Here is an excerpt from my memoir. The chapter is titled "Tall Ships" and perhaps it can convey the connection between ships and their sailors.
The Zodiac glided into Quartermaster Harbor. The wide bay opened for us, the green banks genuflected to the water, encircling us in a rolling arc of tree-line. I stood with Juliet at bow watch and gazed at the scenery surrounding us. Birds of differing sizes swam nearby, diving and bobbing for the small fish at the surface.
The shallow depth of the harbor made it necessary for the Zodiac to anchor in its very center. Since Zodiac had the deepest draft of the fleet, the other vessels were assigned spots that encircled her, nearer the shores. By the time our anchor sunk to the bottom of the bay, other ships began to arrive at the mouth of the inlet.
Juliet and I climbed atop the staysail boom and from our perch we watched the mighty vessels appear. The first to pull in was the Nina, dark hulled and compact—she was the replica of the 15th century Caravel that Columbus sailed to the Americas. As she dropped her anchor alongside of the Zodiac, we marveled at how tiny she was (for a Tall Ship). It seemed impossible that Columbus and his crew could have sailed over 25,000 miles in that vessel. She measured no more than sixty five feet on deck with only five feet of freeboard above the water line. “How could they have all fit?” I wondered aloud.
Juliet replied. “They slept up on the decks—except for Christopher Columbus.”
“How the heck do you know this?” I asked.
“I studied the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria in fourth grade, Mom.”
Good for you. Being the least informed onboard was beginning to wear a bit thin for me.
“Oooh, look Mom! It’s the Lady Washington with her sails still up!”
I peered toward the mouth of the bay and sure enough, the Lady and her sister ship, the Hawaiian Chieftain came drifting into our sights, square sails billowing and pendants fluttering. The Lady took the lead position, her bright yellow hull contrasting nicely against the pines on shore in the background. Closely on her heels came the Chieftain; her canon still visible ondeck--no doubt from a recent sea battle with the Lady. The two square riggers motored to the docks on shore as they lowered their canvas.
Jeffery and ET joined us at the bow. Jeff handed me a glass of red wine. “Here, this is what you’re missing.”
“Gracias, mi Amor.” I said.
“Hey, ET! What is the name of that big ship?” Asked Juliet.
ET squinted into the horizon and called out “The Lynx, Juliet… check out her raked masts. Aren’t those cool?”
I waited until she drew near our beam and gazed up at her tall masts, slanted gracefully backwards. The rake made her appear as if she was going much faster than her two knots through the crowded harbor. “I bet when she has her sails up and has a good wind, she looks awesome!” I said.
For the rest of the afternoon, we sipped wine and watched the various Tall Ships gather. By dinner time, there were nearly forty vessels at rest in the serene little bay. Port lights glowed in the fading summer evening as each ship lit their decks from below. The time to go ashore for our BBQ had arrived, and we lined up to board the tender.
Our trip across the bay took much longer than it needed to as we ambled from vessel to vessel, circling each ship to get a fish-eye view. We arrived to the dock to find that the access to shore was blocked by the two square riggers. “Permission to come aboard and traverse to the dock?” Yelled ET.
“Aye, climb aboard Zodiac hands!” Came the response from a costumed Chieftain deckhand.
“Pssst Mom, he looks like a pirate!” Juliet whispered.
“Yeah, I know. They dress up like old fashioned sailors on these boats.” I informed her.
“Wow. Wouldn’t that be hilarious if Captain Tim dressed up like a pirate captain?” Juliet cackled at her notion. The image of our Captain in a tricorn buccaneer’s hat made me smile.
We scrambled across the decks of the Chieftain and the Lady, then onto the wooden dock that lead us to land. Jeffery and I walked together, hand in hand up the hill toward the music emanating from the yacht club. We stopped at the peak and looked down across the bay. Soaring masts rose above the still water like reeds in a marsh. The sparkling lights twinkled, creating a picturesque scene. “Hey, check it out! The Zodiac has the tallest sticks in the bay.” Jeffery pointed out.
“Well, it just goes to show… Size does matter!” I quipped.
“Really? I thought it was what you did with them that mattered most?”
“Well, either way, Zodiac comes out on top.”
