Ocean College 2020-21: Tenerife to Costa Rica

Panama Canal Transit

I have been home for well over a month, the usual exhaustion I feel after a long trip then led straight into the general miasma of lockdown that everyone is feeling and I am not ashamed to admit that I have spent a significant of time being a burrito on my sofa. But, I did write some posts while I was on the ship which I am going to lazily copy and paste in here and I’ll try and fill in some blanks in between.

I rejoined the ship in Tenerife in mid November, very glad to be going to somewhere warm and to a place where I was going to see more than the one person I share my house with. (I love him deeply, but I do like my hug opportunities to come in a variety pack!). We spent a couple of days in Tenerife and them made passage to La Palma, which I had the pleasure of visiting a few years previously on Lord Nelson, in both ports there were of course Covid restrictions ashore; places closed earlier in the evening, masks were mandatory and the maximum group size was 6 people, but shops and bars were open and it was such a delight to be out and about after my leave in lockdown in the UK.

From La Palma we set sail for the Caribbean. Rather than head straight across we took the tactical route, heading SSW for a few days toward the Cape Verdes to catch the NE trade winds and then heading west. This was my second time crossing the Atlantic in this direction and it really is a lovely passage (the route back using the SW trades is a far less pleasant experience sometimes!) The days rolled into each other; school lessons, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, shanty sessions on the Well Deck, I soon got to know each of the 36 students and mentors and we became, as always on the Pelican, one big family, despite trying to murder each other in a variety of weird ways! Hmm, that sounds odd doesn’t it?! To clarify here: this is a game we always play on long passages to aleviate boredom – everyone gets assigned a name, an item and a location, you have to get your victim to that location and give them the object. They are then dead and give you their victim, location and object; there can be only one survivor! On the 7th day, another Tall Ship appeared on the horizon behind us, the Frederick Chopin, also running as a school-at-sea. She sails beautifully and came quite close which was a thrill for the students, but she soon overhauled us and was over the horizon ahead. We also had a few visitors along the way, incluing Larry the locust, another of the small brown fluffy songbirds that we named Bob last year, a hawk, and a booby, as well as being accompanied by many many dolphins and a few whales on occasion, which never failes to delight.

After 10 days it finally rained, and the rain became a bit of a theme for the voyage, not all the time by any means but when it did rain it absolutely chucked it down, to the point where you could shower in it out on deck! December began, which for German teenagers is a cue to start singing christmas songs and baking cookies, (I’m not complaining about the cookies). In the middle of the Atlantic, we held the traditional Mid-Atlantic party, a slightly surreal chance to throw on a frock (boys as well) and boogie in the middle of the ocean. We let the students off watchkeeping duties for a few hours so they could all have fun together on the Well Deck. I of course, remained on the Bridge, and was just about able to hear the music so still managed to have a good old boogie with Captain Chriss and 2/O Anousch while maintaining a good look out.

The closer we got the the Caribbean the squallier it became, necessitating quick response “ALL HANDS” calls to take in sail and brace as the wind shifted, and then the wind died off almost entirely. To ensure we made our schedule we had to put the engine on which was a bothersome noise after such a lovely sailing passage, but I was very much looking forward to a few nights alongside in Antigua.

After a 3 week crossing from La Palma we finally arrived at Antigua on the evening of the 10th, dropping anchor at 1850 ship’s time and then immediately putting the clocks back 1 hr to local time. This made the arrival competition a very difficult call, as we had two entries; one before and one after, that were in the running, if we had called it on ship’s time, Karun would have won, but as we had all known that the time difference between La Palma and Antigua is 4 hours and made our calculations (guesses!) accordingly, we called it on local time and the prize went to Julius M.

After dinner the students were in fine spirits and an impromptu shanty session on the Well Deck kicked off. With the shore lights of Falmouth Harbour, the fairy lights on the well deck and the singing of the tree frogs it was a fine way to celebrate our arrival!

