Lady Washington sails into Hood River

For a ship that plies the Pacific Ocean from San Diego to Vancouver Island each year, Cascade Locks is just another stop. But the Lady Washington had a wild ride leaving its overnight mooring there Thursday as Captain Kevin McKee maneuvered the 112-foot replica tall ship backwards from the dock at Port Marine Park, through the confused, roiling currents of the narrow waterway and out into the main channel of the Columbia River.

“Roving fender port and starboard!” called First Mate Ryan Meyer as the ship was shoved dangerously close to the concrete seawall, then across the channel to a row of wooden pilings. Crew members hopped back and forth across the deck with huge rubber fenders the size of beach balls.

Finally, McKee swung her around and got her headed out into the river. The 10 crew members let out a cheer.

“That’s called white water rafting with the Lady,” said crewmember Emily Owen.

The soft-spoken McKee, who no doubt has seen his ship through much worse in 11 years, said only, “That was interesting.”

The Lady Washington made its way up the Columbia Thursday, on its latest leg from Cascade Locks to Hood River, with a steady west wind filling her sails. Crew members climbed high up the 90-foot masts to let out sails, then spent the five-hour trip doing various chores that ranged from repairing rigging to sprucing up below decks.

The ship, which is the only fully square-rigged sailing vessel on the West Coast, is a replica of the original Lady Washington built in 1750 in Massachusetts. She was sailed around Cape Horn to the Northwest by Captain Robert Gray, who later discovered the long-sought “River of the West” when he sailed into the mouth of the Columbia in 1792. The original Lady Washington plied the Northwest Coast for years as a fur trading vessel.

The current Lady was built in the late 1980s in Aberdeen, Wash., under the guidance of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority. Her crew sails her to ports up and down the West Coast providing educational trips and tours.

Thursday’s voyage caused much rubber-necking along I-84, as trucks honked and cars pulled to the side of the freeway to wave and take pictures of the square rigger.

Along with all the authenticities of its 250-year-old namesake, this Lady Washington has a few things its predecessor didn’t, like a 318-horsepower diesel engine and radar. Its digital depth sounder read 38 feet as the ship passed Wind Mountain; the GPS put her at 45 degrees, 41 minutes north latitude and 121 degrees, 41 minutes west longitude as she passed through the Narrows. Capt. Gray would no doubt be astounded by these modern nautical wonders.

As the ship neared Hood River, First Mate Meyer had the crew aye-ing his every command in unison as they lowered the sails and coiled the 170-odd lines it takes to hoist the ship’s 11 sails. A flock of onlookers on shore watched as the Lady eased slowly past the breakwater and into the Hood River Marina.

McKee flawlessly docked the ship with the help of his crew, and they all disappeared below decks for some well-earned grub.

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