We spent the evening enjoying burgers, kegs of beer and live music. We met Tall Ship sailors from all over the world as well as locally. Children from the other vessels played tag with Juliet on the lawn as parents and friends sprawled out on blankets and chatted. ET and Calen sat next to me and entertained us with stories of the different ships. “We pranked the Adventuress on our way to Port Angeles last week. You better keep an eye out for them during your night watch, they’re gonna be out for revenge!” Calen warned.
“Just don’t prank the Bounty, whatever we do.” Said ET. “The last ship that tried to get away with it paid pretty dearly. It’s like the Flying Dutchman, so I hear.”
Dusk set upon the islands. Someone lit a fire in the giant pit and cedar sparks raced each other to the heavens. I leaned back into Jeffery’s lap and glanced around the group of my new shipmates, watching the orange light play upon their features. These people of different ages and backgrounds, bound together by love of old ships and their maritime traditions. I felt like I’d been transported into another world. The worries and obligations of my so called real life had disappeared. I existed now in a world of sailors, camaraderie and yarns of mythical ships. When it was time to return to the Zodiac, I strolled back to the dock in the moonlight with Jeffery and Juliet, thinking to myself what an exceptional life this is.
The morning of the Tall Ships festival donned bright and warm. Before we finished breakfast the temperature had climbed to the mid 70s. We brought out the soft rags and Brasso and set about polishing all of the bronze and brass on deck until it glistened. The fir decks were hosed down and swabbed and several crew members launched the inflatable tender to paddle around Zodiac’s hull with a brush and sea water, scrubbing down her white topsides. The Captain ordered that all covers be taken off of the mahogany superstructures, so we carefully pulled the heavy green fabric away from the charthouse, gear box and scuttles fore and aft. Captain Tim gave the large Zodiac pendant to Juliet and asked her to run it up the main gantline. She skipped over to me, her face flushed, “The Captain gave me a job!” She exclaimed.
I helped her snap the clips onto the line and run it up to the spreaders. The breeze took hold of the pendant and it unfurled in a flourish of green and gold.
The Zodiac gleamed in the sun, ready for her appearance in Commencement Bay.
The next step was to gussy up her crew, so we went below to don our best attire. The dress code for festivals consisted of khaki pants, navy blue Zodiac shirts and deck shoes or topsiders. With our hair brushed, hands scrubbed free of grime and clean hemmed trousers we looked like we actually belonged to our magnificent ship.
The other Tall Ships were getting their make-overs as well and shouts could be heard across the water as busy deckhands set about their tasks.
ET called all hands to mid-ships for a brief meeting. We assembled at the main fife rail and waited for our instructions. “Alright Everybody, Cap’n just got the line up for the Parade of Sails. Looks like we are number eleven; following the Chieftain and in front of the Bounty.” He said. Excited murmurs buzzed around me as the deckhands offered their collective opinions about our position.
“Listen up!” ET said. “We’re gonna be under full sail but we’ll be using our engine as well. There’s gonna be a thousand shitheads out there in their little power boats trying to get a good look at these ships.” He pointed toward the mouth of the bay. “We’ll need three bow-watches up forward and everyone on the lookout at all times. The escort boats can be just as bad as these crazy gapers. They’ll cut right in front of us without thinking. Oh yeah, and crab pots, it’s crabbing season so they’ll be littered all over the place …Just keep a sharp eye is all I’m sayin’.”
Captain Tim walked up to the group and remarked. “The Lady and Chieftain will likely pick the worst time to stage one of their sea battles, guys. It’ll hold up the entire procession and if we don’t space ourselves adequately, we’ll end up with the HMS Bounty’s bowsprit stuck up our ass. Be alert and keep the helm informed.”
The ship’s bell rang six times meaning it was time to weigh anchor and move forward to our place in the line-up. As each ship left Quartermasters Harbor, they were paired with an escort ship, a small Bayliner or yacht which would guide them through the route in Commencement Bay. The Parade of Sails were to circumnavigate the expansive bay, resulting in a grand arrival into the Tacoma waterfront. Thousands of spectators were expected on land as well as literally hundreds of vessels packed into the bay.
The Zodiac throttled up and left the mouth of the harbor. I stood on bow watch and gazed out at the sight before me. Miles of water stretched out in front of me, swarming with crafts of all sizes and types. Everywhere I looked there were little motor boats zipping to and fro. Coast Guard patrols ripped across the bay, chasing down errant vessels. The entire area had taken on a carnival-esque atmosphere. “Hullo up there!” Someone called.
