in 2008, the original designer, created a new figurehead and gave it to the ship, which was built on the island of Maui.

The young sailors who make up the ships’ crews wear tradtional seafaring outfits to add to the authenticity of the experience. And the captain or first mate call out commands — in


a pleasant voice — such as “idle hands set the jibs.”

But it’s hard to imagine a crusty old salt in the 18th century telling a crew, as Captain Rocky did, “belay the sheets ... oh, that’s beautiful.”


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