The first mate’s voice bounces off the water, off the decks, around the masts and yards and to his crew.
His crew repeats. “Ready halyard!!”
The Lady Washington is at sea.
The Lady Washington, or just “The Lady,” is a full-scale replica of a Revolutionary War-era tall ship of the same name, a brig with an 89-foot mast height, 13 sails, four guns, a Hollywood resume — and an educational mission, which she is bringing to Newport Beach through Feb. 5.
The Lady tours the West Coast, often with her companion vessel, the Hawaiian Chieftain, to offer dockside tours and brief excursions that show maritime heritage and life as a working sailor. It sailed Wednesday from its last port, Dana Point, to Newport on placid seas and is now towering regally above the sport fishers and other sleek pleasure craft of the modern era.
The Lady’s captain, Chris Cusson, joined the Coast Guard in 2000 at age 18. After four years of service, he attended the Maine Maritime Academy, where he discovered tall ships. He’s been at the Lady’s helm since January, overseeing a paid, volunteer and student crew of about a dozen.
Modern tall ships provide training in a type of seamanship that would otherwise go extinct, which in turn forges unique relationships.
It takes many hands to make work that, even if light, is physical and coordinated in order for a ship like The Lady to sail.
“It’s pretty amazing, the impact being part of a team like this can have on a person,” Cusson said.
When the captain or first mate gives instruction, the crew repeats it to show they understand. These callbacks are part of the soundtrack of a vessel that was never silent as it glided toward Newport, with the constant creak of rope, the rustle and snap of canvas set by sailors who clamber up its fluttery fiber ladders, and the shuffle of boots on deck.
The Lady is 67 feet long on deck, 112 feet overall, with a draft of 11 feet and a beam of 22 feet, a gross tonnage of 99 tons and a total sail area of almost 4,500 square feet. She has about six miles of rigging, which would roughly cover the distance between Newport and the Balboa Pier, then back, then back again. The Hawaiian Chieftain, a gaff-rigged topsail ketch, is slightly smaller, with a mast height of 75 feet and an overall length of about 104 feet.
The ships, modeled after trading vessels, belong to Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, a Washington state-based education nonprofit. Shipwrights laid The Lady’s keel in 1987, and she took her maiden voyage in 1989. The Hawaiian Chieftain was built in 1988 and joined the Lady on Thursday from Long Beach.
The Lady’s transit from Dana Point to Newport took more than seven hours. Winds were barely a whisper, and swell slight. But the slow speed — “at the speed of discovery,” quipped the mate, Matt Badams — was also by design, giving the crew time and space to practice sail techniques, emergency drills and navigation training, and even see a gray whale slap its tail on the surface.
The Lady has appeared in “The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” as the HMS Interceptor (those were models getting pounded by massive seas). The boat also appeared as a holodeck — a fictionalized virtual reality — re-creation for Worf’s promotion ceremony in 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations,” and the TV shows “Revolution” and “Once Upon a Time” (on the latter as Captain Hook’s ship).
The real Lady doesn’t have a wheel. A tiller is used to steer its rudder. But even without that bit of movie magic, it has modern innards that allow practical assistance and creature comforts not afforded the sailors of colonial days: modern navigational technology, electricity and a motor backup.
Badams, 24, first sailed at age 5, on a Sunfish dinghy. He first sailed on a tall ship, a reproduction of the Niagara, at age 14. He’s also sailed on an arctic schooner in Canada and a tugboat in Florida.
His communication with his captain, Cusson, is quick and easy, showing that the two have worked in tandem before.
The best part of crewing a ship, he said, is that you always get to go back to a waterfront home.
Tours of both the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain will be provided for a $5 donation through Sunday. Times vary.
Offerings also will include sails with crew demonstrations of maneuvers, seamanship and cannon fire on the weekend with tickets ranging from $42 to $79. The boats are docked at the Newport Sea Base, 1931 W. Coast Highway.
The boats will leave for their next port, Oxnard, on Monday night or Tuesday morning.
For more information, visit historicalseaport.org.