I looked down and waved. A power boat came alongside and its skipper leaned out of the cockpit. “Ahoy, Zodiac! Welcome to Tall Ships Tacoma! We’re your escort. I’ll be monitoring channel six-eight. Give a shout if you need me!” He pulled ahead, crossing our bow with little room to spare.
I shook my head. There was so much going on all at once. Suddenly I noticed two bright orange buoys bobbing ahead of us. “Crab pots—one point off starboard!” I yelled.
Jeffery dashed back to the speaking tube and lifted the brass plug. He leaned into the tube and spoke. “Helm. Crab pots, thirty feet ahead. One point off your starboard.”
I felt the Zodiac’s helmsman shift her heading slightly to port and watched as the crab pots slipped by our starboard side. Holy crap... too close for comfort.
“This is going to be a hellova’ lot of fun!” Yelled Calen as he came forward to reconnoiter the course.
I nodded and kept up my watch for potential hazards.
For two hours the Zodiac paced herself through the winding course of Tall Ships. Captain Tim throttled the engine up and down to maintain the proper distance from the Chieftain. I thrilled at the spectacle of all the enormous ships under full sail. Balanced on the bowsprit, I looked back over our decks. Behind our helm I saw the Bounty gaining menacingly on us, looking like a scene from the movie she’d been built for. The swaying column of schooners, brigantines, barkentines and windjammers twined around the bay in breathtaking pageantry. “This is so amazing!” Jeffery said. I looked over and glimpsed tears welling in his eyes. I smiled and nodded.
KABOOM! Smoke and powder rose form the port side deck of the Hawaiian Chieftain. KABOOM! Answered the Lady Washington. The Two ships had slowed to a near standstill to stage their battle. I felt the Zodiac’s engine grind to a halt and could hear the gears reverse into astern propulsion. The HMS Bounty drew close to our transom. By the way her prow was nosing toward port; I surmised she was taking action to prevent colliding with our stern. From my vantage point on the bowsprit, I could look straight into the transom port lights of the Chieftain. It was unnerving to be so close to another ship while underway and I marveled at Captain Tim’s ability to keep Zodiac under control in such a tight situation.
We spent several tense moments yawing back and forth until the sea battle concluded. At last engines revved and the parade commenced. My bow-watch replacement tapped me on the shoulder and I hopped down from my perch inboard of the breastworks. Jeffery and Juliet sat behind me trading quotes from Master and Commander. “What? Did I kill a brother of his in Battle?” Jeffery said.
“We must run like smoke and oakum!” Chimed in Juliet.
“Nerds.” I said as I walked past them.
The entrance in to Foss Waterway lay dead ahead. The ships filed into the narrow channel and were escorted to their respective docks. The Zodiac maneuvered carefully into her space in front of the Foss Waterway Museum. Hordes of spectators called out and waved at us as we sidled into our moorage. Directly ahead of us was the Nina, our neighbor from the previous evening. We leaned out over the rail to get a look at the ships in front of her. “Oh boy! The Bounty is next! Let’s go see the Bounty!” Juliet exclaimed.
“Hang on there kiddo!” Jeffery said. “We have to get our ship ready for the tourists before you can run off to see the others. Remember, you’re a Zodiac crewmember too. You need to pitch in just like everyone else.”
“Holy smokes! What is that?” I asked. A massive ship had arrived in Commencement Bay, escorted by at least a dozen vessels. She had two giant masts as well as a mizzen. Countless sails of various shapes filled her rig. The colossal hull must have stretched for over three hundred feet. There were at least four headsails protruding to the tip of her bowsprit. News station helicopters hovered nearby as she slowly made her way into the narrow inlet of Foss Waterway.
“Oh! Hell yes! That’s the Eagle!” Exclaimed Jeffery. “Excellent!” I raised my eyebrows as I heard him speak. I’d never heard such excitement in his voice before. He appeared as jubilant as his daughter. Jeffery grabbed Juliet from the deck and hoisted her onto his hip. Pointing toward the ship he told her all about the Eagle.
“That right there is the Coast Guard’s sail-training ship!” He explained. “She’s called a Barque, Juliet. The United States won her as a prize of war from the Germans.” He set Juliet onto the caprail and held her waist. “She has a triple helm—that means that it takes three wheels, bigger than Zodiac’s, to move her!”
“Wow! Dad, can we go onboard to look at her?” Juliet asked.
“Oh, most definitely!” Her father promised.
. . .