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Fleet of fighting and fascinating tall ships coming to Coupeville

The Lady Washington is one of the tall ships arriving in Coupeville this week. -
The Lady Washington is one of the tall ships arriving in Coupeville this week.
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A fierce naval battle, replete with booming cannons, posturing sailors and breathtaking zig-zag maneuvers, will take place off the shores of Penn Cove this Saturday, though the only real losers will be those who miss the waterborne spectacle.

"It's like stepping onto a movie set," said Captain John Stone, skipper of local boat the Cutty Sark and one of the event's organizers. "You're actually seeing the cannons fire. They maneuver around and just fire away."

The mock fight to be waged between the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain is only one of many events planned this week in Coupeville when a fleet of tall ships drop anchor in local waters. With between six and 12 of these grand vessels sailing into local waters starting Thursday afternoon, folks are sure to enjoy a weekend full of boating, feasting, drinking and musical performances that celebrate the age-old tradition of sailing.

Many of the tall ships visiting the Port of Coupeville are currently participating in the 2002 Ships Challenge Race Series, which this year is winding through northern Pacific waters. Along with Stone, Wylie Vracin of Coupeville has worked hard over the last year to organize this once-in-a-lifetime event.

"This has been amazing trying to get all these pieces to fit together," Vracin said. "I didn't realize just how difficult it is to get these kinds of crafts together in just one port.

Yet, corresponding largely through e-mail, Vracin was able to convince various tall ship captains, mostly from around the area, that a stopover in Coupeville would be worth their while.

With the help of various organizations such as Beachwatchers, Penn Cove Shellfish and Boy Scouts, as well as the town and port of Coupeville, to name but a few, Vracin has been able to schedule a whole slew of events surrounding the arrival of the tall ships, and at a nice price for the public.

"I just thought it would be wonderful to have Coupeville be a part of that," Vracin said. He added that any money raised from this event will go right back into the boats.

On the evening of the ships' arrival, a dinner and concert will be held at 7 p.m. at the Coupeville Recreation Hall to host the crews. The celebration will include a performance by the Shifty Sailors (of which Vracin is a member) and a beer garden located in the hall's parking lot. All proceeds will benefit the American Sail Training Association (ASTA), which places at-risk youth aboard boats in order to get their lives on an even keel.

Between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Friday, folks can be ferried out to tour the ships. At 1 p.m a barbecue will be held in Town Park. Starting at both 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., visitors can take a three-hour voyage on one of the vessels.

And that evening, starting at 6 p.m., there will be another dinner/concert, featuring a lecture about ASTA and a performance by the former Whidbey resident Aaron Parks and his jazz trio.

"This is not just a show," Vracin said. "This is education. It really has a good purpose, in telling what ASTA stands for."

On Saturday, the parade of ships will depart Penn Cove around 8:30 a.m., when they will salute the town with a volley of cannon fire. From Coupeville they will sail through Deception Pass on their way to port in Richmond, B.C.

Stone also pointed out that on Wednesday, Aug. 14, the ships will pass through Deception Pass once again on their way to Everett and points south.

"It's a good photo op," he said. "When they come back through, they may well be under full sail."

For a complete schedule of events during the tall ships' visit to Coupeville, go to the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce Web site at www.centralwhidbeychamber.com/tallships.htm, or call 360-678-5434.

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