This isn't your average pleasure cruise.

Raise the sails, rouse the powder monkey, prime the cannon and get ready to have a blast - the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain are gearing up for a duel, and you're invited to join the battle.

Unless you get shanghaied first.

The tall ships sailing into Ilwaco aren't coming alone. Pirates plan to plunder the peninsula Saturday, May 20.

Ships ahoy

The 2006 Nautical Renaissance begins Thursday, when the tall ships lay anchor and open for dockside tours and educational programs at the Port of Ilwaco.

Both call Grays Harbor in Aberdeen, Wash., their home port, but they ply the waters with volunteer crews for much of the year.

It's the first visit to the area for the 103-foot, steel-hulled, topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain, which was built in 1988 to represent trading vessels common on the Pacific Ocean in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The brig Lady Washington, a 112-foot replica of the 18th-century, 90-ton ship that Capt. Robert Gray sailed around Cape Horn before navigating the Columbia River, will pull in for a return visit. Originally an American Revolution privateer - licensed to attack, raid and take ships of opposing countries during wartime - the double-masted, square-rigged vessel was used for trading by the time Gray brought it to the West Coast, although still equipped with a full outfit of artillery.

The replica was transformed into the pirate-chasing British Navy ship Interceptor in the 2003 Disney film, "Pirates of the Caribbean."

The tall ships will raise their sails on Saturday for a high seas battle, complete with restored three-pound shot cannons, swivel guns and powder pistols.

Artwork by Don Nisbett."It's a great opportunity for people to get a sense of what sea battles really were about." says Capt. Les Bolton, executive director of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority.

In the good old days of 18th-century pirate attacks, the goal wasn't to sink the other ship.

"Two tall ships didn't come up alongside each other and just hammer away," Bolton says. "That's how you lose ... You only do that if you're desperate."

Instead, he says crews aimed to cut away the rigging of their opponent ships, to "rake them stem to stern."

Rowers in a Chinook canoe paddle to the Lady Washington. Submitted photo."That way, you get to capture the boat and sail it back home," he explains.

Bolton says the battle sails are typically a hit, even if cannons are firing blanks. But it's a toss-up who will win the fight.

"They're really closely matched," he says. There's really no competition when the motor's on - the Chieftain has 550 horsepower while the Lady Washington trails with a horsepower of 312. "But certain weather conditions favor the Chieftain, and certain conditions favor the Lady Washington... it's a toss-up," he says.

For those who prefer hard work to the smoke and din of an 18th-century gun battle, there's an adventure sail on Sunday, when participants climb the rigging, unfurl the sails and experience the life of a sailor.

Bolton says it's for those who want to "haul on a line and suddenly feel 100 tons of ship moving ahead."

A fire breather will be performing at the event. Submitted photo.And activities back on shore celebrate all things maritime, including the unruly antics of pirates.

Pirates, past and present

While the small fishing town at the mouth of the Columbia River may not seem a likely destination for the historical high seas marauders, the towns in this area have seen their share of seaborne thievery.

Known as the Graveyard of the Pacific, the treacherous Columbia River Bar's fickle conditions have wrecked thousands of ships over the ages.

But wreck debris isn't free for the taking. While some people might consider it salvage, Jenna Austin, Nautical Renaissance organizer and "Queen La De Da" of the Peninsula Pirates hosting the event, says those people represent their own breed of pirate.

Rumor has it that a Seaview, Wash., house is built entirely from the captain's quarters of a wrecked ship. Another tale tells of a lard-carrying Russian vessel that wrecked near Ilwaco in the 1940s, losing its cargo to local landlubbers who snatched it off the shores, using the fatty booty to fry up fresh clams and oysters.

On the deck of the Lady Washington at the Port of Ilwaco last year, Annie Sieberson of Seattle does whipping on the tip of a line to prevent fraying. File photo by Lori Assa.Their "first one there gets the loot" credo was not unlike that of pirates, some people say.

"They may not have dressed like movie pirates," says Austin. "But there have always been pirates in this area."

"It was bad enough to lose your ship to the rocks and turbulent sea," says Mary-Jo Popich, local property owner and author of "The Grave on the Other Side of the Picket Fence," "but a band of pirates would claim your cargo and even your life in the dark of the night."

On Saturday, the Port of Ilwaco is under attack.

The black flag will be raised at high noon to cannon and musket fire, as swashbucklers, scallywags, muzzleloaders and mountain men launch a rambunctious raid, led by the Rifle Loot & Salvage Co.

As black-powder cannon salutes blast and the sounds of sea shanties fill the air, a living history pirate encampment will display weapons, cargo and knot-tying. Visitors can also taste biscuits and learn how to prevent scurvy.

And while historical re-enactors battle with blades, children can try their hand at sword fighting a pirate at the "Whack a Pirate" booth, presented by the Empire of Chivalry and Steel's Duchy of Terra Norte.

Other events include sea shanty singing, a kayak demonstration, educational programs and a visit by the founders of "Talk Like a Pirate Day," who authored the book "Pirattitude! So You Wanna be a Pirate? Here's How!"

Visitors are encouraged to come dressed as sailors, pirates, mermaids and all things nautical.

The Nautical Renaissance is the beginning of the tall ships' voyage. They will return to Ilwaco in June.


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