WANT TO GO?

    What: Historic sails and walk-on dock tours of historic tall ship replicas; school programs also available

    Where: Ports O' Call Village in San Pedro and Rainbow Harbor in Long Beach

    When: Mock battle sails Wednesday, Saturday, Dec. 30 and 31; adventure sails Jan. 6 and 13; walk-on tours through Jan. 1

    Information: Tickets must be ordered in advance online or by calling 800-200-5239. Visit historicalseaport.org for scheduling and ticket details.

Visitors can sail back in time this week on board the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain, historic replica tall ships now docked behind the Ports O' Call Restaurant in San Pedro.

Several sails will be available - along with dockside tours of the vessels - over the next couple weeks. The same ships will also be in Long Beach.

Since they arrived a few days ago, the vessels already have been drawing interest from diners and spectators.

"I'd have no idea what all those lines are for, I'd be lost," a Los Angeles city lifeguard passing by in a motor boat called out Monday to Lady Washington first mate Darryl Hall, who joined the crew in 1993.

Earlier in the morning, a giant Evergreen cargo ship - stacked with large, colorful containers - glided by the wooden square-rigger, a replica of one that carried sea otter pelts and tea in the late 1700s.

The public's fascination for tall ships can be traced back several decades, Lady Washington Capt. Will Sabatini said.

While sailing for commerce and war died off in the 1920s and '30s, interest in what could have been a lost way of life began to grow, he said.

"People started missing the romance of the sea," he said. "It became something people longed for again."

Today there are hundreds of replica tall ships that keep alive America's seafaring past.

"It's all for the love of sailing and to keep this type of technology alive," Sabatini said. "Our passion is to share it."

Based in Washington state, the Lady Washington - like many of its sister tall ships - operates as a not-for-profit public education vessel, participating in festivals and providing opportunities for school groups.

Hollywood also has popularized the vessels. The Lady Washington was featured as the Interceptor in the "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl."

Sabatini caught the sailing bug as a teen when he attended a Massachusetts high school that had its own tall ship.

Many crew members, who test their affinity on a two-week trial at sea, sign up just after high school or college, he said.

Laura Cooney, among the newest members of the 12-member crew on board the Lady Washington, joined up just two weeks ago after she was laid off from her job in medical research in Seattle.

"It's really about the people and the way they all work together," she said of the experience so far.

Sabatini, who has worked in the tall ship sailing community for 17 years, said crew members learn to depend on each other as they memorize what each of the 180 lines do.

"We're not in the business of character development and we don't market ourselves that way," Sabatini said. "But it does happen. You learn what your limits are and then you break right through them."

Unlike today's society that stresses individualism, being part of a tall ship crew emphasizes teamwork.

Crew members' lives, he said, literally depend upon each other.

Launched in 1989, the ship is a copy of the original Lady Washington - named in honor of Martha Washington - that was built in the British colony of Massachusetts in the 1750s.

The 90-ton sloop carried freight between colonial ports until the Revolutionary War when the ship became an American privateer.

Lady Washington Captain Will Sabatini has been hooked on life at sea since childhood.  It s all for the love of sailing and to keep this type of technology
Lady Washington Captain Will Sabatini has been hooked on life at sea since childhood. It s all for the love of sailing and to keep this type of technology alive, Sabatini said. (Brad Graverson/Staff Photographer)

After the war, the original Lady Washington embarked on a trading voyage around Cape Horn, becoming the first American ship also to make landfall on the West Coast of North America in 1788.

The mock battle sails - set for Wednesday, Saturday, Dec. 30 and 31 - will take guests outside the breakwater for a mock battle with the topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain (docked also at Ports O' Call Village) and the Exy Johnson and Irving Johnson.

The sails are a re-creation of a typical 18th century naval skirmish at sea as the vessels do tight maneuvers and fire off cannons during the three-hour events, which also allow families to participate in some of the activities that include stories and sea chanteys. 

Weather permitting, guests also can help set the sails and even take the wheel for short periods.

Those who take part in the day sails, Sabatini said, often come away with a sense of awe over how the old sailing vessels are operated.

Adventure sails are designed to offer demonstrations of tall ship handling, sea chantey singing and maritime storytelling. Those are set for 10 a.m. Dec. 30 out of San Pedro and 11 a.m. Jan. 6 and 13 out of Long Beach.

The crews will be in period clothing.

Visiting the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Sabatini said, provides a unique perspective in many ways.

"You have that dichotomy between a cargo ship of the 1700s and the cargo ships of today, side by side," he said. "When you're passing by a modern-day cargo ship, it's so cool. To see that (contrast) is so much fun."

donna.littlejohn@dailybreeze.com