Fire from tall ship’s cannon proves all too real

The tall ships dueling off the coast of Dana Point were only supposed to look like they were at war.

But after the cannon aboard the tall ship Amazing Grace rumbled, the stinging pain that Donna Reed felt in her legs was quite real.

“It was like a scene from ‘The Exorcist,’ ” said Reed, her wounds still sore days later. “I started to bleed in several different areas.”

She had been shot.


So it went during what was supposed to be a climactic moment in the Ocean Institute’s annual tall ships festival: the Saturday evening mock cannon fight that would simulate the spectacle of a historic battle on the high seas.

This year, however, the showy reenactment between the schooners veered from its script.

Law enforcement officials said a crew member made an unfortunate mistake when the Amazing Grace cannon ran out of blanks that were to be fed into it and fired in the direction of crew members aboard the Bill of Rights, the other tall ship taking part in the reenactment.

The crew member mistakenly grabbed a box of buckshot ammunition. (The boxes apparently look similar, authorities said.)


The spray of pellets left two people aboard the Bill of Rights injured and stunned.

“The plan is never to shoot live ammunition,” said Bentley Cavazzi, chief operations officer for the Ocean Institute, which has hosted the festival in Dana Point Harbor for 28 years.

Reed said she didn’t know what hit her. It turned out to be five shotgun pellets that peppered her lower body, some of which remain lodged in her legs, several inches deep.

“It was painful,” said the 32-year-old deckhand, “but I was walking afterward.”

A passenger was also hit in the arm and leg, and her injuries were also minor, authorities said.

Reed said she doesn’t have any beef with the other ship, or its crew.

“They’re really nice people,” she said. “They never would have wanted to harm anyone.”

Reed’s life at sea began recently by chance. The South Carolina native had been a radio talk show host and real estate agent. The Bill of Rights, a ship docked in Oxnard and used as an ocean-based classroom, was looking for a deckhand who could also handle public relations. She was looking for an adventure.


The program takes people like Reed — educated professionals looking for a diversion — and trains them as sailors. She receives room and board in exchange for volunteering her time for several months.

Reed said she’s tough. And she’s in good shape — she does mountain biking and “I work on a ship, for crying out loud,” she said.

A nurse who happened to be onboard treated her, but Reed didn’t bother going to a doctor until the next day.

“We were tired from a long day at sea,” she said, “and I just didn’t want to deal with it.”

Doctors told her the pellets had burrowed in so deep that it would be more harmful to remove them than to leave them alone. So once her stint as a crew member on the Bill of Rights comes to an end, she will have evidence of the day she found her adventure at sea.

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