The Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain / photo courtesy Grays Harbor Historical Seaport

Tempest in a Seaport

Port scuttles a return to Newport by a pair of sailing ships

A popular pair of tall sailing ships won’t be returning to Newport this summer after all.

The two ships — the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain — enjoyed a successful 11-day visit to Newport in April and had planned a return engagement.

The Lady Washington, a replica of a ship that sailed in the American Revolution, has been seen in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Star Trek: Generations. Both ships are a popular draw for passengers who pay up to $49 for a day trip.

But now the Washington nonprofit that owns them, Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, is involved in a bureaucratic battle that appears to have sunk the ships’ planned July return to the Port of Newport.

The first public salvo arrived at Eugene Weekly June 5 in the form of an emailed press release from GHHS.

“Tall Ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain announced Tuesday that they have been informed by the Port of Newport that their upcoming July 12th to 30th visit to the city is cancelled, with no future ability to return,” it began.

The release goes on to say that the Port Commission on May 29 suddenly canceled a previous agreement, made in April, to allow the ships’ July visit after hearing complaints from locals about parking and congestion. The cancelation affects more than 2,100 people who have booked cruises on the ships during that visit, the release says.

“We offered to rent a parking lot and shuttle our visitors in, we offered to dock at the international dock to the east, we offered to pay the moorage of fishing vessels,” GHHS Executive Director Brandi Bednarik says in the release. “Everything we suggested was met with a flat ‘no.’ We had no idea there were any issues until May 30th. The discussion and decision occurred without our organization.”

We can work it out, says Port Commission President Stewart Lamerdin.

“The Port of Newport remains committed to working with GHHS on finding a solution to this issue,” he says in a June 5 email to EW. “The Port of Newport has provided a number of options that attempt to balance the needs of GHHS and the other users of the port. We were very glad GHHS had a successful visit to the Port of Newport in April and are convinced that with some flexibility by all parties, we should be able to reach an equitable solution to the current situation.”

But the GHHS seems determined to take their ships and sail home.

GHHS “cannot take the financial risk of a short notice cancellation happening again,” Bedarik says in the release. “We owe it to our students and the public, who plan their visit to the ships months in advance. To ask that a working vessel make a last minute reschedule that impacts over 2,100 individuals, it’s not possible for a nonprofit of our size. The negative consequences of this for our organization are deep and long-lasting, and we won’t be able to take on the risk of visiting Newport again.”

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