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Tall ships battle like it's 1799
Lady Washington gunner Roscoe Washcher aims the cannon toward the Hawaiian Chieftain and hollers "fire" just before the deafening sound pierces the air.
It was all in good fun, however, as the two tall ships battled it out in front of the Port of Brownsville earlier this week to the delight of ship passengers.
"We get to blow them up," exclaimed 12-year-old Michael Pacheco of Brownsville during Wednesday's battle sail. "It's like the Fourth of July."
Pacheco, along with his parents and a few friends, had been looking forward to the tall ships' return to the Port of Brownsville all year.
"We had a countdown to the battle cruise on our calendar," explained Vera Pacheco, Michael's mother. "We've been hearing about this since last year."
The battle sails were a favorite among many of the ships' visitors who made the trek down to the Port of Brownsville's breakwater to check out the 18-century replica vessels. The ships, owned by Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, were in port for four days this week before heading to Olympia for their next visit.
During their stay, the ships were open to the public for dockside tours as well as three battle sails. The crews of the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain have almost constant interaction with the public as they sail to various ports in Washington, California, Oregon and British Columbia.
"Our main focus is education," Lady Washington topman Ann Meyer said.
During the winter months, the ships dock at about 30 different ports in California, educating thousands of children throughout the season.
"We see about 12,000 to 15,000 school kids in California," said Lady Washington Capt. Ryan Meyer. "We'd love to see more."
Ryan Meyer has interacted with his fair share of ship visitors as he has been with the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority on and off for 10 years. Crew members rotate as the ship is in operation for nearly 365 days a year. Sailing the Lady Washington as become a large part of his life as both he and his wife Ann work side-by-side with fellow crew members.
"It's a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun," he said.
Seventeen men and women make up the crew which is comprised of volunteers as well as paid staff. There are often openings on the crew, but it's not for everyone, according to Ryan Meyer.
"If you're expecting an experience like in a movie you'll be disappointed, it's nothing like that. But if you're coming to learn about a real vessel and be part of a family that works hard and gets to have fun for a living, then it can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life," he said.
Most of the paid staff aboard the Lady Washington started out as a volunteer, he added.
"We ask for a two-week committment (for new crew members); by the end of two weeks, they really start to get it," he said.
Not only do crew members have to become acquainted with sailing terminology, but also the devices that sail the ship.
"We have about 160 (rope) lines and all have a name and a purpose," Ann Meyer said. "They all have a job to do on board."
During a sailing, the crew is hard at work tugging at different lines to help direct the ship. During a tactical battle sail, however, there is even more work to do. New sailors quickly learn the operations of the vessel.
"When you sail every single day, there's a rhyme and a reason and a pattern to help you understand what things do," Ann Meyer said.
The tall ships departed Brownsville Thursday morning and are headed to Olympia where they'll dock until Monday, Sept. 1. Next they'll sail to Gig Harbor for a two-day visit Sept. 2-3.
For more information on upcoming sailings and volunteer or employment opportunities, visit the Web site at www.historicalseaport.org or call (800) 200-5239.