Arts and Entertainment

Tall ships to return to Vashon’s quiet waters

The Cuvavatemac leaves Quartermaster Harbor to participate in the Parade of Sails in 2005. - Peter Murray photo
The Cuvavatemac leaves Quartermaster Harbor to participate in the Parade of Sails in 2005.
— image credit: Peter Murray photo

More than a dozen tall ships, with masts up to 115 feet tall, will spend the night in outer Quartermaster Harbor before setting sail southward in a Parade of Sails at 8 a.m. on July 3.

The Tall Ships Tacoma festival takes place over Fourth of July weekend and kicks off with a spectacular Parade of Sails that begins in Vashon waters.

Chosen for its location and protected waters, Quartermaster will harbor the historic ships overnight on July 2.

The ships will moor in the waters off Dockton, and those that can fit will squeeze next to the dock itself.

The next morning, the parade will cruise south from Dockton, between Vashon and Maury islands, south towards Point Defiance and then east along Ruston Way until the tall-masted ships reach Thea Foss Waterway in the heart of Tacoma’s industrial district. The boats will sail down the channel until they reach their mooring points, one by one. The ships will sail at about 4 knots speed.

“The parade of ships is one of the most glorious events that people can see,” said Tall Ships Tacoma spokesperson Matthew Erlich. “We needed a rallying point for the boats — I would say that having Vashon be the rallying point doesn’t make Vashon a small part, it makes it the kickoff point. Without it I don’t know what we would do.”

Tall Ships Tacoma, a maritime event of national significance, begins with the Parade of Sails on July 3, and ships moor along the Foss Waterway through July 7. Festivalgoers can board many of the 32 historic vessels, which range in size from 40 feet to more than 300 feet. Among the ships are the Lady Washington, a museum-quality replica of the Nina — one of the ships Christopher Columbus sailed to America — and Vashon’s own longboat, the Bounty of Krister.

Many recreational boaters like to get a good look at the tall ships, but while they are under sail, other boaters are not allowed within 50 yards of the ships; while the ships are moored, others must stay 50 feet away. Additionally, on July 3, Quartermaster is closed to boaters until the last tall ship has cleared the Manzanita buoy.

People can sign up for sail adventures on many of the ships if boarding a ship isn’t enough, or if waiting in lines — at Tacoma’s 2005 festival, some lines stretched three blocks — sounds unappealing.

Islander John Burke is the Bounty of Krister’s captain and the Coast Guard’s appointed facilities security officer for the Tall Ships Tacoma event.

He’ll oversee the loading of the non-crew passengers — called “sail trainees” — on the tall ships for the Parade of Sails, take care of paperwork for docks and oversee the volunteer patrol boats that enforce the safety buffer between the tall ships and recreational boats.

Burke has scaled the masts of the Bounty, the Lady Washington, even the Zodiac, which are 115 feet tall.

He said that a Native American canoe, carrying gifts, will shove off of Vashon to deliver its cargo to six of the tall ships at 7:30 a.m. on July 3, before the Parade of Sails, in a representation of gift-giving between cultures. The ships, representing other cultures, will give presents back to those aboard the canoe.

Burke was aboard his longboat, the Bounty of Krister, in Tacoma’s last Parade of Sails in 2005, and said it was fun.

All he saw were “sails — big boats behind us, some bigger boats ahead of us, and we’re in the middle. Lots of people on the shore.”

He added that the kids in the Vashon Park District-sponsored longboat program were also aboard the boat in the parade.

“The reason the tall ships have been really well received is there have been so many pirate movies recently,” said Dan Brown, an Islander and tall ships enthusiast who’s been involved with previous nautical festivals. “Why do people go to see pirate movies? There’s just something salty about them.”

He said Vashon’s roots with wooden ships are deep — Dockton had one of the biggest drydocks on the West Coast, and the first boat built of Northwest timber was built in Dockton and called “The Dockton.”

“The reason for the interest in tall ships is the nearly genetic, historic connection to our very recent human past, with some amazing wooden vessels, that were state-of-the-art technology a short 150 years ago,” Brown said. “We are very lucky they are coming so close into our harbor, and will be seen a short distance from land. ... It’s a huge deal — every sea port in the world is begging to get the tall ships to come to them.”


Tall Ships Tacoma will be held July 3 through 7. The Parade of Sails sets sail from Quartermaster Harbor at 8 a.m. July 3; boats will arrive at their destination in Foss Waterway around 3 p.m. Tickets to board ships for the festival can be purchased online or at the Tall Ships Tacoma office in Freight House Square at 2501 E. D St. in Tacoma. A general boarding pass is $10 and a premium pass is $20. Children 10 and under are free if accompanied by an adult. The U.S. Coast Guard Eagle, dubbed “America’s Tall Ship,” will be open for free tours during the festival.

Three themed “villages” on land will offer food, games and a variety of information booths. One of the villages, Treasure Cove, will be all about pirates, and will feature a Johnny Depp lookalike.

Some of the festival’s proceeds go towards Tacoma Tall Ships, a nonprofit organization, the mission of which is to bring the tall ships festival to Tacoma every three years and to offer educational opportunities to youth.

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