Sunday, July 24, 2005

Early Birds

(Note: I'm back in the studio and trying to catch you all up on the news . Expect daily updates, until I do.)

All my concern about not arriving in Vancouver in time proved for not and we sailed in, ahead of the body of the fleet. The qualifying word in that last sentence is “sailed”. The crew of the brig sails when we can and only motors when we must. Sailing is cheaper, quieter, potentially faster and a whole lot more fun.

It all began with the Lady rumbling out of the Thea Foss Waterway. JB's watch pointed the brig’s bowsprit North and a bit West into Colvos Passage, shortly after 0100 hours on the 5th of July. When I was roused from my light sleep at 0400, the first watch had worked the Lady well North of Vashon Island and already begun to see the boost in speed from the ebbing tide. That was the magic key that we had all hoped for. The magic continued over the next two watches, as one tidal window after another was achieved. Using the “turbo boost” of tide-induced currents is an art. Captain Meyer’s crew are masters at crafting voyages that utilize the Moon and Sun’s mass to help them on their way. Still, that is only part of the equation - we don’t have reliable data on what happens far closer to home - in the atmosphere over our heads. Weather is the wild card in the game that we play. A good stiff wind on the bow and all bets are off. The Lady is always a sailboat first and a “stinkpot” second. She is designed to catch hold of the wind and harness the motive power that it offers. With this ability comes the sad truth that the wind can also slow us down - even going so far as to drive us backward. This time we lucked out and all winds to Vancouver were favorable.

During my second watch, two sailors climbed the shrouds and cast loose the gaskets that hold our Lady’s wings at rest. Thus began a process that soon changed everything in our voyage: The way things sounded, the speed we were traveling, the spirit of our crew - everything.

With a rattle and a bump, the Detroit “D-Sail” went to sleep and our Lady’s spirit fully woke. One sail and then another was sheeted home and soon the brig settled into her groove - chewing up the miles as only a square-rigger can. We soon caught sight of Bill of Rights, just getting the bone in her teeth, off to our East. Her crew was unsuccessfully trying to reign her in, but that big ol’ schooner would have none of it and gaining her own head, shot off into the gathering dark.

I finally got a few hours sleep while crossing the Straits of Juan de Fuca and when I next came on deck, we were so far ahead of schedule that by the end of my watch, Mindy ordered the ship about and we stood well off the channel, waiting out both night and fog. At 0400, I came on deck to a very intense moment. Lady Washington was running free up the channel towards Vancouver. The waterway was sprinkled liberally with tugs and their tows and spiced here and there with deep-draft vessels. The brig was slipping between the shipping lanes and shallows, making over 5 knots through the dark waters. Our watch leader, Jeremiah, ordered me to the helm and there I remained, dodging traffic, until a very welcome dawn.

At first light, while looking aft from the tiller, I noticed two leafless forests out for a stroll. With only four hours of real sleep in the last forty-eight, I was truly beat and at first this vision didn’t register as something odd. When it did finally occur to me that trees don’t actually pull up their roots and stride about, I peered through my binoculars in order to make sense of this strange sight. The two “forests” were the rigs of Pallada and Cuauhtemoc, their hulls still not visible over the curve of the Earth. The two vessels were motoring up fast behind us. Those on deck waved like crazy a few hours later as our friends from Russia and Mexico swung wide and steamed on past us. We soon made the final turn and caught sight of the city of Vancouver. Our head liaison, Mr. Blake Cowen, had been calling my phone regularly and did so again as he saw us sail in. From that moment forward Blake and his team seemed to never rest. Every time we needed them, there they were, steadily more and more tired, but always able to find a smile and a way to help.

I would be a lousy reporter if I told you that Vancouver went off without a hitch. They had hitches aplenty. My guess is that those in charge feared low public attendance and in order to compensate, built too diverse a monster to successfully manage. From my side, out on Tall Ship Island, it did work, but only just. Why? Well, partly because the Lady’s team was well in the festival groove by then, but mostly because there were a few hardy souls that simply refused to let it fail. Those people earned our respect the hard way: by going into damage-control mode and staying there for the duration. Fighting that kind of battle side-by-side is a tough but effective way of getting to know someone and Lady Washington now counts several new friends among those that made up the Vancouver Liaison Team.

