News Tribune columnist Kathleen Merryman and photographer Bruce Kellman sailed on the Lynx as it traveled from Victoria, B.C., to Tacoma. This is her final report on life aboard a tall ship. ABOARD THE LYNX –
Shortly after noon Thursday, the Lynx sailed out of Quartermaster Harbor toward a vista that astonished the Tacomans aboard her.
Upward of 3,000 boats were on the water to greet the Tall Ships. Tour boats, sailboats, rubber boats, runabouts, cruisers, kayaks, jolly boats, patrol boats. More boats, by far, than had greeted the ships in Victoria, B.C.
Crew member Kristin Roth had seen that many boats skittering around tall ships before, but that was on a Fourth of July.
This was a workday, a Thursday afternoon, the last day of June.
Aboard the Lynx, it seemed as if Tacoma had declared a holiday in the ships’ honor. The crowds along Ruston Way and down the Thea Foss Waterway numbered 125,000 to 200,000 people, depending who was counting.
The night before, the people of Vashon and Maury islands had turned out to fete the ships and their crews.
There were scores of boats, one with a bagpiper playing the vessels into their berths, another welcoming Mexico’s giant Cuauhtemoc with “Bienvenidos” banners. Jack and Laurie Stewart and their boys Ian, Rowan and Kenny rowed out in their jolly boat with the “Welcome” sign the kids had made.
On dock, the Rotary Club had laid on a salmon bake for ships’ crews. The parking lots were full, and folks were chatting, and occasionally singing, with the crews. The islands were in full party mode, and the crews were happy to be feted.
The next morning, Rotarians, including Col. John Moore, were back to help with crowd management as the tall ships picked up passengers for the sail into Commencement Bay. There were mix-ups in manifests, a few tense moments over dock space, communication lapses – but the skippers sorted the problems out and left them in their wakes.
On almost every recreational boat, there was someone with a camera, taking pictures of the Lynx as she motored out of the harbor with her eight crew in the period costumes they call their “funnies.”
“I always wonder how many random photo albums I’m in,” said Matthew Oates, Mattie-O to his crew mates.
More today than Wednesday, Mattie-O. Thousands more.
Shortly before the Lynx broke out of Quartermaster Harbor, passenger Arlene DuBacher wondered whether other people were as excited as she was.
“It will be fun to see if those hundreds of thousands of people show up,” she said.
Fun it was.
Suddenly, the festival wasn’t just about the tall ships any more. It was about the welcome, too.
“Look at them,” DuBacher said as Commencement Bay came into view. “They’re everywhere. I have never seen so many boats.”
“This is perfect,” said the Lynx’s captain, Douglas Leasure.
Security boats kept the channel clear as skippers tried to line up in program order, with New Zealander the R. Tucker Thompson in the lead, followed by Coast Guard Cutter 83527, the Virginia V, Army -Air Force P-520, the Lavengro and the Lynx. Success was mixed.
Exuberance was complete.
Only cannon fire would have made it better.
Mattie-O and Max Gibbs were ready to make it perfect. On Leasure’s order, they fired three rounds of gunpowder wrapped in tin foil. The smoke cleared, and the people in the day cruiser in the line of fire waved a white T-shirt.
The Lynx ran down Ruston Way, firing on the people gathered on the Tacoma Yacht Club breakwater.
The P-520, a crash boat that raced to the rescue of downed fliers in World War II and Korea, pulled up starboard of the Lynx.
The Lynx returned the favor, and P-520 tossed up a fine wall of sound.
The Lynx spared the Virginia V, but not the folks lining Les Davis Pier, who, unable to return fire, cheered.
Sleek and running in the jade-green water, the Lynx turned her guns on Katie Downs, The Ram and Harbor Lights, and sailed toward Old Town.
The line of ships tacked and zagged in the wind. Built for speed, the Lynx wanted to jump the line.
“We can’t keep the slow pace in the parade and keep it safe,” Leasure said, and ordered the sails down.
Four Puyallup tribal canoes approached.
“You can run the guns back and put the doors down,” Leasure told Gibbs. “First Nations representatives are going to come up, and we don’t want to show any sign of hostility.”
Nearing the Frank Russell Building, Lynx passengers admired the colorful array of what they first thought were big pots of flowers. They were people, hundreds of them, on the roof terrace.
And then the Lynx’s voyage was over.
She fired one last volley at the Museum of Glass, then berthed in front of it.
“It’s so cool to have them come to Tacoma,” said departing passenger MarylnSetzer.
“It’s finally put the city on the map, and then some.”
Kathleen Merryman: 253-597-8677