Back to the Bay

By Katie Duell & Spencer Hurbis | Collaborative Reporter

Tossing waves, jumping dolphins and the sweet sea breeze blowing through their hair are all elements the sailors aboard the Lady Washington get to experience on their voyages up and down the West Coast. Lady Washington and her sister ship, Hawaiian Chieftain, have been traveling their route, making stops in ports along the way, since 1989. Both were docked in Coos Bay during the first two weeks of May, enabling local citizens to tour the tall ships.

The First Mate of the Lady Washington, Matt “Elmo” Gowen, said the ship the crew sails today is a replica of the original, which met its end in 1789 when it ran aground in a river while attempting to escape a tsunami. The original ship was the first to chart the West Coast.

“It was the first American vessel to round Cape Horn,” Gowen said. “The charts that the voyage brought back inspired the Lewis and Clark expedition.”

The replica was built in 1987 in honor of the Washington State Centennial, set sail in 1989 and now travels from the top of Washington state south to San Diego, according to Barb Kraler, who is regerred to as “Boat Mom.” Kraler has worked on the ship on and off for about five years.

All crew members usually sign up for a program called “Two Weeks Before The Mast” where they will work for two weeks being trained on the basics of sailing.

“You pay $500 for your training and board and if they like you and you like them, then you can come back and volunteer for as much time as you would like to,” Kraler said. “I did it and I loved it and all I could think about was how I couldn’t wait to get back on the ship.”

According to Kraler, sleeping arrangements can be a bit tight. There are bunks located in the hull and several are in the front of the ship along with the Captain and First Mate’s quarters. Kraler said Lady Washington can sleep up to 24 people. She added that it can become a bit crowded, but the crew manages to survive.

Kraler said working on a ship such as the Lady Washington requires a lot of physical effort, but she will continue to remain on the ship for as long as she is able.

“It’s a lot of manual labor,” Kraler said. “You get very strong after being on board for a while. Everyone trims down, so that’s why I have to do it while I still have the vim and the vigor.”

Another crew member, Caitlin Porter, the ship’s Purser, started her career at sea by working on the Hawaiian Chieftain to gain the basic knowledge of sailing and after only a couple weeks fell completely in love with it. After volunteering for four months, she had enough experience to become a paid member of the crew.

“I really love working with kids and teaching them the history of the ship,” Porter said. “I’ve seen a lot of marine wildlife and one of the coolest things is Phosphorescence, which is this type of plankton that glows so at nighttime our wake will glow if we’re in an area with it.”

Both tall ships have a history of making a stop at Coos Bay along their journey. While many community members visit the ships, it also provides an opportunity for school field trips.

Sunset Middle School teacher, Stan Sweet, took his seventh grade class aboard the Lady Washington this year. Jasmine Cantu, one of Sweet’s students, said she found the history of the boat to be very interesting.

“At the beginning of the year, we learned about Phoenician sailors and the guide on the boat talked about that,” Cantu said. “She told us about all the sailors and jobs on the boat and how the pirates did not have a lot of education.”

Fifth grade teacher Holly Yovino last boarded the Lady Washington six years ago with her class. She said she mostly enjoyed how well the history of the ship connected with the material her students were learning in class at that time.

“I liked that they had a ship that gave people an idea of what they were like during that time period,” Yovino said. “Fifth grade studies the American Revolution, so they had not only the ship to look at but also some different artifacts that were actual replicas of things from that time.”

A fun fact which often fascinates visitors about Lady Washington is that she was featured in the movie “Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” as the Interceptor. According to Kraler, the ship was also featured in the films such as “Star Trek,” “The Goonies” and several documentaries.

Crew members agree the best times they have aboard Lady Washington are those that they spend out at sea, finally getting a chance to be real sailors.

However, Kraler added that although the highlight is sailing in open water, it it the people who make the adventures worthwhile.

“The best memories are the crew members that you meet. You become so close and there’s such wonderful camaraderie and you have such fun times working together as a team and playing together,” Kraler said. “It’s the people that really make the experience.”