Sail Training in the Time of Corona

I’ve been home for a month now and have enjoyed the luxury of time to reflect on the last few months. While I haven’t left the house more than 3 times in that time, that’s still 3 more times than I got off the ship in the previous month. Some ships are still at sea, making for home ports where they will finally be allowed to go alongside, and I can only imagine how gruelling it must be for them. The Sail Training and Tall Ship community has been greatly impacted by this virus. This was my experience:

I left the UK in mid-February, headed for the warm sunshine of Cuba where I joined my ship, TS Pelican of London, to embark on the next leg of the 2019/20 Ocean College Voyage – a 6 month long School-at-Sea adventure. We had started in Bordeaux back in October with 32 novice sailors aged 15-18, mostly from Germany, 3 teachers and 8 Permanent Crew. We sailed from there to Vigo, on to Essaouira in Morocco, the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands, before we crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean, Curacao and Panama where I disembarked for some much needed leave. The news about Coronavirus was at that time something happening in far distant lands and I never imagined it would have much impact on us.

By the time we had sailed from Cuba and reached Bermuda things were changing but the news we saw still didn’t give us any impression that the world was about to implode. We left Bermuda on the 6th March and I didn’t set foot on land again until the 23rd April.

A sail training voyage is supposed to be challenging; through the medium of sailing – working, living and playing together in what is essentially a 35m long metal box (45m if you include the bowsprit) we teach our trainees not only about sail setting, knot tying, weather forecasting, navigation, cleaning, cooking and maintenance but also about resilience, patience, fortitude, kindness, empathy, teamwork and tenacity. We usually get to also see a bit of the world while we do all this. We got plenty of the sailing part over the next couple of months, but the seeing the world aspect was suddenly rather curtailed.

Our Atlantic crossing went relatively smoothly, a few days of strong winds had us belting along under canvas for a while, but a large high pressure system had other ideas and sat over us for the majority of the mid Atlantic, necessitating the use of the “iron topsail” kept down in the bowels of the ship instead of the quieter canvas version. News came through to the ship via our satellite email system but we had no access to actual news outlets. We knew before we arrived in Horta in the Azores that we would not be allowed ashore but still thought amongst ourselves that all of this was a massive over-reaction and that the voyage would continue pretty much as planned.

We anchored off Horta on the evening of the 19th March and finally had phone signal, we called our families for the first time in 2 weeks and it finally started to sink in; the world had changed. The next day that message was fully hammered home when we finally got alongside – we were to be the last ship allowed in, purely to pick up fuel and food and then leave immediately. No gangway was landed, the workers who brought us our stores all wore masks and kept their distance, despite the fact we had been isolated on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for the last 14 days and had come from a country which, at the time of our departure, had had no cases – there was no way we could be carrying it, but no-one was willing to take the risk.

The plan had been to go from the Azores to a port or two on the northern coast of Spain and then back to Bordeaux, where the parents and families would be there to welcome our trainees back triumphantly with much pomp and circumstance, champagne and medals. With travel across Europe severely restricted and borders closed this was suddenly not going to be an option. All the ports were closed anyway and no matter where we landed them they then had to get home from there, with their vast quantities of luggage, so there was only one real option – we had to take them to Germany.

The next few days were the most challenging of all; we suddenly had a far greater distance to go to get to our final destination; the stores we had been able to pick up were all that the islanders had been able to supply, but were not a great quantity when you have 43 people to feed 3 times a day and need to keep it interesting; we were all now aware of the seriousness of the situation ashore and while we had spoken to our loved ones and knew that should anything happen to them we would hear of it via the satellite email, we couldn’t just pick up the phone and call home to check in. To add to that, the weather turned on us; slowly going from a ESE force 5 to a NE force 8 , driving our course further and further North until we were going North West in the direction of Iceland or even Greenland. We spent 72 hours beating up and down under engines and fore and aft sails trying to make headway to the North East, while mostly running back up and down parallel to our own track; and, it was getting colder by the day.

On top of these delights, when we left the Azores we mixed things up and put our trainees (who after 5 months, were very used to a fixed watch system consisting of 3 watches of 10 people doing the same watch-keeping hours every day) into 4 new watches of 8 people. Then, after 4 days of a 4 watch rotating system, we reverted to a 3 watch system with the 4th watch as the “Handover” team, with the watches rotating every 4 days to give everyone a “Handover” over the passage to Germany. [Figuring out how this all works is my job – hence my love of spreadsheets!] Each watch had a Captain, Mate, 2nd Mate, Engineer, Bosun, Bosun’s Mate, Cook and Doctor or Cook’s Assistant. For the 4 days of their “handover” they were acting as those roles, under the close supervision and guidance of the Permanent Crew in whose shoes they were walking. We might have done a lot of nudging and prodding, but we certainly gave them a taste of what it’s like to actually be the one in charge… I really didn’t think we could have made life much more challenging if we tried, so we threw some drills and emergency scenarios at them as well just to make sure, this is sail training after all. We were all getting very tired, physically and emotionally; frustrated at not getting to see the Azores, some were seasick, sleep was in short supply due to the lumpy seas, and the end was not quite in sight yet. But still, we all had 42 other people to talk to, hug, annoy, dance with, laugh and share food with. Your shipmates are your family, and that’s what gets you through the hard times.

