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Privateer Lynx Heads East

Trimming the sails in preparation for battle / SeacoastNH.com

Privateer Lynx celebrated her last hours on the West Coast with a mock battle against the Californian, the official tall ship for the state of California. Launched at the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Californian is a replica of an 1847 federal Revenue Cutter, a forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard, that patrolled the California coast during the Gold Rush era. Both topsail schooners were designed by Melbourne Smith of Annapolis, MD. Smith had hoped to design a version of the 1777 Portsmouth-built tall ship Ranger, captained by John Paul Jones, but the local nonprofit Ranger Foundation sank from a lack of funds a few years ago.

After visiting the Lynx headquarters at Newport Beach (site of TV shows The O.C. and Desperate Housewives) my wife Maryellen and I headed to the San Diego Maritime Museum, housed inside a 279-foot steam ferryboat. The museum also operates the majestic Star of India (1863) the oldest tall ship still in sailing condition in the nation. Lynx was docked at the back, past the replica HMS Surprise (used in the Hollywood movie Master and Commander), beyond a real 1972 Soviet submarine and near a 1905 steel yacht. Following a brief safety lecture, the eight-member crew, assisted by about two dozen tourists, hoisted the sails to do battle with the Californian.

The Californian in mock battle with Privateer Lynx / SeacoastNH.com

The smoke of battle

"Will we strike our colors like cowardly dogs?" a costumed sailor shouted in response to the Californian’s initial attack.

"Nay!" the Lynx tourists shouted in unison, and the fight was on.

After firing four defensive rounds, using real cannon with real gunpowder – but no ammunition -- the Lynx took off in pursuit of her prey.

"Stand by to come about! Ease the main sheet!" the captain called out, and each command was repeated by sailors, male and female, down the line. Dressed in a puffy white shirt with dignified blue coat and brass buttons, he was the spitting image of Horatio Hornblower in the PBS TV series. For two hours, between bouts with the enemy, the captain offered us a wealth of detail on the armament, ships, politics, battles and personalities of the War of 1812. Then in mid-lecture, the captain broke off:

"Braces, brace one point fore tack. Raise two points starboard tack! Clear the gun decks. Prepare to fire!"

"Sorry, mum," a gunner apologized as he tripped over a tourist on the crowded wooden deck in a rush to man his station.

Then as the Californian eased within firing range each boat let go a full broadside, filling the air with smoke and ear-splitting explosions. At one point the captain turned quickly, cutting his hand, and sprinkling the deck with blood. Two centuries earlier, there might have been gallons.

CONTINUE San Diego Battle Sail

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