Word has now come down through the media that the organizers in Vancouver went bankrupt as a result of mismanagement. I can’t really say more than that, because the money end of things isn’t what a regional Port Captain organizes. I simply am not well enough informed to make intelligent comment on that subject. However, I can speak of what I witnessed; of those that volunteered their time, out on Tall Ship Island to make the best out of a shaky situation. To those men and women I give a heartfelt Thank You. Thousands were able to see the Lady up close and personal - to hear our history - to wonder at the complex machine that is a square rigger. Well over a hundred were able to sail with us and witness two tall ships, slugging it out on the bay. We came to Vancouver to educate, entertain and keep folks safe. With your help, we succeeded in our mission.

Fair Winds and I hope to sail with all of you again soon.

-Mark

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Monster That Ate Tacoma

When a new crewman comes aboard the Lady, we make sure that an introduction occurs at the very next crew muster. During that muster, we often we go around our large circle of sailors and ask name, port of origin, favorite line from a movie, favorite animal... something like that. It helps break the ice. Often these meetings dissolve into giggles and a good-natured wrestling match with the more rambunctious crew members.

I can't wait for the next crew muster, because I have a new favorite animal to mention to my boat family. I'll take a moment here to familiarize you with this recently-discovered and wonderful sub-species of "Homo Sapiens Uprightus" The Latin term slips my mind at the moment, but I can tell you that the common name is LIAISON (I think the Greek is "Festivalus Assitantus"). "Liaison" is a term new to the Lady Washington group vocabulary, but already it ranks up there with our favorite words.

Liaisons come in a variety of colors and sizes and are native to ports that host or stage the ASTA's Tall Ships Challenge. They are intelligent, respectable, reliable and very handy. We first encountered this sub-set of humanity in Port Angeles, Washington. Later we were very pleasantly surprised to find that they are not exclusive to that port and have indeed proliferated on Vancouver Island. There seemed to be an abundance of them clustered in Victoria, during our stay there.

Okay, I'll stop being so silly, but honestly, these people rock! Right now I'm sitting in Loren Lindell's office at his beautiful house on Fox Island. Why am I here? Because Loren is a sailor and a heck of a nice guy. He knows what a sailor truly desires on his day off: Laundry, a shower, food, rest, good company and high-speed wireless! Ann Meyer and I were just treated to a delicious steak dinner and a nice chat with a few members of Loren's family. Not a bad way to rest-up for our next port.

I met Loren over a month ago, while I was doing the ground-work as Regional Port Captain for the Lady. I met with both Loren and David Lester (at Dave's house, that time around) and the three of us have been in touch, almost daily, ever since. Dave and Loren sailed with our crew from Port Townsend to Vashon Island, as our local knowledge for the South Sound. Both of these gentlemen have been playing the role as Liaison Captain, for our team in Tacoma. The people on their team are just amazing. It seems that each and every one of them has a needed skill - and when taken as a group, there is nothing that they can't accomplish. I know this because we have ask a great deal of them. Tacoma is reeling with people at this very moment. The weather is unseasonably fair and the news services have been publishing TSC as headline material, every day.

When this all began, more than a few of us wondered if anyone would be interested in a fleet of tall ships. No one knew, but a few down in Tacoma hoped for a sizable crowd. Well, careful what you wish for! Folks have come down to the Thea Foss Waterway in droves. It looks as if the event organizers exceeded their estimated numbers in just the first three days of the festival. I was talking to a cop that spoke of 200,000 attending, just yesterday alone.

If there have been any problems, they have (for the most part) been transparent to the sailors aboard the Lady. Sure there has been a speed-bump or two, but given the sheer size of the event, that is a truly remarkable record. I think that once we see Tacoma slip over the horizon, that the Lady will not be away for long. This fair city has shown that it likes to play host to the world's tall ships and can make something of this magnitude work well. That much they have proved. Still, that is not the ultimate success to this particular sailor. To me Tacoma's greatest single strength is her people and the people she can draw to her - people like Loren, David and their Dream Team of Volunteer Liaisons - All 28 of them.

We did it! And we could have not done so, nearly as well, without your help.

Fair Winds my new friends. We will see you all soon,

- Mark

Friday, July 01, 2005

A Very Intense Blur

At last, a few moments strung together where I can pen an update. Things are exactly as crazy/busy as I expected them to be, but the pace still takes my breath away.

The Lady is in Tacoma, moored deep in the Thea Foss Waterway, just East of the Museum of Glass. She has already sailed with Lynx today, battling on Commencement Bay. Bill of Rights headed out with us to watch the fun, as did a few smaller sailing vessels. But here I am getting ahead of myself - I should first talk about crossing over to Victoria and the festival there...

