Monday, November 30, 2009

Lady Washington Part 4

While we waited for Dash to begin the training, Beth showed me the courses, the clew lines, the bunting lines and the sheets for the mainmast. Forward, the same lines hung from the belaying
pins for the foremast.

“Now, if I have it correctly,” she said, “the sheets haul the sails back to cup the wind and the braces angle the yard to fill the sail in the best possible position.”

"What is that out there, is that the chains?"


“Okay,” I said, “What is this flat piece of wood called on top of the railing?”

“That is the cap rail.”

“So what is the gunwale?” I asked.

She stared at me.

“You know. The gunwale, like on—“

“How do you spell that?”

Now I stared at her. “G-U-N-W-A-L-E.”

She tossed her head back and smiled. “Oh, you mean the gunnel.”


“Yes, it rhymes with funnel.”

I knew the forecastle was actually pronounced folks’l and the topgallant sails were pronounced t’gallents, and boatswain was pronounced bosun, but this one had escaped my research. I flipped open my notebook and wrote Gunwale = Gunnel, and jammed it into my pocket.

Dash sauntered down to the waist and signaled for us to gather around the mainmast (pronounced mainmast). He began showing us the proper way to drop the extra rope on the bunting lines and clews so the bitter end was against the deck. This was to assure it would not foul when needed.

“Dash,” came a call from the quarterdeck.

He looked up and nodded. “Excuse me,” he said and sprinted up the quarterdeck ladder. We waited on the waist, watching Dash and the captain, but I could not hear anything over the grumble of the engine. Dash nodded and both the captain and Dash glanced my way. Oh oh. Had I done something wrong? Was I to walk the plank? Was he instructing Dash to have the men assemble for a flogging?

I held my breath as Dash thundered down the steps. “You’re in luck,” he whispered to me. He raised his head and shouted out, “Hands aloft to loose tops’ls.”

My eyes flew to Jeremiah and it is embarrassing to admit, but I think I danced in place and clapped, excitement gushing out. It felt like a movie. I expected Horatio Hornblower to appear on the waist. Jeremiah smiled.

Daisy, Forest and Jesse scrambled up the shrouds. The rest of us took the t’gallant sheets off belay and went to the bowlines. The sails were loosed and the crew aloft went below.

“Sheet home.” The order clipped out. It was repeated by crew, as the sheets were hauled with the help of the passengers willing to assist. In my thrilled excitement, I forgot the hand-over-hand, but quickly remembered after the first haul. We kept hauling until we heard “Avast!”

We went from one line to the next and I lost track of what was happening. My notebook remained in my pocket and I was torn between wanting to participate or observing and recording to paper what was happening. In the end, I hauled away on whatever line they told me to haul and wrapped it around the belaying pin when told to do so. I’m not positive I have it right, what we did. I do clearly remember the “No, Melanie, clockwise, clockwise,” someone yelled. Dang. It is a curse to have a digital watch. I unwrapped the belay, careful not to give anything back, and redid it, clockwise, four turns and underneath.

“On the quarterdeck,” Sara yelled, “floating log one point off the starboard bow.”

“One point off starboard,” came the echoed reply.

“Hands to the main braces.”

I followed the crew to the braces and we hauled our starboard lines while the larboard crew gave slack.

“Starboard ease off three inches.”

“Easing off three inches.”

“On the quarterdeck, log is two points off starboard bow,” Sara informed the captain.

“Two points off.”

And so it went until there came a blessed silence. Ropes and lines and halyards and sheets all safely belayed, I glanced aloft to see the sails filled taut in the warm, golden sun and an exhilarating sense of peace settled over me. I smiled. It felt right, like I was home.

With only the tops’ls set, we glided along at about 2 knots, past freighters with fore and aft anchors set, past a tugboat pushing two barges along, past Frenchman’s Bar. We slipped by them all in magnificent, graceful silence, broken only by an occasional whisper of rigging.

The Lady Washington is a beautiful creature, and I fell in love with her.

