Tall Ships Return to the Bay

Many people are not familiar with the term "tall ship," but the Washington-based nonprofit Grays Harbor Historical Seaport is on a mission to change that.

Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain trade broadsides during a mock sea battle. Photo by Tomas Hyde


Published: March, 2018


Many people are not familiar with the term “tall ship,” but the Washington-based nonprofit Grays Harbor Historical Seaport is on a mission to change that. Its historic sailing ships, the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain, travel the West Coast year-round in order to introduce the public to maritime history. Both will visit Redwood City, Oakland and Antioch this month.


“When they hear ‘tall ship,’ some people imagine a modern ship, or a Navy cutter,” said Grays Harbor Executive Director Brandi Bednarik. “Pirate ship comes pretty close, but it leaves out the truth of why ships like these sailed—mostly for trade, exploration and in military action. Our mission is to share this history with the American public.”


The two tall ships visiting the Bay Area have rich histories. Launched on March 7, 1989, the Lady Washington was built as a full-scale replica of the original Lady Washington. In 1787, the original Lady Washington was given a major refit to prepare her for an unprecedented trading voyage around Cape Horn. In 1788, she became the first American vessel to make landfall on the West Coast. A pioneer in Pacific trade, she was the first American ship to visit Honolulu, Hong Kong and Japan.


The modern Lady Washington was constructed by skilled shipwrights based on historians’ extensive research into the original vessel. She was launched as part of the 1989 Washington State centennial celebration. Over the years, Lady Washington has appeared in several motion pictures and television shows, including Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Star Trek: Generations, Once Upon a Time and Revolution.


Built of steel in Hawaii in 1988, the Hawaiian Chieftain was originally designed for cargo trade among the Hawaiian Islands. Naval architect Raymond Richards’ design for the ship was influenced by the early colonial passenger and coastal packets that traded among Atlantic coastal cities and towns.


The early packet ships were regular traders and were selected because they sailed remarkably well and could enter small ports with their shallow draft. Out of the gradual development of the Atlantic packet ship hull form came the ship design practices that helped produce some of the best of the clipper ships of the later 1850s.


In 1993, Lady Washington joined Hawaiian Chieftain for their first mock sea battle on San Francisco Bay. Today, the two tall ships participate in educational cruises and ambassadorial visits along the West Coast throughout the year.


From March 8 to 16, the tall ships will dock in Redwood City. On March 16, they will travel across the Bay to Oakland’s Jack London Square, where they will be docked until March 25. They will finish their Bay Area tour with a visit to Antioch from March 27 to March 31.


In each port, the ships will open for walk-on tours and offer public sailings, including the popular two-ship battle sails in Oakland and Redwood City. The three-hour battle sails feature close quarters maneuvers with real cannons firing real gunpowder (but no cannon balls). Guests are encouraged to help operate the ship and verbally taunt the adversaries.


Dockside visitors can expect to tour the vessel and talk with the crew, while sailing passengers will experience the crew in action and the ship under wind power. No reservations are required for the walk-on tours. For sailing schedules and ticket information, visit www.historicalseaport.org.