Next morning we picked up the anchor and made the short trip over to the marina where we berthed on the end of a jetty in front of a very expensive looking superyacht – we had enough jetty to get the gangway out from the well deck, but with the bow sticking out beyond. It was a fairly tight looking manoeuvre from my perspective on the foredeck but Capt Chris is one cool cat and made it look easy.

We then got 2 full days alongside after that, during which we sadly said goodbye to Anousch (2/O) John (Engineer) Sam (Bosun’s Mate) and Dom (Doctor) and joyously welcomed their reliefs; Ali, Patrik, Jo and Niki. The students spent the days ashore (in groups of 6) exploring the delights of this gorgeous island, swimming, snorkelling, eating pizza and generally stretching their legs after the long sea passage.

On the 14th we decided to go and see another part of the island, so we left Falmouth and motored for a few hours round to Nonsuch Bay on the east coast. The entrance to Nonsuch is a very wiggly little channel, and our entry was made even more exciting by an encounter with a sailing yacht on it’s way out in the narrowest part. The view is absolutely stunning as you wiggle past the rocks and reefs; The Captain, Mate and 2nd Mate were more interested in the nav than anything else but at least everyone else got to enjoy the view! Once in the lagoon there is plenty of space and after anchoring we finally got our first, much anticipated, Caribbean Swim off the ship. The Captain was first in, (rank has it’s privilege after all!) and soon almost everyone was in and splashing about. The Ocean College paddle boards make a great place to hang out in the water but are also great for racing. Once the students had exhausted themselves fully we spent a quiet night at anchor there and next morning picked our way out down the channel again, making for Barbuda.

Antigua and Barbuda are a single state, but while Antigua has mountainous peaks all covered in tropical rainforest, Barbuda is as flat as a pancake. We could still see Antigua behind us, but it was only within a few miles of the shore that we were able to see the long white sandy beaches of Barbuda. Being flat, the waters around it are also pretty shallow so we had to anchor a fair distance off the shore, but still only a few minutes RIB ride to the beach. We dropped the students ashore and the remaining crew enjoyed an hour or so of peace and tranquillity before they came back, seemingly bringing half the beach with them! We enjoyed another peaceful night at anchor, being rocked to sleep by the gentle swells.

Next day we headed back to Antigua, this time to the west coast of the island, to Deep Bay, where there is a wreck that is easy to snorkel around and the following morning we returned to Falmouth Harbour, completing our circumnavigation of Antigua. We needed to pick a few more stores and clear out before setting off next day for Curacao.

After a final night at anchor in Falmouth, listening to the tree frogs and being munched by mosquitos, we picked up the hook once more on the 18th and set off for Curacao and Christmas. The students were playing Christmas music every day in the galley (how Abbie dosn’t go mad I don’t know) and the galley teams were all trying to outdo each other each day with German Christmas cookies (each type has a different name apparently) the Christmas decorations were proliferating daily and we were all hoping that Santa Claus will be able to visit us on Christmas day.

We arrived safely in Curacao on the 22nd, but due to Covid restrictions we had to stay onboard until everyone had had a PCR test. Eventually, we were cleared to get ashore and there was a frantic rush to get ashore and buy presents for the Secret Santa. On the Ocean College voyage we also get two Christmases; German Christmas on the 24th and British Christmas on the 25th. At the time this is what I posted:

24th Dec: Merry (German) Christmas from Curacao! Last night we decorated the ship and put our tree up, and Cap’n Jack Sparrow came to turn the lights on! After much waiting, we were finally allowed ashore today, after all testing negative on the PCR tests we took yesterday. Frantic hunting for Secret Santa presents and virgin cocktails are the order of the day, and this evening we shall celebrate with aaaall the German Christmas cookies, fruit punch and carols and Christmas songs. Tomorrow we will celebrate British Christmas, with a visit from Father Christmas, roast turkey with all the trimmings and a movie marathon after dinner!