We reached the English Channel eventually, and had one night of glorious respite tied up in Portland where we once again took on food and fuel as well as the charts for the previously unexpected next leg, and then set off once more for Cuxhaven, Germany. We took the scenic route along the Dorset coast, which is a piece of coast I am very familiar with as it is Pelican’s old stomping ground and magnificent to behold from the sea. (Many didn’t believe me that Durdle Door is in fact a dragon until they saw it for themselves!). We also had a Coastal Rescue helicopter fly by and practice some hovering over us – the trainee on the helm’s face as she realised there was a helicopter right over her head but she had to keep concentrating on keeping a steady course was a picture! The wind may not have been very useful, but it was mostly light and the sun shone brightly as we made our way up the rest of the Channel, through the Dover Straights and on up into the North Sea.

The end was now in sight and now people were starting to think about leaving. In the mess room, envelopes with everyone’s names lovingly drawn and illustrated were strung up along the bulkheads and when not busy with other duties, the trainees were all writing letters for each other to read after they got home. Despite not being able to show their parents around when they got there, they still wanted to the ship to look as good as she possibly could for our arrival, and many hours were spent sanding, oiling and polishing the helm and compass binnacle on top of our usual cleaning and maintenance routines. They practiced shanties and planned what to wear and drilled climbing in formation. Thoughts of home and families and real beds and pets and going to the fridge and eating whatever you like mixed with not wanting to leave; sadness at not seeing these crazy people every day, not being able to get a hug whenever you needed one, not seeing the sun rise over the sea in a million hues of pink or dolphins leaping at the bow. The prospect of returning to reality after a long trip at sea is daunting at the best of times, but we weren’t even sure what reality we were coming home to – not the one we left, that was for certain.

All things must end though, and so we arrived into Cuxhaven with the yards manned, the trainees aloft all resplendent in their red oilskin trousers and blue hoodies, belting out shanties that echoed around the port while their parents clapped and cheered at a socially acceptable distance from each other behind the port fence. It was glorious.

I cried a fair bit that day, I’ll not lie, but it was a happy sort of crying – tired, proud and knowing I was going to miss the lot of them despite their strops and eye rolling and huffing and generally requiring chasing around to get things done – but that’s the thing; in those 6 months we had become a family. In this line of work, as well as being sail trainers and teachers, we are stand in parents, and as such, our job is to teach them about life. It’s not an easy task, teaching “Life 101” is difficult to lesson plan for but I think we do a pretty good job of it nonetheless. The real impact of this or any sail training voyage is going to be seen by their parents, family and friends far more than us though, the life skills we have given them will take root and grow and I am quite certain that we will see great things in the future from many of them.

So what now in these weird times? Well, we had to get the ship home first of all; as soon as the last teacher had left we were off, with just the 7 of us Permanent Crew (having dropped the Doctor off in Portland). The weather was cold but fair and we even managed over 24 hrs under sail alone as we made our way along the south coast of England. We picked up a few extra hands at anchor in Penzance so we’d have enough people to moor her and then made our way to our home port of Sharpness where the ship has laid up for the moment. We have had to cancel at least the first part of our summer programme sadly and while this does mean we can achieve some maintenance, we are not even able to get large contingents of volunteers on-board to help due to social distancing. So, we are hunkering down, doing what we can, plodding along and keeping afloat (metaphorically as well as literally) and will be back as soon as we can, this may be as early as August, but nothing is certain yet, I am keeping my fingers crossed! The next Ocean College voyage is for certain though, and either way, I can’t wait to meet and welcome on board the next Pelican Family.

Tall Ship Pelican of London is operated by Adventure Under Sail, registered Charity No. 1124276. Please visit http://www.adventureundersail.com for more information

Adventures in the Caribbean

We are now on route to Curacao as I write this, the last week or so has been busy to say the least!

We arrived into Soufriere, St Lucia on the morning of the 10th; after 18 days at sea crossing the Atlantic some of the students had mixed feelings about this as they had settled into the routine of life at sea so well that they wanted to carry on going! One thing they were very happy about though was the opportunity to go swimming off the ship. Anchored in the shadow of Gros Piton, looking up at the jungle covered slopes of the island and out across the Caribbean seas makes for quite a deluxe swimming pool!

