It’s festival season again, the season of tall ships, pirates, traditional crafts and the sea. It’s time for deck tours and cannon battles, sea shanties and privateer shows, and in the Port of Los Angeles, a big rubber ducky.

On August 20-24, the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) hosted Tall Ships Festival LA 2014, its first tall ships festival since 2008.  POLA also rolled out its brand new boardwalk, known locally as the “harbor cut,” the first step in making this area a Mecca for waterfront recreation.  POLA plans to develop Sampson Way into a scenic boulevard along Ports O’Call Village and to create a network of promenades, bikeways and Coastal Trail connections that will provide public access from downtown San Pedro and other parts of the local community.

Tall Ships Festival LA 2014 spread all the way from the Maritime Museum at 6th Street down this new boardwalk along POLA’s main channel to the cruise ship terminal near the Vincent Thomas Bridge, made famous in Hollywood films.  Shuttles and a trolley transported visitors from the 21st century back to the Age of Sail, a time when tall ships were the only way for people and goods to travel to other continents.

Visitors climbed gangways into the past, to experience what it was like to be on board a tall ship.  Four ships from the neighboring port of Long Beach made a call at the festival: Schooner Patricia Belle, a privately-owned family schooner; Schooner Tiama, a gaff rigged, auxiliary fishing/cargo schooner; American Pride, a three-masted schooner built in 1941; and the SSV Tole Mour, a 156-foot schooner.  The historic Schooner Curlew, built in 1926, and Spirit of Dana Point, a traditionally built replica of a 1770′s privateer, visited from their home port of Dana Point, California.  The Freda B, an 80-foot classic schooner, sailed down from San Francisco to join her west coast sisters.  The racing yacht Jada represented San Diego, along with Amazing Grace, an 83-foot topsail schooner, based part time in San Diego and part time in Gig Harbor, Washington.  The Bill of Rights came back to her old stomping grounds from her new home port of Chula Vista, California.  Once owned by the Los Angeles Maritime Institute, this 136-foot two-masted schooner now serves the non-profit organization South Bayfront Sailing Association.

Of course, my favorite tall ships are the ones I volunteer my time on, Irving Johnson and Exy Johnson from the festival home port.  Owned by the Los Angeles Maritime Institute (LAMI), they’re the designated “Official Tall Ships and Maritime Ambassadors of the City of Los Angeles.”  These twin 110-foot brigantines form the core of the LAMI TopSail Youth Program, a non-profit sail training organization with whom I’ve volunteered a great deal of time over the past 7-8 years.  The ships were purpose-built to help inner city youth learn leadership skills, to work as part of a team and to develop self-confidence, problem-solving and decision-making skills through sailing.

During the festival, I spent Saturday and Sunday doing deck tours on Exy Johnson, and crewed a cannon battle Saturday afternoon with a full complement of passengers aboard. We had wonderful wind and perfect weather in which to battle it out with the Spirit of Dana Point and our sister ship Irving Johnson.  Watch the Spirit of Dana Point take a shot at Exy Johnson.

The yacht Jada raced around us, providing a front row seat to the battle for its passengers.  Watch Jada sailing alongside Exy Johnson during the battle.

After an hour of cannon fire, with the sting of gunpowder in our nostrils and the ring of explosions still in our ears, we called a truce and headed back into port, weary but happy with a successful day.

There were booths with handicrafts, live music on a couple of stages, food trucks, and privateer shows.  Near the cruise terminal, crowds flocked to see the biggest rubber duck in the world, created by internationally renowned artist Florentijn Hofman.  If you missed the duck during the festival (heaven forbid!), you can still view it at the LA Waterfront through September 6.

Now that the festival dust has settled, Exy Johnson and Irving Johnson are in transit to San Diego, where they will participate in the annual San Diego Festival of Sail over Labor Day weekend.  Unfortunately, I’m not able to break away to participate this year.

From San Diego, the brigantines will transit to the 30th annual Toshiba Tall Ships Festival in Dana Point.  I’ve volunteered at this festival for the past four years (SEE Tall Ships, Tall Tales and Tall Hearts: 2013 Toshiba Tall Ships Festival).  I’ll be there again this year as a volunteer on Exy and Irving, so if you come to the festival, please stop by to say hello.  While you’re at it, why not come out with us for a cannon battle?