25th Dec: A very Merry (British) Christmas to you all! After a slap up full English breakfast we did a spot of tidying up and then everyone got the chance to go ashore and call home. The ship’s staff take over in the galley for Christmas dinner and so Simon and I set to on the veg prep (We now have blisters) while Abbie continued with her usual miracle making. Dinner was served st 1530 by the staff as well, as is traditional. After dinner we were very full and in need of a snooze, but, Santa came to visit! Everyone had written him a letter to confess what naughty things they had done and explain why they deserved a present anyway, Santa forgave all our misdeeds and everyone got a present. 😁 We have just had pear crumble for pudding and when we have digested that enough we will enjoy a second pudding of chocolate brownies- it’s also Priska’s birthday today so we have to have brownies! Sloth and movies is the traditional way to end Christmas day in the UK, so that’s exactly what we’re going to do.Tomorrow, we set sail once more for Costa Rica!

About halfway to Costa Rica the news came through that the ports on the Atlantic side were not accepting any ships, this was a bit of a hiccough to say the least. But, it was still possible to get in on the Pacific side. There are two options to get there: go around the whole of South America (impractical) or, through the Panama Canal. So we altered course and made for Colon, Panama, arriving on the 31st for New Years Eve at anchor before making the transit the next day.

It was a long night for some of us: the pilot boarded earlier than expected at 1530 and then we had to wait while some other ships cleared the channel, we weighed anchor at 1640 and slid into the channel behind a cargo ship that would be making the transit at the same time as us. The canal linesmen boarded just before the first bridge and soon after we entered Gatun locks. There are 3 locks to get through on the way up and while we were tied up to the locomotive mules on both sides the whole time, they were only there to hold us steady when the water was filling the lock. Moving between the locks was done under our own power; this meant that whoever was on the helm got a really good work out as Captain Chris conned the ship with the pilot’s advice. Once through the locks we were into Gatun Lake, this section is the wider part of the canal and we followed the well buoyed but meandering route past the dark shapes of the islands. The second half is narrower and even more well buoyed, although in the light of the moon (just past full) we could see very well anyway. We swapped pilots about 45 minutes before the second set of locks and then picked up another team of linesmen. These locks come with a break in between the first and second so we had to tie up to the locomotives twice. And then we were through! As soon as we were clear of the canal approach channel we dropped anchor and the Captain and his team shuffled wearily off to bed at about 0200, leaving the ship in the care of the voyage crew anchor watches for the rest of the night. Once we had recovered we set off up the south coast of Panama on our way to our final port of the first part of Ocean College.

We arrived in Golfito, Costa Rica on the morning of the 6th at around 0930 ship’s time and then immediately put the clocks back another hour to match our location. The students’ bags were packed and cabins were clean (ish- after an inspection by the mate a bit more was done..). Much bureaucracy later, they were finally allowed ashore, onto the waiting bus to take them to their 2 week land programme. Peace and quiet descended on the Pelican, and while we would miss our voyage crew, we had two weeks to make the most of the time and get many maintenance items crossed off the list. The fun never stops!

I had been on for long enough by then and was due to fly home halfway through the maintenance period. Getting home by air of course means getting a PCR test first so Capt Chris and I had to make a 6 hr round trip to Quepos to get a swab shoved up our noses. We did at least stop on the way back to have a brief paddle in the Pacific, it would have been rude not to.

We were blessedly lucky with the journey home; everything went smoothly, until I was in the departures area of Charles De Gaulle Airport in Farance and realised I had left my bottle of duty free rum in the luggage rack on the first plane, (Doh!) but as we had a 7 hour layover it kept me busy for a few hours as I went round the houses (and in and out of France proper) to retrieve it.

Pictures of this trip (and all other trips) are up on Flickr for your viewing pleasure. Please don’t hate me when you see them, I promise I also work stupidly long hours and deal with the unexpected on a pretty much daily basis. I’ll be going back to the ship in a few weeks, and there are lots of exciting things happening in the summer later this year too, which I’ll be able to tell you about very soon!