We had a full day at anchor the next day and the students spent the day exploring ashore, however we pulled some of Blue watch back to the ship in the afternoon as they needed to do some planning: The first set of watch handovers started the next day; for a short leg we put the students into our shoes and let them have a taste of what is involved in being the Permanent Crew! All three watches got a go, choosing amongst themselves who would be Captain, Mate, 2nd Mate, 3rd Mate, Engineer, Bosun, BM, Cook etc. Of course, we’re standing right beside them to nudge, guide and help but the aim is to get them running the ship. They all did really well and I think they now have learned that our jobs aren’t just all about drinking tea and asking the helmsperson “How’s your head?”.

Blue Watch took over for the first leg from Soufriere to Bequia, the overnight passage went smoothly and we arrived into Bequia bright and early on the morning of Friday 13th, only to make our approach to the anchorage in the in the absolute drenching, deluging rain. We put down both anchors just to be safe, getting absolutely soaked to the skin in the process, and then it was hands aloft to harbour stow the squares. Of course, in accordance with Murphy’s Law, as soon as we had finished all of that the rain stopped.Soon the sun was out and we started to get the students ashore by boat, as we were nearing the last load we got confirmation that we could shift to the berth for a night alongside. Those who were left onboard leapt into action to help us get mooring lines out ready before we dropped them ashore as well and shifted the ship with just the Permanent Crew. We were very grateful for the opportunity to do this as the locals put themselves out by moving some of the ferries to give us room for the night – thank you guys!

Bequia is an absolutely gorgeous island, and I will never tire of visiting it, and I’m certain the students enjoyed it as well, of course it rained buckets again that evening, but it’s warm rain and really rather pleasant after all the hot sweaty days of baking sunshine! Next day we had to shift off the berth again and go back to anchor, but it’s not exactly an arduous RIB run, and the view is pretty spectacular as you zoom across the bay.Sunday 15th was our next handover, this time White Watch were in charge. An 0500 start meant a long days sailing, taking us this time from Bequia back to St Lucia again, but a different anchorage – Vieux Fort this time, where we stayed for a couple of nights to allow for planning before Red Watch took over and we headed for Carriacou on the 17th.

Mizzen watch took the bridge at 0400 the next morning, (the watches got mixed up for the handover and so also got renamed to prevent confusion!). The wind overnight had been a fairly steady F5-6, with occasional small squalls, so we were running under the Topsail, Fore Gaff and Inner Jib, motorsailing to keep on track for Carriacou. As 0500 approached, yet another squally blob showed up on the radar and I watched the anemometer carefully as it came over us; as with all the other squalls we’d had, the wind picked up by a couple of knots and all appeared to be normal, when suddenly, BAM, 40 knots of wind, followed immediately by my least favourite sound – that of a sail tearing. “Starboard 20 to bear away, Call the Bosun, Call the Captain, standby to hand the Topsail! Midships and steer 255” The team leapt to action, the Bosuns and Captain were on deck in minutes and we handed the now rather sorry looking Topsail. It was the older one, which we knew was nearing the end of it’s useful life, and these things happen, but the sound of a sail tearing is like nails down a blackboard to me!

As we then then handed the inner jib to turn into the wind and make directly for Carriacou under engines alone, we noticed a bright light in the sky to the West, below the moon and definitely not a reflection, too bright and steady to be a plane and with a huge plume coming off it in one direction, almost like a comet. It lasted about 15 minutes, and unfortunately we were all too busy handing and stowing sails to be able to really drink it in. We think it must have been a rocket launch but it will always be a beautiful mystery moment, the morning as a whole is one I will never forget! On arrival in Carriacou the Bosunry department immediately started pulling out the spare topsail and derigging the damaged sail while I ran the students to Sandy Island for a day on the beach, by the time we had got them all ashore the sail was ready to be lowered to deck and the replacement ready to go up. By 1700 when the boat went to pick them up the sail was fully rigged and ready to go for the next day. Bosun Elie, BM Sam and 2/O Simon deserve medals for their stirling efforts that day, and probably a massage for their sore backs after leaning over a yard for several hours! Next morning we bid farewell to Carriacou, and having sailed off the anchor, once again set the squares with the wind on our backs, heading west for Curacao and Christmas.

The Canaries

La Graciosa

Greetings from a rather damp and grey Tenerife! We’ve had some cracking sailing over the last few days and the sunshine has been beating down on us so it’s actually a welcome change, as long as it’s gone soon. From Essaouira we sailed to the Canaries, stopping off at La Graciosa first of all where I had a wander around the village, had my first swim in the sea and had a delicious ice cream. On my return to the ship I sailed us off the anchor and we had a quiet peaceful sail down the coast of Lanzarote to Isla De Lobos, arriving in the very early morning. The water was so still and clear that when we turned the deck lights on after anchoring, we could see the bottom!