All too soon the order was called to furl the sails. We repeated all we did earlier in reverse order. The railroad bridge opened for us. Then engine growled to life. Crew scrambled to haul out the fenders. Jesse grabbed a rope dangling from the rigging like a Tarzan vine and as we came along side the dock, he swung out over the water and dropped to the dock. Lines were thrown to him, first from amidships, which he wrapped around the post, then the others, fore and aft. The gangplank was rigged.

It was time to leave, and it was heartbreaking. I shook Jeremiah’s hand and thanked him. I went ashore with the other passengers, wishing we had another day, or a week left to the trip. It was over much too fast. Eight hours was only a blink.

The Lady Washington still has remnants of her acting roles, like a star has Oscars. She still carries the broken "H.M.S. Interceptor" name, from her role as the Interceptor in the Pirates of the Caribbean, The Black Pearl movie.

Her compass still steers a steady course above more modern equipment in the binnacle. And in front of her tiller is a patch where her "wheel" used to be as it steered the Interceptor under the hands of the antihero, Captain Jack Sparrow. It adds to the Lady's charm.

Bruce, Ryan, Nelson and I have already discussed another trip. We'd like to sail the Lady

Washington again, but this time on the ocean. Until we do, however, I’ve been busy planning my revenge. I think I have Ryan talked into setting up my “husband” Bruce’s home computer so whenever he logs on, it will pipe him aboard.

Many thanks to the captain and crew of the Lady Washington.


  1. A love affair indeed.

    Oh, but I am quite sure it's "in the waist", not "on"...

  2. Now, having thought about that a little more - it is, after all, my lunch break...

    The waist, on a proper wooden sailing vessel, it being in so many ways like a woman, surely must be the part of the ship where the tumblehome ends and the hull continues more or less stright upwards, eventually becoming the gunwhale.
    Whichever deck is there, would then be the waist to be "in", as no-one presumably would have you stand "on" the waist itself, as that would be on the outside of the hull and probably a bit wet and to not much use.

    On a ship of the line, the deck in question would probably be the upper gun deck, on a frigate the gun deck - both of which are belowdecks-decks - so still "in" the waist.

    In a smaller vessel, like a sloop or your lovely Lady W, it's a bit more complicated however. I would guess that a sloop of war, or corvette, would have the waist not belowdecks - while, being a merchantman originally, and looking at your first pic judging the distance from the cap rail to the deck itself and comparing it to the distance from the cap rail to the chainplates outside, you waist would be belowdecks again, on whatever name that deck might carry on such a vessel.

    I could, however, be completely wrong as well.

    Back to the lunch. :)

  3. Fabulous story and really worth the wait. Well-written. I read faster and faster ... and fell in love with the Lady Washington meself.

  4. Jenku

    I'd oooh sooo like to pipe you aboard, captain.


    When do you want to book your trip?

  5. Oh it sounds so much fun! You make me want to go too, and I'm a dyed in the wool land lubber.

  6. Ahoy Ax,

    Watch out. I be knowin' someone who boarded the Lady as a lubber and is now enthralled with the sea. It can sweep you into its clutches, it can, sure as the sun sets on the horizon. I'm just sayin'.

  7. Hehe. I think dear ol Da would be the one more tempted to board the Lady and watch the sails unfurl swell in the wind. I, on the other hand, would probably be in the galley

  8. Well, I think you'd have a hard time getting Laura to make way for you in the galley. Gosh, I wonder if she ever makes rum cake?

  9. I make rum cake. Maybe I can bribe her into letting me into the galley with it?

  10. I wonder if there are any maritime rules against operating a vessel under the influence of rum cake. I'm now following @coastguardnews on twitter. Maybe there will be something there on the subject.

  11. Lol You ladies are funny!
    I love the pics of Lady Washington, Melanie. And your writing always amazes me! You are so talented with your descriptions and word uses! (The exact opposite of me).
    Anyway, very impressed and excited you got to experience that! My stomach doesn't handle the sea... I'd be hanging over the side green-faced, if I did that. (;

  12. PLA Anderson

    C'mon, matey. Put a patch behind your ear and come aboard.

    And thank you for your very sweet compliments.


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