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Originally published November 30, 2009 at 3:19 PM | Page modified November 30, 2009 at 5:31 PM

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Lady Washington sailing along the Columbia this winter

Ah, the life of a sailor. Usually this time of year means flip flops and shorts for the dozen or so people who skipper the Lady Washington...

The Columbian

Lady Washington

Bold: For information on dockside tours and three-hour adventure sails, see /


VANCOUVER, Wash. — Ah, the life of a sailor. Usually this time of year means flip flops and shorts for the dozen or so people who skipper the Lady Washington, the state's official ship.

But this fall it has meant long underwear, mittens and extra long — and durable — rain jackets.

"It's definitely been a challenge to stay dry and warm," ship crew member Sara Gempler said during a weekend tour of the replica sailing vessel. But, she said, that's what wool socks are for.

And how can the crew tell war stories about life on the high seas (one of their educational topics) without hail, sideways rain and stifling cold? They can't, Gempler admitted.

For the past 18 or so years, the vessel has wintered at Sacramento's port. But this year, it was learned the ship's diesel engine no longer met California's emission standards, forcing the crew to stay here this fall and winter.

The ship is now visiting Columbia River ports. Visitors braved the cold Saturday to tour the ship, snap photos and ask questions at Vancouver Landing at Terminal One, just west of the Red Lion Hotel at the Quay.

Visitor turnout is admittedly better in Sacramento, where it stays sunny and in the 60s or 70s. But crew member John Paul Clark said he's been surprised by the resilience of the Pacific Northwesterners who have still come out to sail or tour the ship.

"They've been rugged," he said. "They've been right there with us."

On the especially rainy or cold days, Clark said the crew has allowed visitors down to one of the ship's cabins for hot apple cider or hot chocolate to warm up. That's also been helpful with fussy youngsters.

Sometimes, though, that hasn't been enough to keep visitors, he said. On certain occasions, people have come and left 10 minutes later, complaining about the cold or rain. Others, Clark suspects, haven't turned out altogether because of the cold.

As a result, donations and ticket sales have been down, Clark said, though he couldn't give an exact percentage. He hopes the rest of the season will bring a revenue boost to fill a gap in money needed to replace the ship's diesel engine.

Earlier this month, the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, which operates the ship, received an anonymous gift that covered 78 percent of the $100,000 needed to purchase a new engine. They're still holding out for the remaining 22 percent to come from Sailing Adventure ticket revenue, Clark said.

Sailing Adventure tickets pay the cost of operating the ship and its sister, the Hawaiian Chieftan.

The Hawaiian Chieftan's engine meets emission standards, so it's sailing to California ports this winter.

"The 78 percent means we can get started," Clark said. "But we're still taking donations."

The crew expects to begin work to replace the engine in January and will set sail throughout the Northwest in spring. Next fall, it's back down south — which is perfectly fine by the intrepid sailors.

"We're hearing from the crew of the Hawaiian Chieftan that they're wearing flip flops and shorts right now," Gempler said with a smirk.

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