Once the day had finally dawned and a hearty Sunday breakfast had been devoured, we could see the anchor chain laid on the sea bed and when we took the seaboat in to investigate landing on the island I had an aquarium view of the fish – no need to snorkel! Isla de Lobos is a fairly barren volcanic island in it’s infancy, still strewn with volcanic rocks and only a few scrubby bushes. Naturally when faced with such an alien looking landscape, Captain Ben went into full Star Trek Captain mode, so I became Spock and Project Manager Miriam turned into Bones, we set phasers to stun and searched for signs of life – quickly realising that it was far too early and that no-one would be around for another few hours. We returned to the ship, once again admiring the view to the sea floor below, and with water like that, how could we not have a swim, so it was all hands to bathing stations, also a perfect opportunity to test out the small training liferaft we had inflated the day before in our abandon ship drill!

The students were dispatched to the island after lunch for exploration and I had my afternoon nap, a very important part of my day when you remember I start work at 4 am. I did get a lie in next morning though as we only started at 0500. We weighed anchor once again and set off in the dark for Tenerife, once he’d overseen the unparking bit the Captain buggered off to bed again, leaving me to it with my watch. By the time he returned at 0800 I had us flying along under sail alone, well, 5.5kts in 13 kts of wind ain’t bad, and we had a lovely day under canvas as we made our way to Tenerife. The wind dropped off sometime in the middle of the night so our morning watch today was motor-sailing, but we were treated to an impressive view of the island as the sun came up behind us. Rather than come straight in we took advantage of freshening winds to get in some tacking and wearing practice, followed by a Man Overboard drill, going from under full sail, we got all the sails handed and rescued the casualty in 11 minutes! We have a few days here now, a final chance to stock up on European goods before we head further south and west, to take stock of what we’ve achieved so far, and while the students climb a volcano we shall have a day or so for some maintenance. And perhaps a visit to a pub…

Vigo to Essaouira!

Blue Watch

The weather continues to be a fickle fiend; after coping with the strong Westerly winds we experienced in Biscay we left Vigo in light North West winds – perfect for sailing… Unfortunately they soon died off and turned South so we have had to continue motoring. Still, calm seas and blue skies are far nicer to be out in than short seas and grey skies.

Everone is starting to really settle in to life on-board and the deck department is able to crack on with some of the neverending maintenance that is so vital to the smooth running of a square rigger. We have also shaken up the watches and moved to a fixed watch system. This enables us to run lessons while making sure everyone gets enough sleep: the 3 watches (Red, White and Blue) are split in to A and B. A watches take the morning shifts on the bridge while the B watches have school lessons, and then A watches have school in the afternoon while the B watches take the bridge in the afternoon. (If you think it sounds complicated, pity me; I’m in charge of organising all of this for the next several months – everyone will do every watch shift at some point…..)

I get Blue watch, and this lot have proved themselves be utterly mad, wonderful and fantastic. We’ve already danced the Macarena at sunset, hit the 1000 mile mark, spotted many dolphins, set and handed sails at silly O’clock in the morning, or at dinner time (sorry Abbie!), met some friends who blew in on the winds far from land, successfully not crashed into several big ships and tiny fishing boats and have seen Orion’s Nebula and the Andromeda Galaxy! At some point soon the A and B teams will swap over so the people I spend my afternoons with will be with me at 4am until we reach the Cape Verdes, at which point we shake the watches up again and I will have a whole new Blue Watch team to share the night sky and the sunsets and sunrises with. Blue watch is always the best watch 😉

#StopMicroWaste

This morning I got to go for a walk on a beautiful white sandy beach, on a marine reserve island off Vigo. I was looking forward to exploring a little, finding some pretty shells and taking a little time to relax.

As I stepped onto the beach my eye was drawn, not by the colours of shells but by the bright greens, blues and reds of bits of plastic. Within 20 meters I found a plastic bottle and a little piece of my heart broke. I spent my hour ashore collecting the rubbish I found, and I only covered about 40 square meters. I filled that plastic bottle with scraps of plastic; lollipop sticks, bits of fishing net, bottle tops, cigarette butts, wrappers, bits of polystyrene and a myriad of other unidentifiable plastic bits, most no bigger than my little fingernail.

It made me happy to do something positive with my time, knowing full well that on the grand scale of things, my actions alone make no difference. But if we all did something small, regularly, it would make a difference. Take your rubbish home; pick up rubbish when you see it, wherever you are; don’t let plastics enter our oceans, our rivers, our canals and our streams. Do your bit and together we can help to make our amazing planet better.

Sailing – It’s a Rock n’ Roll lifestyle!

I write this from my bunk as I lie here waiting for the rolling to stop. The blood rushing to my head every time we roll to starboard and my feet hitting the bulkhead every time we roll to port is not conducive to sleep. After a week alongside on shore power I am now trying to sleep with our main engine chuntering directly below me while sliding up and down my thwartships bunk. Sleep has been elusive to say the least. At least I don’t have to contend with seasickness to boot.

