Through telescopes and binoculars, a few residents in the hills above Silicon Valley were surprised to spot two ancient, pirate-looking ships circling the Bay with their cannons booming and smoking. Curious souls found their way to the Port of Redwood City, where one of the West Coast’s most popular maritime living-history organizations was on display.
The 112-ft replica brig Lady Washington and the 103-ft gaff-rigged topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain have made their annual return to San Francisco, marking the 24th year the two ships have been locked in mock battles on the Bay. The tall ships, which represent Grays Harbor Historical Seaport in Aberdeen, Washington, were in Redwood City last month, and will be at Oakland’s Jack London Square until April 24.
On a weekend in March, the Chieftain and Lady Washington loaded up with passengers — many of them families with young children — and cast off from the Redwood City Municipal Marina. The port is a hodgepodge of sleek industrial office buildings housing some of the biggest names in Bay Area tech, a neighborhood of houseboats, a metal scrap yard, yacht clubs, a cement plant and San Francisco’s newest marina.
"I saw you guys through my telescope!" said Sean Williams, who showed the Lady Washington’s crew a blurry photo he’d taken from his San Mateo home. “I guess I’m the only one that didn’t bring a bunch of kids," Williams joked, adding that he was looking forward to sailing with the tall ships again.
Once into the Bay, the crew, dressed in period-appropriate garb, climbed the rigging to prepare the sails. There was breeze enough to propel the 99-gross-ton Lady Washington and 80-ton Chieftain into slow, lazy battle.
Each ship fires live "black powder," without a cannon ball. The result is a loud, smoky BOOM, an occasional smoke ring and the imagination left to wonder what kind of damage a “round shot” would have done.
"It smells like rotten eggs and burnt popcorn," said 11-year-old Ian Perez.
Though imaginary, such battles are about more than just firing at will. Captain James ‘Shiney’ McClurg explained that he was looking for "shots" that would travel down the length of the opposing ship, rather than skirt across the comparatively skinny beam of his opponent.
"You want a stern shot," the captain said, "because that’s where the rudder is, and that’s where the officers of the ship would be." McClurg maneuvered the Lady Washington both to “attack” the Chieftain’s stern, but also to protect his own.
The Lady Washington and Chieftain are eventually headed to Eureka and Crescent City, then on to Newport, OR, before joining the Festival of Sail in Coos Bay, OR, at the end of May, and Goonies Day in Astoria, Oregon, in early June.
The ships will be back in Oakland in October.
Today is set-up day for the Latitude 38 crew who, along with hundreds of other exhibitors, are getting our booth, #C1, ready to welcome you to the Pacific Sail and Power Boat Show at the Craneway Pavilion and Marina Bay Yacht Harbor in Richmond this Thursday through Sunday. We’ll have hot-off-the press copies of the April issue plus our world-famous T-shirts, some new fleece beanies, ball caps and more.
Join us at our booth on Friday the 7th, 6-8 p.m., for our 40th Anniversary Party, Baja Ha-Ha/Pacific Puddle Jump/Circumnavigators Reunion and bon voyage party for managing editor Andy Turpin. We’ll be serving refreshments including beer from local craft brewer East Brother Beer Co. in Pt. Richmond and wine from Dry Creek Vineyard.
On Friday afternoon artist Jim DeWitt will be in our booth from about 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to sign the cover of our April issue, which features his painting of classic Bay sailing. Stop by and say hello to Jim and pick up your autographed copy.
This may be your last chance to capture the wisdom of our long-time managing editor Andy Turpin, who will be giving two seminars before the party on Friday the 7th, first the Baja Ha-Ha How To at 11:45 and then Cruising Tahiti and the Pacific Puddle Jump at 4:45. The May issue will be Andy’s last as a full-time editor as he and his first mate Julie will be finally joining the rest of the Baja Ha-Ha fleet as outbound cruisers. After this you’ll have to seek him out along the coast of Mexico or ‘out there’.
On Saturday the 8th at 10:30, old hand and new publisher John Arndt will share his own sailing story plus stories of the past, present and future from almost 30 years producing the West’s premier sailing magazine.
The show will also feature an extensive array of new sail and power boats on the docks at Marina Bay, as well as hundreds of booths with experts on hand to give you the latest information on anchors, watermakers, rigging systems, folding props, hardware, technical clothing, navigation, batteries, electronics and more. There’s nothing like taking a break from our device-addicted world and being able to talk to a living, breathing, knowledgeable expert who can answer your nautical puzzlers.
Beyond Latitude 38’s seminars are dozens of other enlightening talks by numerous qualified speakers who can prep you for almost any challenge or adventure ahead. In addition to the free seminars are paid seminars on voyaging, weather and electronics with experts like Nigel Calder, John Neal, Amanda Swan-Neal, Lee Chesneau and more. Learn about all those offerings here.
If you’re looking to upgrade your skills or your boat, or just enjoy some dream time with fellow sailors, the Pacific Sail & Power Boat Show in Richmond is the ideal place to do it. Flip through the pages of the show guide here to plan your time at the boat show.
You’ll find us in our booth or wandering the docks and aisles, where we’ll be playing with our new Instagram account. We’ll award some T-shirts and hats to folks who Instagram a photo with #latitude38 while they’re in our booth or the booth of one of our advertisers.
To save money on your ticket use our discount code LATITUPBS17 when you buy a ticket online here. See you at the show. It’s only once a year, only four days and then, like the wind, it’s gone!
Ready… Set… Go! It’s April and time for beer can racing to start. Following close on the heels of Daylight Saving Time — an excellent argument in its favor — and the vernal equinox, beer can season has begun. Beer can racing, for the uninitiated, is a good excuse to go sailing on a weeknight. In the process you might win some prizes, make new friends, shake off the workday blues, and even practice with your crew for ‘real’ racing. The key to beer can nirvana is to keep it low-key by observing Latitude 38’s Ten Commandments of Beer Can Racing.
Among the venues that got a head-start in March are Santa Cruz, Ballena Bay Yacht Club in Alameda and Berkeley YC (just last Friday). Richmond YC and Vallejo YC beer cans will begin tonight, Benicia YC tomorrow, and Encinal YC this Friday. Corinthian YC’s very popular series will sail out of downtown Tiburon every Friday starting on April 14.
If you peruse the list, you’ll see beer can series on every night of the work week (even Monday, thanks to Bay View Boat Club in San Francisco, and, starting on Memorial Day, Tahoe YC’s Laser fleet). Thus it is possible, though logistically and physically challenging, to race five nights in a row. To acknowledge the hardy sailors who are up to such a challenge, Latitude 38 created the ‘King or Queen of the Beer Cans’. Our reigning kings are the recidivists aboard Chuck Hooper’s Contessa 33 Warwhoop, who accomplished their most recent feat in August 2016, earning 15 minutes of Latitude 38 fame — and T-shirts.
The Warwhoop crew — and the Latitude 38 crew — would like to challenge other beer can racers to take up the challenge. Race five weeknights in a row Monday-Friday (not necessarily on the same boat), send us your list, and you too could be recognized as King or Queen of the Beer Cans. Now go sailing!