Shipped Off To Camp

The challenges of running an outdoor recreation facility keep even the most competent manager on his or her toes.

A camp adventure on the high seas.

Buying new safety gear, renewing annual insurance, hiring qualified counselors, and updating marketing materials demand constant vigilance.

But what if your facility is 89 feet tall, weighs 210 tons, and floats?

Add a few layers of federal regulation, limitations of wind and tide, and large, thick pieces of wood swaying in the water, and you have an idea of the unique problems faced by the operators of the Lady Washington and her companion, Hawaiian Chieftain, which take guests on weeklong on-the-water camping trips in the San Juan Islands, near Seattle.

“We’re able to share the experience of exploring the islands while sailing a squarerigger,” says Capt. John Morrison, master of the Lady Washington for the summer 2011 trip. “And there’s potential for multiple things to go wrong at any time.”

A Look Under The Sail

The story begins in 1985 when the city of Aberdeen, Wash., chartered a new non-profit–the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority–to build a tall ship for Washington State’s centennial. In June 1989, the Historical Seaport launched a 112-foot wooden replica of one of the first U.S.-flagged ships to explore the west coast of North America.

To the casual observer, the brig Lady Washington looks almost exactly like the original 18th-century vessel. A closer look reveals a small radar dome, GPS and radio equipment, and a locker for life jackets. Below deck are a modern galley and a 450-horsepower diesel engine.

In 2004, the Historical Seaport added the steel-hulled, topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain, purchasing it from an excursion operator in Sausalito, Calif. At 103 feet, 9 inches and 100 tons, she’s Lady Washington’s junior partner. But with twin engines, Hawaiian Chieftain is faster and more versatile.

Engines on both ships are for safety and convenience; they’re only used for maneuvering in port or running against the wind to make an arrival deadline. The vessels take advantage of nature’s free power source–wind–whenever and wherever possible, a policy driven by the Historical Seaport’s mission of providing hands-on, living-history experiences to the public that preserve maritime traditions and train the next generation of tall-ship mariners.

Both ships sail to as many as 40 ports a year, from San Diego to Port Alberni, B.C.

During the school year, an education coordinator on each boat leads K-12 private, public, or home-schooled groups on day programs. The “EdCo,” the captain, the first mate, the engineer, the bosun, the steward, and the purser are all staff positions. They are joined by short-term and long-term volunteer deckhands.

Besides handling education programs, the crew members conduct public, ticketed sailing programs year round. The most popular is the Battle Sail, when both ships recreate a typical 18th-century naval skirmish, complete with cannon firing real gunpowder … but no cannon balls, of course.

Expedition Voyages

Every July, Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain host a dozen guests each on an Expedition Voyage, a five-day exploration of the San Juan Islands, an archipelago on the northern edge of Puget Sound near the Canadian border.

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