Our intrepid bunch of students and teachers, most of whom have never sailed before, have suddenly been faced with the harsh reality of life at sea on a Tall Ship in the Bay of Biscay. It was a gentle river passage from Bordeaux on Monday morning, with cheering and singing as we passed under the lifting bridge, and then fitting harnesses in preparation for climbing and watchkeeping. We were midway through getting everyone Up and Over when we reached the sea around mid afternoon and were immediately introduced to life on the ocean wave by a squall. Oilies were donned and as the rolling started we ceased hands aloft training. 2 watches have done their first climb and the final watch will get their chance at anchor tomorrow. We taught them all how we brace instead as we needed to change the angle of the yards to give us the least windage and then started to settle in to the routine of life at sea.

When I came up on watch at 4am the swells were about 2 meters high, by 8am they were at 4 meters. It was an uncomfortable night for all, with the majority of the crew, including the permanent crew, feeling seasick to some degree or other. The Bosun, the Cook and I are lucky swine and seem to be the only three who are completely unaffected. Nevertheless, everyone on-board remains in good spirits, despite many of them regularly leaning over the side for a quick up-chuck. Better out than in!

I went up with the Bosun and Bosuns Mate to release the topsail from it’s gaskets after breakfast and it was soon set, making us a little more stable. After that I did some cleaning as our poor trainees really aren’t up to that yet as they find their sea legs, if we set them to cleaning stations while they’re seasick I fear they’d end up making more mess, and while I don’t get seasick, I do not cope well with vomit!! Tomorrow however, we will have reached an anchorage on the French/Spanish border and had a few hours of peaceful and still rest, so we should be able to get them working then without making anyone feel worse. Already though, some of them are starting to come through it and all of them are being absolute troopers.

In a few days I expect most of them will have become used to this strange way of life, rolling and bobbing about as we do. They have 6 months of this ahead of them and it does take a bit of getting used to, as well I know. Right now though, I just can’t wait for the engine below me to be turned off so I can get some sleep. I too am currently unused to sleeping while alternately landing on my head and then my feet every few seconds. I’d do pretty much anything for a fore and aft bunk in weather like this!

Last leg

12th June 2008

Days 59 – 64
Faial to Sao Miguel

Our first full day in Horta was a very relaxed affair, we pottered about the town a little, looking at the shops, the most popular of which was “The Chinese Shop” it sold anything and everything, from ball dresses to toy catapults, with some very dodgy items in between! The weather wasn’t particularly kind that day, with occasional showers and general greyness, but a few people went for walks along the shore anyway and most of us ended up in Peters bar at some point. They do very good steaks there, which, of course, was the main attraction ;-). We didn’t stay out all that late that evening and I ended up sitting on deck with a small contingent, sharing a few songs before hitting my bunk.

The next day was much better, we had a large grey cloud sitting above us for the first part of the morning, but there was blue sky on either side of it and eventually it got the message and went elsewhere. There were two excursions organised for the day; Lesley, David and a few others had booked a taxi to take them up to the Caldeira and pick them up after a couple of hours, and Clover had signed six of us up for a jeep tour of the island. We met our guide at about half two and set off, going inland though immaculate little villages and lush green pasture land. Being a volcanic island, it goes up pretty fast as you move in and we soon started to Ooh and Ah over the view. We went past a couple of little baby volcano hills, there are many of these around the island, they’re called smoke pots locally, little offshoots from the main vent of the mountain, I just thought they were cute! Our guide was exceedingly friendly and chatty, telling us all about everything we saw and his life on the island too, he moved from Lisbon because he fell in love with a girl, and fell in love with the island, and I can quite see why! He took us off the main roads, down bumpy forest trails where exciting spicy woodland smells came in though the windows, I wish I could have bottled that smell, it was all mossy and peaty, dried pine needles and wet leaves… heavenly.

Our first stop was at a forest park, one of several places around the island where families gather at weekends. The trees are mainly laurel and a type of brazilian pine with towering tree ferns among them too. Cinder paths have been laid, rough stone or wooden tables with little matching seats or benches dotted between the trees and they’ve built a barbeque hut, beyond compare, out of the volcanic stone. It was five sided with a fire place on each face, free wood stacked underneath each, and a central flue up the middle. The whole place was beautifully clean, without a single piece of litter, even though the area is obviously well used by the islanders. I passed a long low building which was open on one side and divided into about six rooms, each with a long table down the middle, the one on the end was full of a large family party having a meal, they were having a grand old time and offered me drinks in return for taking their picture, I was greatly tempted, but I didn’t have long and had to pass.

