The Grays Harbor Foundation shares its wealth with Whatcom every few years by sending us two beautiful tall ships—the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain. Both ships are majestic as they sail into our humble ports of Bellingham and Birch Bay, and both evoke a romantic and adventurous time when pirates and swabbies duked it out over a few barrels of rum in the hold.
The Lady Washington is a full-scale reproduction of a brig built in the 1750s. After brave service in the 1770s against the British on behalf of the Continental Army, the Lady Washington underwent a major retrofit and became a merchant ship. There were technically four merchant sailing vessels named Lady Washington during two different time periods, but the one represented in our harbor was the most historically significant. In the 1780s, Captain Robert Gray was the original captain before handing off to John Kendrick. The man who lived to tell Kendrick’s story didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about him. Lady Washington was the first sailing vessel of the new colonies to land on the West Coast. So, naturally, deplorable behavior against Native Americans ensued. It was also the first ship to visit Honolulu, Hong Kong, and Japan.
The current Lady Washington was completed in 1989 as part of Washington State’s Centennial celebration, and quickly became the crowd-pleaser it is today. Striking in both mass and grace, the ship has been cast in such notable movies and television shows as Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Trek: Generations, Once Upon a Time, and Revolution.
The Hawaiian Chieftain is not an exact replica of a pre-existing historical ship, but it is a fascinating companion to the Lady Washington. A fast, nimble ketch, it was built by Captain Morgan Davies in Lahaina, Maui. A replica of passenger coastal sailing ships that dominated the waters of the East Coast, the Hawaiian Chief has visited the Atlantic Ocean, Tahiti, and has sailed out of Sausalito. It was commissioned by H. “Baron” Dorcy, Jr. and constructed by Drake Thomas. The ship participates in mock battles with Lady Washington and other vessels, delighting passengers with its quick maneuvers.
Every two years, the Grays Harbor Foundation offers several kinds of sails on these ships, from an adventure sail that offers shanties and stories in addition to flying the jib, to a battle sail in which the ships engage in a mock battle, and evening sail. For those who want more exposure to the high seas and sails, Tall Ships America offers several opportunities for ships looking for crew. There are grants and scholarships available for those who want to check off seafaring adventure from their bucket lists.
Many thanks to the Grays Harbor Foundation for their time and resources in writing this article. Information about their fleet, opportunities to support the tall ships, artwork, and more are available at historicalseaport.org.