What defines a tall ship? One crew member explained it (in non-technical terms) as any ship where people climb up and down the mast. But for the Sea Cadets and Navy Leaguers on the Hawaiian Chieftain, tall ships meant rocking seas, gun battles and pirates.
Oh, and scurvy.
As I walked by two Navy Leaguers munching on the provided snack of apples and bananas, I overheard one of them say, “This is so we won’t get scurvy.”
This seemed a little strange coming out of the mouth of someone who has yet to celebrate a double-digit birthday, but I suppose good nutrition is good nutrition, whether it’s translated into pirate or not.
The Hawaiian Chieftain doesn’t have any true pirate connections, except for occasional reenactment events. But its sister ship, the Lady Washington, did star in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl as the HMS Interceptor. In addition to providing the Lady Washington, the Aberdeen seaport (where the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain are from) also constructed about $410,000 worth of ship parts for the film.
After upping their stores of vitamin C, the kids broke back into their groups to learn about traditional life at sea. One group practiced the art of trading by bartering with beads, furs and spices, while another learned about historical navigation techniques like maps, compasses and determining depth with lead lines. But before tossing in the line, they first had to ask the captain permission to “heed the lead line,” to which he would respond, “Permission granted off port/starboard waist.”
The third group experienced life on the boat by examining things like sail needles and hardtack, which is a rock-hard biscuit made from the delicious combination of flour, water and occasionally salt. Much to the kids’ dismay, the hardtack wasn’t edible—not because it’s from the 19th century, but because it’s been tossed around and sniffed by generations of kids.
Later on, after I was warned several times not to fall off the front of the boat (a fair warning considering the lack of railings up there), the kids learned about modern navigation techniques. They took turns taking watch, reading charts and even captaining the boat. Then, they all practiced taking down the sails, putting them back up and taking them down again—beating their previous record by about 15 minutes.
For the final show, everyone was instructed to cover their ears as a crew member fired a deck gun, reloaded, and fired again. It made an impressive cloud of smoke and an even more impressive boom.
As we motored closer to the Port Sidney Marina, a young girl motioned me over. “What’s that?” she said, pointing at the grey streaks in the sky over downtown Victoria. When I told her it was rain, she looked at me disbelievingly until another Navy Leaguer confirmed my explanation. Then for the next 5 minutes, despite the dozens of kids scurrying around her, she never once took her eyes off the rain. Seeing it through a child’s eyes, I couldn’t look away either.
The trip was an amazing experience that opened my eyes to many things, both big and small, old and new. The night before boarding the Hawaiian Chieftain, I was so excited that I only got about 2 hours of sleep. I couldn’t sleep after the trip either, thanks to a combination of post-trip excitement and a bed-swaying sensation that lasted until 4 in the morning (which I secretly love). Thanks to the crew and the Victoria Tall Ships Society for such an incredible day!