We continued on to the furthest end from Horta, where the newest part of the land rears up in front of the lighthouse that used to mark the coast. The landscape here is in stark contrast to the lush greenness of the rest of the island, brown and grey and dusty, it is already eroding fast, leaving contour lines along the slopes and small canyons where the rain has washed the soft ground away. The volcano erupted in 1957, burying the few houses that were there and obliterating the harbour. The slipway is all that is left, the rocks around it make a sheltered pool of water where the islanders swim in summer, with the waves crashing ferociously on the other side. It wasn’t warm enough to swim there yet but there were a few people with fishing lines instead, I didn’t see many fish but in the rock pools there was a collection of Men o’ War that would have made me think twice about jumping in, no matter what the weather!

Our journey took us along the north coast for a while before we turned inland once more and headed for the main attraction, pausing briefly at Lovers Fount to taste the fresh spring water straight from the ground, and then taking the least foggy route to the top. The grey cloud that had been sitting above the peak all morning looked fairly set to stay but we decided it was worth a go anyway. When we got to the end of the road and got out it was low but still above us. The edge of the rim is quite sharp, wide enough for a path (which is the route the other party from the ship had chosen for their walk) but not wide enough for people to stand comfortably and enjoy the view. So they’ve put in a viewing platform just down from the top on the inside, connecting the outside world via a moss lined tunnel through the rock. Going through the tunnel and stepping out the other side feels like stepping into another world, the Caldeira drops away suddenly inside the rim, 400 meters down to the floor, where a miniature version of a volcano sits, covered in what looks like moss from so high up, but is in fact bushes and trees. Beside this hillock are two lakes, which come and go with the weather, they used to be a permanent lagoon but seismic movements have opened up cracks which drains the water into the rock below. The cloud was just above our heads, hiding the opposite rim from sight, but the wind was blowing into our faces, making the clouds fall and then drift up again so we caught glimpses of the other side from time to time. Outside the Caldeira the view was stunning, all the way down to the coast, which was bathed in glorious sunshine.

Our last stop was on a hill overlooking Horta and the harbour before we were dropped off at the quayside. Back on the boat we met the other group who’d been out, their day had not gone so well unfortunately, the clouds had been lower that morning and they had found themselves in thick fog as they walked the rim path. Even worse, Anthony slipped on some wet grass and sprained his ankle. The police were called and came out to find them, using the siren to draw the party to the car, and they were taken down to the town in style. At the police station they found the taxi driver who was supposed to pick them up had reported them for fare dodging when they hadn’t showed up to be taken home, all in all, not such a great day! It all got sorted out though, Anthony was X-rayed at the hospital and is now hobbling about with his ankle strapped up and taking it easy as much as possible, hopefully he’ll be recovered enough for the Tall Ships Race, which he’s set his heart on doing.

One of the things that makes Horta so special is the paintings, done by the crews that have passed through, on the harbour walls and quays. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way and is supposed to ensure safe passage home. Not wanting to risk anything, and also because it’s nice to leave your mark on a place, Polly and Jessie set to with the paints and produced a stunning design for us. Jules also did a painting, based on one of her beautiful photos of the ship at sunset, so theoretically, we should have a really great passage home!

We left Horta after lunch the next day and had a very pleasant afternoons sailing between the islands of Pico and Sao Jorge. I felt rather disorientated that night when I wandered out on deck, there were lights all around us and I’ve become so used to staring out at nothing in the dark now that it was a complete shock!

In the morning we met the Tall Ships Youth Trust ship Stavros S. Niarchos off the south end of Sao Jorge and made a few evolutions with them. I got sent out in the RIB with my camera to record the occasion and got some lovely shots of the pair of us. We couldn’t hang about for long though as we still had over 100 miles to go to get to our destination, so we waved goodbye and carried on. The skies remained grey but we made good time and by breakfast the next day we were cruising along the coast of Sao Miguel.

We anchored off the town of Vila Franca do Campo, near to a tiny volcanic island called Baxia das Cracas. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but when we took the RIB in we were presented with the most beautiful lagoon, surrounded by rocks ranging from a few feet above the water to towering cliffs. I and some of the others spent the afternoon there, scrambling up the rocks to admire the view, paddling along the weird semi circular beach that had water on both sides and enjoying the sunshine. A few brave souls went swimming too, myself included, I borrowed a snorkel and mask and saw lots of beautifully coloured fish in the rocky parts where the water was washing through the cracks in the cliff from the other side. I went out to the deepest part too, swimming happily along until I saw a jelly fish, at which point I back-tracked at great speed! After my swim I climbed up another part of the cliffs and was rewarded by another fantastic view but I also enraged the nesting seagulls who dive-bombed me, screaming their displeasure, it was worth it though and I returned to the ship a happy girl.

