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Tacoma Tall Ship Festival: Few Sights Catch the Eye and Spirit Like a Sailing Ship

Published by Dewey Fason

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Thirty-two tall ships, part of the Tall Ship Challenge, will visit southern Puget Sound this July 3rd –July 7th. The Challenge offers visitors in multiple west coast cities the opportunity to not only view vessels showcasing the last two hundred years of sailing technology, but also the chance to touch history by visiting several noteworthy historical replicas.

Outstanding Replicas of Historic Tall Ships

In a fleet of notables, four particular vessels stand out. Three are replicas of famous tall ships from history, the fourth a prominant sail training vessel known around the world.

Nina, a historically accurate, 100 ton wooden caravel built in replica of Christopher Columbus’s 1492 vessel. She was built in Brazil using only traditional hand tools, and was launched in commemoration of the 500th year since Columbus’s momentous voyage. Today she serves as a sailing museum ship.

HMS Bounty, a 412 ton replica of the 1780’s British vessel made famous by Fletcher Christian’s mutiny against Captain William Bligh near Tahiti. Today’s Bounty was originally built for the 1960 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, but now serves as a sailing museum and sail training vessel.

Lady Washington, a 170 ton wooden brig that serves as Washington states ambassador ship. She is a replica of Captain Robert Gray’s vessel, which in 1787—rigged as a sloop—rounded Cape Horn before heading north along the west coasts of the two Americas. Lady Washington’s northern exploration eventually paved the way for the settlement of the later state of Washington. She ultimately sailed and traded as far west (east!) as China, where her rig was converted to that of a brig—the template for today’s replica.

CGC Eagle, an 1800 ton steel bark with more than five miles of rigging and and 21,000 square feet of sail. The 295 foot Eagle is a leadership and seamanship training vessel for the US Coast Guard, and is the only active commissioned sailing vessel in the US military.

Evolution of Sailing Ships

While touring the vessels, it is worth remembering that the sailing ship is one of humanity’s oldest tools. First invented over 6,000 years ago, early designs were probably no more than loose rafts equipped with pole-mounted skins. In the ages since, sail has followed a relatively consistent and logical evolution, culminating, in terms of the “tall ship” design, early last century with the five-masted, steel-hulled square-riggers which challenged all the world’s oceans.

While innovation, materials and technologies have changed over the millennia, they have always done so with the aim of harnessing the same combination of natural forces—sea and wind—to propel ever-better, ever-faster ships. As Chapman’s Great Sailing Ships of the World notes, “faster” in this context is synonymous with “elegant,” as well as “beautiful”—a fact illustrated by the ships themselves. Their shipwrights did not merely produce massive instruments for commerce, exploration and war—they created timeless monuments to ingenuity, community, and pure aesthetic charm.

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