Thinking back, it is all a very intense blur. A wind singing the Lady's name was blowing as we made sail off the dock, out of Port Angeles. We had boarded several of the media at City Pier and with the favorable breeze, were able to secure the fossil-burning "d-sail" and instead act in the 100% traditional way: sailing off the dock and across to Vancouver Island.

We saw the larger vessels anchored out, while still many miles away and as we sailed in, they grew and grew until our necks became stiff from all that craning. The winds sent us in ahead of schedule and we used the time to tack and back and forth in the anchorage, gawking at all the lovely vessels. Lynx and Bill were soon swinging from their hooks and we joined them at last, hearing the rattle of the chain as Captain Meyer backed the Lady away, using her big squares. The anchor rode was snubbed tight as our "lunch hook" set well on the bottom. Then we took Customs and Security officials aboard and were officially cleared into B.C. The night "on the hook" was peaceful after a crazy evening get-together with the crews of the anchored fleet, ashore at Fort Rodd.

I had the early morning anchor watch and while Bob and I were well into our second cup of coffee, a very new, very flashy luxury yacht made a bee-line at us through the anchorage and came alongside the Lady. The very last person I expected to emerge from the wheel-house stepping out with a wired remote in hand and using it, casually maintained station with the bow-thrusters and twin screws. It was Captain Michael "Jake" Jacobson. Jake was just stopping by to wish us luck during this 2005 version of TSC. A strange juxtaposition evolved over the next few minutes, as one after another of the crew emerged on deck to lean on the rail and speak to the man who had mentored them so long ago and whose sweat and blood is built right into the Lady's very planks. We spent a half hour or so, swapping stories and getting up to date. Then Jake was on his way, after promising to check back in at the end of our voyage.

We weighed anchor shortly after breakfast, using sails and windlass alone and maneuvered into our parade line over the next few hours. Captain Meyer started the engine at the mouth of the harbor and I was startled by the roar that I had not heard in the last four days. To that roar we added the report of the ship's guns, saluting our host port and bringing cheers from the crowds lining the waterway. We motor-sailed into the inner harbor and drew a collective gasp from those on shore as the Lady spun in a circle, just a hair over her length and slipped into her berth. A team of carpenters then tossed together the mother of all boarding stairs, as the press descended in hoards. We got clear of both groups in time to watch Cuauhtemoc and Palada, yards manned, arriving in grand style. We new that Palada would be moored right across the float from our transom. What we didn't know and couldn't imagine, was that she would block out the setting sun.

The full-rigged ship Palada is big all right, but not as big as the hearts of those that sail aboard her. We made more than a few new friends aboard that beautiful boat.

Our liaison team showed up in short order for their on-board orientation and soon smiles, handshakes and even a few hugs were in abundance. That same team was back in the early morning hours and soon became a ubiquitous presence; always helpful and quick-witted. Together we pulled off one successful dockside tour after another. On shore, things didn't go quite as smoothly and we felt for those who waited in the long lines. I wasn't too worried, as I knew that Victoria could (and most likely would) adjust overnight. Sure enough, by Saturday morning, most of the problems had been smoothed over. We had our own damage control to accomplish on Saturday. Our Bosun spent most of the day in the rig, repairing a battle scar from Friday's evening sail. I won't even try to describe that... Suffice to say that the Captain nearly called off the sail due to wind direction and speed, but we braved the inner harbor and it was all worth the effort; the Straits were amazing and really, the topsail didn't take take Emmet ALL day to repair...

One important safety tip we learned our time in Victoria: It was from the Russians - Avoid the "Galley Tour" at all costs!
Like I said, it was a bit of a blur, and I have to get back to the boat, but I do want to mention the sail back to the States - because the unofficial word is that the Lady did quite well, maybe even taking first in that race leg (after our handicap is factored in). We will see...

I'll try to get another update out before we leave Tacoma on Tuesday.

-Mark

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Victoria

I can think of no equivalent for Victoria. It is a place whose only apparent job is to be classy. I've traveled there already, in my capacity as Port Captain and felt like the afternoon was spent in a Chip 'n Dale Cartoon:

"After you."
"No, After you, I insist."
"Please, I wouldn't want you to go to all that trouble, so I respectfully request that you proceed me."
"Why, I couldn't possibly be so rude as to go first... after you!"

I was taken to lunch, introduced to all those that are creating and managing this major event and no matter how busy each person was at that very moment, time was taken for an introduction and a welcoming word or two. I found the city to be beautiful; a living postcard. Victoria's people are helpful, intelligent and seem to have good manners built into them. They wear their smiles like clothing and would obviously feel naked without them.

