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Tongue-tied aboard tall ships

“Ho! For the plains where the dolphins play,

And the bend of the mast and spars,

And a fight at night with the wild sea-sprite

When the foam has drowned the stars.”

— from “A Sailor’s Song” by Paul Laurance Dunbar

So much rope. Miles of rope. I half expected a giant spider to appear crawling into the hemp web.

As my friend and I stood gawking at the Hawaiian Chieftain's rigging, Lady Washington glided up, a silent partner. Both crews came to life, following orders barked in a language of their own and lashed the two vessels together. A gangplank between made them accessible to landlubbers. The ones who knew the ships intimately and the sea firsthand made ready for those of us who only dream.

My friend began to feel slightly nauseous with the movement, but I assured her she’d feel better once we were aboard.

We had driven to the Oregon Coast to get a hands-on look at these two magnificent tall-ship replicas that were paying our state a visit and slowly making their way back up to Aberdeen, Wash., their new home port. Both ships are owned and operated under the nonprofit, educational company, Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority.

Launched in 1989, the Lady Washington is a full-scale replica of a brig from the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In 1788, the original became the first American vessel to make landfall on the West Coast of North America. The historic lady was thoroughly researched, and her namesake was carefully crafted by skilled shipwrights. The Lady Washington is 112 feet long (67 feet in deck length) and 22 feet wide.

We didn’t meet Captain Jack Sparrow aboard the Lady Washington, but the ship was used in the film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl,” along with several others. I did get to chew the tack with Irish Captain Jimmy McManus, in command of the Hawaiian Chieftain. Captain Jimmy’s pirate name could be Redbeard if it weren’t already taken. He was a patient commander even though I didn’t know enough about sailing ships to utter one intelligent question. Mostly, I just climbed over her deck, which was fitted with all description of authentic seafaring gear, tried to remain afoot and inhaled delicious chicken-like aromas wafting from the galley.

The Hawaiian Chieftain is a swift topsail ketch that originated in Hawaii in 1988 and sailed to Tahiti and the Atlantic Ocean. Her designer, naval architect Raymond H. Richards, patterned her after early colonial passenger and coastal packets that traded along the Atlantic coastal towns. She stretches 104 feet (65 feet in deck length) by 22 feet across the beam. They were smaller than I’d imagined.

With a crew numbering between 12 and 15, and six miles of rigging to keep proper track of, the mates best be sure-footed and understand the commands. Of course, I couldn’t help but envision the Three Stooges aboard, fumbling, spouting phony sea jargon, and ending up tied together in a slip knot. Hey, it would be easy to do, if you saw how much stinking rope there was.

I spoke with one newbie sailor who confided he didn’t know the first thing to do, but the plan was to learn by listening, watching and paying close attention. Eventually, if you stand the gaff, you’re a full-fledged, sail-hoisting member of a ship family — furling and unfurling with the best of them.

There are many opportunities to make short sails aboard ship, take a dockside tour, or even sign on as a crew member and feel the sea billows roll. Information about ports of call, sail schedules and educational opportunities are available at www.historicalseaport.org. These regal ships will remain through Tuesday in Newport Bay before weighing anchor for Ilwaco, Wash.

“The girl stood on the crowded deck

Whence all around her fled

To sway up their dunnage and stop their gobs

As rigging looped over her head.

The longer she looked

The more she heaved to

A stalwart mid the gales.

She made off with their chicken pot pie

And stole the wind from their sails.”

— Peggy the Ravenous

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Reach her at pcdover@hotmail.com.