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Another Portland Blog

Monday, June 05, 2006

 

Pirates of the Willamette

The Rose Festival has received a substantial amount of flack over the past few years. Recent fests have lost money and the annual fest is earning a reputation for becoming an archaic holdover from an era where women didn't wear white after Labor Day and beatniks, communists and Dennis the Menace were considered America's gravest threats. But instead of looking for ways of updating the it for the 21st century, maybe they should look backwards- all the way to the days when buccaneers ruled the seas.

This year the organizers somehow coaxed the owners of two "tall ships" to sail down the Willamette and dock on its banks near the Fun Center. I woke up at the crack of noon on Sunday to cruise down there, expecting that rain would keep the crowds away and I could jump on board for a tour without a wait. Instead I found a long line stretching down river past the Hawthorne Bridge. It was hard to tell how the Fun Center was doing, behind its rows of booths and $5 entrance fee, but a crowd had definitely turned out to run around a pair of pirate ships.




One of them, the Lady Washington, was supposedly* used as "The Interceptor," Captain Jack Sparrow's beloved ship in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. After a hour long wait, I found myself standing on the same spot Geoffrey Rush once stood in! W-O-W! *The* Geoffrey Rush. Johnny Depp? Keira Knightley? Legloas? Meh.

The Lady Washington had a crew on deck and, surprisingly, not all of them were local actors. Several were actual sailors that ride the ship up and down the west coast as part of a continued effort to educate school kids on history of merchant trading (but probably not the seedy underbelly as depicted in any given Decembrists' song). A set of stairs in the middle of the ship led to a lower deck filled with cramped bunks and a tiny kitchen where one of them was washing breakfast plates.

While all of the "pirates" were dressed in historic garb, their commitment to the past only stretched as far as clothing. The bunks were filled with modern-day sleeping bags and backpacks. One of them broke out a map of ship and gave me a quick rundown. Another hatch towards the back led to a captain's quarters and an engine room. I don't remember one of those in The Pirates of the Caribbean.




I wonder if the crew actual drops down the sails and lets the wind carry them on any of their voyages or if the masts are just for show. Maybe they fire up the engine and fly up and down the coast like Don Johnson's speedboat in the opening credits of Miami Vice. They also had at least one operable cannon on board. While modern day piracy is probably more along the lines of the machine gun and three-legged dog-wielding buccaneers featured in The Life Aquatic, the Lady Washington had enough firepower and crew members on board to take down at least the Sternwheeler or the Portland Spirit.

The later was parked behind the Lady Washington and if only one of the pirates had been willing to fire a cannonball over the Spirit's decks. Not to do any damage, per say, just to scare the hoity-toity passengers that were about to set sail down the Willamette for what appeared to be a wedding reception. If I ever get married and manage to rent a yacht, I'll stubbornly insist on working a battle at sea into the mix. The Spirit blasted its horn several times before heading down the river, forcing everyone on board the Lady Washington to cover their ears. A smug Spirit crewmember, laughing at all of us, was practically begging for a musket ball up his port bow but the pirates only glared and mumbled amongst themselves.




Before heading out of town, the Lady Washington and the other ship on display set sail on Sunday afternoon for a "battle cruise." If I'd been willing to part with $50 and if it hadn't been sold out, I could have watched the crews of both ships stage a mock cannon fight. I'd be more upset if that $50 would have also bought a shot at the riverside landmark of my choice. Firing a cannon at one of the (still unoccupied) South Waterfront condo towers would have been downright cathartic.

* The Portland Tribune's edition from last Friday claims it played the part of the Black Pearl. Wikipedia and the Lady Washington's website both say it was used as the Interceptor.

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