We’d picked up some new people earlier in the afternoon; Nick, who left us in Antigua; Bob, who’s another old Astrid fan; Ben, Alison’s son, and Georgie, who’s an old school friend of Jessie’s. She’d kept it a secret that she was coming out and so the two greeted each other with much squealing and tears. The watches have been re-jigged and I am now Forward Port watch’s leader, with LJon, Ben, Georgie and Nick as my team. Polly’s now leader of After Starboard, and has Rachel, Mick, Ray and James with her, Rob is still Aft Port, but now has Eric, David, Lesley and Anthony on his team. Poor Ant has lost his watch to Alison as he can’t really do the job on a sprained ankle, so she is now in charge of Forward Starboard, with Jules, Jessie, Terry and Bob to keep her company. We have sadly lost a couple of crew, Becky has gone back to her other job and Oli is taking some leave. Lucinda is doing a fantastic job in the galley now, but we shall continue to miss both leavers greatly. Clover is still with us, but is not in the watch system any more, as the medic she needs to be available at all times and so she is now going to fill her days as a day worker, helping Bosun Keith with the battle against rust, which we are currently winning, I am pleased to say.

There was a festive air that evening on the ship, we ate a fine feast on deck to welcome the newcomers and celebrate our achievements so far, the weather helped matters by being gorgeous too. We were visited by a local fishing boat, who first tried to sell us fish and then rather cheekily asked for beer too. They went away but then returned a little later asking us for a battery, as we didn’t have such a thing there was little we could do and they started back to the shore, at which point their engine died so we ended up launching the RIB and giving them a tow back. Silly Portuguese people!

We motored to Porta Delgada the next morning, had a wander around the town in the afternoon and then whole crew had a meal in a mariners bar that Captain Mike knows of old. The owner put on a slap up meal for us and we stayed long into the night, wobbling home merrily in the small hours.

TA2 Days 65-68
Sao Miguel and Northwards

After watching the Stavros come into the harbour we moved off and set sail for Old Blighty. It was a beautiful day and we put all the square sails up hopefully, unfortunately there was very little wind, as we were sheltered by the high cliffs of the south coast, so we took them down again and motored until we got around the headland. Once round the corner we got into a big swell on our nose, and found some wind blowing from the north west, so up the sails went again and we started on the long passage north, accompanied for a while by some large grey dolphins who put on a lovely show for us!

Our first day back at sea was decreed mental health day due to tiredness and sea sickness, so no happy hour and no classes 🙂 We were sailing well first thing in the morning on my watch but by late afternoon the wind had moved around further to the north, forcing us to head toward the Spanish coast, which we don’t want to do, so at sunset all hands handed sail in record time and we put the motor on for the night, hoping to find some better wind in the morning.

The news was good at morning meeting, the wind had come back round to the west a bit and we could start sailing again. The sun was shinning and we were cracking on nicely, when disaster struck. The main fuel line for the engine and generators had fractured and diesel was leaking into the bilge. The ship went into total blackout, no running water, no heads, no air con, anything that wasn’t immediately vital was turned off to save the emergency power supplies. Clover quickly got a ‘chuck-a-bucket’ system organised for those needing to relieve themselves and the engineer and crew got on with trying to sort out a repair. We were still under sail, enjoying the peaceful sounds of nothing but water and rigging and when we spotted a cargo ship on the horizon heading our way. We hailed them and asked if they had any engineering supplies we could have. As luck would have it, they had a spare pipe and LJon and Bosun Keith were sent over in the RIB to collect it. We hove to and they were soon back with the precious pipe.

It wasn’t quite as simple as all that though, the pipe wasn’t an exact match and the fittings needed to be altered to connect it properly, to do this the engineers needed a welder, which we have, but we had no power….. Somehow, miraculously, Chiefy got one of the generators going, giving Mick, who’d volunteered his skills as a agricultural engineer, the power he needed to do the welding. Meanwhile, we tacked ship and started sailing back in the direction we had come from, the Azores were still less than 200 miles away, by far the closest land, and if the worst came to the worst and we couldn’t get it fixed, we’d only be looking at corned beef sandwiches for a couple of days. However, by the late afternoon I heard a familiar sound, the air con starting up again, and then the engine coming on! We tacked once more and set sail for home again, marvelling over such amenities as flushing heads and electric light!

After about an hour of sailing, it became apparent that the wind wasn’t going to play nicely, so we took in the squares, leaving the spanker and jib up, and motor sailed through the night.

Today the wind has continued to play it’s own little game, it’s far too northerly to sail in the direction we want to go in, so we are continuing to motor- sail, keeping as close to the wind as we can. Watch this morning wasn’t a particularly fun experience, cold and grey with intermittent drizzle, a lovely welcome back on deck for Ant, who’s been swapped into my watch with Nick and is now fit enough to stand (well, sit, really) lookout duty.

I can smell chocolate cake wafting out of the galley as I write, it’s Jessie’s birthday today so I expect there shall be some fun and games later.

TA2 Days 68 (Continued) and 69.
Still going North.

