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Hawaiian Chieftain arrives in Sacramento for annual visit

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On Wednesday, Hawaiian Chieftain, a two-masted sailing ship modeled after typical European merchant traders from the late 18th century, tied up at Front and L streets in Old Sacramento. Tower Bridge is nearby, and the ship’s sails can be seen extending high into the sky when walking down the docks toward the water.

For most of the year, the Hawaiian Chieftain sails with the brigantine called Lady Washington along the West Coast. The Lady Washington is the official ship of Washington and has appeared in many films, such as, “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, “Starship Enterprise” and “Star Trek Generations”.The two ships are owned by the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, a nonprofit education-focused organization.

The Hawaiian Chieftain and Lady Washington sail to 40 different ports throughout the year, educating people on the history of merchant trading, the work and responsibilities of sailors and teaching the basics of sailing.

“These boats are fantastic. People can come on and sail just like we do. We will teach them all that they will need to know to spend the afternoon sailing,” said Bosun Megan Grugett, her rank signifying a type of project manager for the ship.

This year, the Hawaiian Chieftain sailed from San Diego to Vancouver, Canada, stopping along the way to give tours of the ship and offering educational sailing excursions. The ship will stay docked in Sacramento until Dec. 13.

Groups can take a one- or three-hour sailing trip. The ship travels under Tower Bridge and, if water levels permit, under the Interstate-80 Bridge and onward down the river.

“Come on board and be in awe of this ship. It is not every day that you can see a ship like the Hawaiian Chieftain,” said Jas Malidore, a cook on the ship.

The sailing programs include hands-on experience maneuvering the sails and working on the decks learning how to give and take orders from one another. The crew members dress in 18th-century costumes and play the roles of old sailors.

They teach groups basic sailing language such as,

Beam: the width of the ship

Bow: the front of the ship

Stern: the rear of the ship

Astern: behind the boat

Port: the left side of the ship

Starboard: the right side of the ship

Masts: the tall poles that the sails are attached to

“They get to explore what it would have been like to live on a ship. It is a step back in time and is a really unique opportunity,” Capt. David Bonner III said. “Our goal is to have groups be completely hands-on and work as our deckhands. We want this to be the farthest thing from a classroom experience while still being educational.”

The groups are split up into three stations where they either learn about the lives of the sailors, the responsibilities of officers or about merchant trading. They are taught basic oceanography and navigation. Crew members teach about how sailors used to measure the speed of the boat, the time of day and the direction they were headed by use of 18th-century tools. They also teach sea shanties that they all sing together while working.

“The sea shanties, which are sailors’ work songs, have been passed down from experienced sailors to new ones. There are literally hundreds of these songs that can be traced back to the 17th century. They have been passed from boat to boat and from old sailors to young ones,” said Joe Follansbee, communications director for the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority.

The crew members on the Hawaiian Chieftain learned the songs from older sailors and from other boats that they have worked on, Follansbee said.They teach groups the songs to make working fun and to keep the shanties alive.

“The Bonny Ship” and “The Diamond and Spanish Ladies” are a couple of the crew’s favorite sea shanties to teach, Malidore said.

The ship ranges from having seven to 17 crew members and is a mixture of paid and volunteer sailors. The ship sails year-round and drops off and picks up crew members along the way. Many of the crew members’ first time sailing was on the Hawaiian Chieftain, but some had years of sailing experience prior to joining the crew. They learn from each other, books and experience.

“I am a nerd for boats. Maintenance-wise, I read books. I learned because I had to. It is my job to fix things or delegate maintenance, and so I have to know how to do it. So, I guess you just learn fast,”Grugett said .

Various crew members have been sailing on the Hawaiian Chieftain continuously for more than a year, while others have only been on for a short while. Nearly every day the crew takes groups out to sail, rain or shine, and when they aren’t giving tours or out sailing, the crew members are working to maintain the ship.

Built in 1988 out of steel, the ship is 103 feet, 9 inches long, 21 feet, 9 inches wide, and the main mast rises 75 feet above the deck. Hawaiian Chieftain has a very flat bottom that is designed to pull up on sandy beaches, similar to the Spanish explorers’ ships used in the 1700s to explore the west coast of North America.

The ship was originally designed by Ray Richards and commissioned by Lawrence H. Dorcy Jr. It took three years to build and finally set sail from Maui on June 12, 1988.

Hawaiian Chieftain was used to transport goods from one island to another. In 2009, the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority bought the ship as an addition to its educational programs.

There will be walk-on tours open to the public Monday through Thursday, 4p.m. – 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

The tours are self-guided, but crew members will be standing by to answer questions about the ship. People will be able to tour the entire ship, including the deck and the hull. They can look up and see the sails above their heads and feel the rock of the waves beneath their feet. They can place their hands on the old wooden ship’s wheel and feel the wear beneath their palms. They can go belowdecks and see the tight sleeping quarters of the crew, the kitchen and cabin room.

During the same time, people can climb up the mizzen mast, which extends 40 feet above the deck and look around from the platform near the top. They will see iconic Sacramento landmarks surrounding them, such as Tower Bridge, West Sacramento’s Pyramid Building and Old Sacramento.They can look down and see the deck below and look above to see the mast extend another 21 feet.

“We will put climbers in harnesses, and a crew member will accompany them to the top. It is worth the time and money. It’s beautiful up there,” Bonner III said.

Educational sailing programs for school groups, senior groups, service groups and church groups are offered, and spots are still available for reservations. Groups can be as large as 43 for sailing programs.

A $20 donation is suggested for climbing the mizzen mast. A $3 per-person donation is suggested for the walk-on tours.

No sailing programs are scheduled for the general public.

For more information about the Hawaiian Chieftain, visit its website here

Audio slideshow above created by John Hernandez. The Hawaiian Chieftain crew members sings "The Bonnie Ship The Diamond," a traditional sea song.

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