This is the place we plan on sailing to, beginning this morning at 0900. We will anchor out near Royal Rodes late this afternoon, at the Fleet Assembly and have already been invited to a party this evening. Victoria then requests that we sleep in, before we parade into the Harbor tomorrow, in the early afternoon.

This is a pale description of the place that we will spend our weekend. You need to see for yourself the city and its people, but that is the whole idea of ASTA's Tall Ships Challenge - significant vessels from around the Earth gathering in one place, so that you may come and visit us.

So, hop on the Coho, the Express, or the Clipper and set sail to Victoria's Inner Harbor. There you will find Lady Washington, along with several hundred thousand tons of other vessels that are sure to take your breath away.

Okay, I've got to run, I have a boat to catch. Thank you to Port Captain Bill Larson for your assistance in both preparing for our visit and seeing that it went off without a hitch. Thank you again to Port Angeles, for your hospitality and the preview of what we can expect from our cousins across the Straits of Juan de Fuca. How you found a way to fit all of Victoria's fine traits into one of your local Chamber of Commerce professionals, we'll never know, but our crew can certainly appreciate. Oddly enough, her name is Victoria...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Blue Peter

Imagine a time when Cannon blasts and flags took the place of our modern phones and e-mail. It wasn't so awfully long ago that the average sailor could gaze down from a hillside, to the bay below and see Blue Peter flapping in the breeze. This simple blue flag with a white square at its center sent an unmistakable message when it was hoisted to the highest point of the foreword mast. Since the departure of the vessel was so dependent on wind and weather, there was no firm time for getting underway. Once conditions were favorable to begin the voyage, up Blue Peter would go - most often at eight bells (8:00 a.m.), the morning of departure.

I received a phone call from Captain Meyer yesterday evening, as I was wrapping up loose ends in the studio. He was informing me of his intention to depart Port Angeles earlier than he had first planned. That call was impossible before Mr. Bell's invention and would have been communicated by Blue Peter. That signal flag's call was clear: "Come home my sailors, for soon I will be flying at half staff and you will need to be quick to return to me, or be in danger of missing the boat." Cannon fire would signal the imminent departure of the ship and then it would be time to cast lines, or weigh anchor.

We will soon be as ready as we ever will be for our first Host Port and then we will all say the mantra that Captain Ron said best: "Whatever is going to happen, is going to happen OUT THERE!"

For Lady Washington, Blue Peter flies today and guns sound tomorrow morning at 0900 hours.

May we have fair winds.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Wrapping up Port Angeles

It seems as if we are everywhere at once right now - We are spread out over so many tasks. The crew doesn't seem to be satisfied with a Lovely Lady but instead are shooting for the knock-out, drop-dead, gorgeous "Queen of the Seaway" look. I wouldn't be surprised if someone broke out the Turtle-Wax and begged the bosun to be able to apply just a light coat...

Tomorrow Victoria Media descends on the Lady and we will be busy with them all afternoon. Then we will scramble a few of our remaining crew, say "Fair Winds" to some of those that brought us to this moment and by tomorrow evening you will see a fine spit-polished fleet ready to get underway for Victoria - our first host port.

We had better hurry. Looks like our friends aboard the Tucker are just screaming across the Pacific and are now less than 600 miles off the coast.

Not too much to say today... just too darn busy.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

So, just who are these Guys?

Our time in the staging port of Port Angeles is going very well, thanks to public support, local business support and a few pirates. Typically, we find pirates to be folks who have dressed up for fun, reserving a few spots on a battle sail and then cutting loose with an "Arrrrr" or two, while we are underway.

That does not adequately describe WAHLA's Pirates of Port Angeles. For the last two days we have seen (and heard) them on the shore-side of the Public Pier, singing, carousing and doing all those essential "pirate" things that the kids love. I view them a little differently, because I am one of the people that interacts with their planing and security personnel and I can inform you that these guys aren't just here to play; they are professionals as well. Case in point: Yesterday, we received the word early on that the ultimate organizational nightmare had occurred for them, as the highest person on WAHLA's planning totem-pole suffered a death in her immediate family and been suddenly called away. Word went through Lady Washington like wildfire and "Plan B" was pulled out of the books and implemented over the next 15 minutes. I was in the perfect position to see WAHLA shift their entire upper-tier down a rung and re-organize on the fly. Just one speed-bump later and we were all back on the same page. The day then went smoothly.

I sail a square rigger and am not easily impressed by much else, but what I witnessed yesterday couldn't help but redefine my notion of pirates, just a bit.

Well done people. I look forward to working alongside your organization again today.

- Mark Olson, NW Port Captain - brig Lady Washington