We had a fascinating three hours on board the Lady Washington, along with about forty other curious kids and grownups,including some in pirate costume, and the two tall ships (the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain) sailed out into the middle of the Columbia River to do a mock gunpowder battle with each other. Backdrop of bright sunshine but ominous clouds hovering in the far east and northwest, cumulus cloud buildups and a forecast of thunderstorms.
Two tall ships maneuvering around the normal Columbia River traffic of barges, tugboats, Coast Guard motorboats, small speedboats and jet skis, and big liners! We sailed to the west of the Interstate 5 bridge between Washington and Oregon, and past a railroad trestle/swing bridge which opens for river traffic.
The captain explaining about how to maneuver in light variable-to-calm winds and a strong river current (which is what we had for most of the trip), the flurry of commands and explanation of tactics and the crew taking up and repeating the commands. People in the rigging. People at the cannons (small but effectively loud). Captain explaining that they can tell how the "battle" is faring by listening to the echoes off the surface of the other vessel and the shore.
A crew which is so closeknit that nobody has to shout. They have this stuff down cold. The major crew (permanent) has provided technical advice to the Pirates of The Caribbean movies, and would have done so with Master and Commander had they not overlapped in shooting schedules. They have an eye on the next Narnia movie -- if one is made -- which is all about a similar ship.
Other crew move in and out of the ship's life depending on schedules: high school graduates, college students, and recent retirees, sailing enthusiasts and newbies who can spare months at a time.
As a concession (and requirement for a ship who carries passengers) there is an engine, and a modern galley below for the crew. And a radio. But it's well hidden.
The Lady Washington has travelled through the Panama Canal a number of times. The Hawaiian Chieftain came through there to get here. Each year they sail up and down the coast as far north as Canada and as far south as San Diego.
This summer there is a gathering of tall ships in British Columbia and they will be there along with many others. Mid July, I think, these ships will be docking somewhere in the Tacoma, Washington area on their way up to BC. Captain explains that the two ships here today are ranked as Class B, with at least two Class A (much bigger) expected in Canada -- and that no Class A and not many Class Bs would be maneuvering in the Columbia River the way they did, around all the other river traffic!
When we embarked, it was hot and sunny and the clouds were distant, one cloud buildup over the Cascade Mountains, but beautiful weather. We had a three hour trip scheduled. Mostly calm with some light variable wind. Lots of sun.
At about eight, after a healthy volley of powder from various cannon along the deck, the sky darkened to the east, where a big arch of dark cloud was creeping toward us. The wind picked up: captain pointed out that this was not necessarily a good sign, because it meant the storm was building in height and pulling the air toward it in big gulping updrafts. And build up it did. We headed back to our mooring place with the engine, racing the storm but at the same time heading directly toward it. And it in turn headed directly toward us. (There is a sympathetic-magic process between cannon and thunder that was certainly working here, as well. They were talking to each other and you could feel it.)
I have rarely seen so beautifully dramatic sky. Sunset, a storm cloud east, other clouds tinged by red all around the west, and then a rainbow running from one shore to the other just in front of the storm, glowing redly as it touched down behind modern buildings on the left and snaked through a patch of blue sky on the other side of the bridge span on the right. And big drops of rain beginning to fall. Then the flashes which were from cameras gave way to flashes of lightning, sheet lightning and cloud to cloud bolts, lots of thunder. Both ships made it to dock just as the storm hit.
We headed home, as it was now past nine and dark. The sky opened. So much rain, we had to pull off the highway and take a side road along the river, which is a ritzy residential neighborhood with lots of trees. Even there, there was a lot of street flooding. Enough lightning to light the way ahead, flash after flash. Closer to home some cars got stuck in water. The gutter outside our house was clogged up and there was water all over the street -- we cleared the debris and it drained, and our house was fine because it sits slightly higher than the street, but the trees and bushes were bowed down with the weight of all the water that the storm produced so fast. I think we got an inch of rain in about 45 minutes and the trees looked as if they had received a foot of snow.
Things are calmer today.
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