The tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain sailed home to Aberdeen from Westport Thursday. On the leg from Westport to Aberdeen, billed as “Sail the Harbor” cruise were local politicians, civic leaders and historians, fishing, crabbing and logging industry representatives and members of the Quinault Indian Nation.
Most of the group started the journey at the site of the former Weyerhaeuser sawmill, envisioned as a future home to a new mix of marine enterprises, boat launches and floating docks to be called Seaport Landing.
Capt. Les Bolton, executive director of Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority, which owns the tall ships, set up the sail to allow parties to mingle and learn more about the past, present and future of the seafood and maritime industries on the Harbor.
Westport Realtor Mike Coverdale’s presentation on one bus that ferried voyagers out to Westport was called “Salmon Tales” and The Daily World columnist and author Gene Woodwick, pinch hitting for Aberdeen Museum of History director Dann Sears, regaled listeners on another.
Lou Messmer, retired biologist from Grays Harbor College, celebrated his 94th birthday with daughter Maryann Welch, a candidate for Hospital District 2 commissioner. Participants sang him a hearty version of “Happy Birthday” as Westport Mayor Michael Bruce awarded each ship captain a centennial flag for his city.
Recalling his trips out into the Harbor to test for pollution for Weyerhaeuser, Messmer said with a big smile, “I feel like I own the place.”
The sun broke out early and stayed out. Seafood industry and fishing experts aboard both boats spoke passionately about how much small and large businesses, tribal and non-tribal, contribute to the region.
Some listeners seemed stunned to hear about how much the fishing and seafood industry fuels the local economy. Estimates run to the millions. Bolton also wanted people to think about how much a public haul-out facility might help the local revenue if boats came to Seaport Landing to be worked on, rather than head to Port Townsend, Seattle or elsewhere.
He will spend $30,000 hauling out the Lady Washington this fall, he said. Other boat owners estimated they have spent up to a quarter million dollars hauling out their boats, revenue that could stay on the Harbor.
Tons of fish and shellfish are caught and harvested from local waters, the commercial fleet in Westport is the largest on the West Coast. Joe Schumacker, a marine biologist with the Quinault Indian Nation, spoke of the contributions the tribe makes to the annual catch and fishing on the Harbor. Together, tribal and non-tribal catches are estimated to be half the revenue taken in by large and small businesses on the Harbor.
Molly Bold, president of the community group We FISH and the wife of a fourth-generation fisherman, said the way to think about a fishing boat is as a small business.
Some 48 passengers sailed aboard the Lady Washington, 33 were on the manifest for the Hawaiian Chieftain.
Sponsors of the cruise include the authority, Sierra Pacific Industries, Ocean Companies, Willapa-Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association, the City of Westport and the Washington Dungeness Crab Fisherman’s Association.
The only blemish on a perfect day was an accident at docking at Seaport Landing. A crew member was tying up the Lady Washington on the dock when the yardarm struck an iron flagpole which hit him on the head. He was sent to Grays Harbor Community Hospital for six staples to close the wound and was reported to be in good spirits by Randy Beerbower of the authority late Friday.
A feast of crab, oyster, clam chowder, salmon, native fry bread and fried chicken was served passengers and guests, then the crew.
U.S. Congressman Derek Kilmer spoke briefly and presented a small model of the Lady Washington to state Rep. Brian Blake on behalf of the authority for his support of Seaport Landing and the tall ships.
Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp spoke movingly about the ties the nation has historically and presently to the Harbor. Sea shanties were sung by Hank Cramer and friends.
Treasure was even recovered. Robert Neisinger reported he and the crew swept the Hawaiian Chieftain and found the diamond that fell from the center of his wife Nancy’s wedding ring onto the deck.
The tall ships are either in Aberdeen or Westport from now until July 5. For more information about tours, battle, adventure and fireworks sails, visit http://historicalseaport.org/.
Erin Hart, 360-537-3932, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @DW_Erin