Well, Jessie is now a grand old lady of 19 years and we acknowledged her birthday in the traditional Pelican manner- as a special treat she didn’t have to scrub the heads yesterday, just change the bin bags and top up the bog rolls! We also had a little party in the evening for her, Jules organised some geography based fun and games to entertain us before the cake was finally brought out. The smells of which, wafting from the galley all afternoon as I got myself up to date on the blog, had me near drooling, and we were not disappointed by the final product!

The wind had died almost completely by this morning, which made our passage much smoother, we still had a swell coming over from the north west but were no longer crashing down into the troughs so much. There was hope on the horizon that a wind in the right direction was coming our way, but meanwhile we continued to motor. It has been a good day for whales though, which always brightens us up, I was on helm at about 1300 when two big Minki whales surfaced about 20 yards from us on the port beam. The previous watch had also had sightings and later in the afternoon we were visited by yet more, all fairly close to the boat, which surprised me a little as I would have thought the noise of the engine would have put them off.

Our hopes and prayers for a decent wind were finally answered this evening, just after first sitting for supper the watches on deck were called to put up the sails and the engine was turned off. After 2 days of motoring it was weirdly quiet; we still have the generators going, which previously we would have considered to be quite noisy, but we now appreciate them a whole lot more, given recent events! Right, off to bed for me, I’ve only got an hour and a half before watch!!

TA2 Days 70-72
Heading Northeast now….

The wind dropped off again to a rather pathetic force 3 on Sunday and we made slow progress as we waited for the weather to change. According to the forecast, there was wind blowing strongly and in the right direction just above us, so we plodded on. The weather has become noticeably colder as we come north, and all but a brave few are now in long trousers. Most of us are choosing to spend much less time on deck, opting more for the snug warmth of our pits or the elegance of the saloon. Polly was up on the Poop for much of the afternoon though, working on two massive Turks head knot mats around the spanker sheet blocks. We had been using a doormat up until now to protect the deck, but these look far better and stand no chance of being washed overboard either. I meant to get some rest that day but ended up doing homework and learning how to do a good whipping with Keith. (That’s rope work, not the other sort…. Oh I’m not making it sound any better am I?) Anyway…

We came up on deck for watch at 0400 yesterday morning and all was much the same, about 5 knots of wind were taking us no-where fast. The Mate decided to bring the furling jib in as it wasn’t doing much, and thank god he did. As we were up on the foredeck handing it in the wind suddenly picked up to 20 knots and whipped round to the other side of us, sending sails flogging all over the place and the watch into a frenzy of activity. We sheeted in the remaining jib, braced the yards and sheeted in the coarse, took in the royal, went aloft to stow it, then came down again to take in the t’gallant and then back up to stow that one. We were absolutely knackered after all that but still had to do a deck scrub before breakfast! The wind blew a hoolie all day, at one point we got up to 9 kt when I was on the helm in the evening, albeit only briefly, most of the time she was doing about 8.5 kt. We were in a huge swell, rollers 5 meters high came sweeping past, tipping the ship alarmingly at times, it looked as if we were in for a lumpy night.

This morning I awoke refreshed, having used my earplugs last night I missed the beeping that was coming through the tannoy and keeping everyone else awake most of the night. The wind had fallen off a fair bit by breakfast and we wore ship at about midday as the wind is slowly moving round again, the lumpiness has dropped off along with the wind, although we are still bobbing about a fair bit, I’m hoping it might become a little flatter by 4 (in about an hour) as we have ‘THE GREAT PELICAN EGG DROP’ then. Each watch has been given an egg (ours is named Derek) and the challenge is to construct something to prevent the egg from breaking when dropped from the main top platform, points are awarded for design, presentation, keeping it whole and highest drop achived. I have high hopes for our watch’s entry, the ‘Blue Beehive’ a multi layered cocoon, involving (in order from inside out) loo paper, an ear bud tub, cereal that no-one wants to eat, a plastic jar, my travel pillow and some fantastic knotwork ;-).

Afterwards…

Well, our egg survived but we were pipped to the post by Aft Starboard’s Bumblebee which flew a little further than our behive, and their secondary entry deserves much accolade too, the prototype for next year’s competition which was Ray’s ingenious design, he’s come up with a mind power tube through which the egg will travel as it falls, slowing itself down with the power of it’s own thoughts. Going through three stages, it first enters the Bosun’s section, where it finds itself in ‘Happy Hour’ and relaxes, experiencing a sense of laise faire, thus slowing down. In the second section it enters the wheel house, a place of poor communication and misinformation, so confused it becomes by all this, that it stops in it’s descent completely. In the third section, if all else fails and it makes it that far, it enters the galley, where it will find itself in a poaching centrifuge, which will scare it so much that it goes shooting back up the tube!

Forward Starboard came third, their egg remaining whole in it’s rocket, which came with instructions for safe landing on the side, which must have made all the difference. In final place was Aft Port’s entry, a bag of jelly, which went splat, along with their egg.

We celebrated David’s birthday that evening, Lesley had made him a chocolate cake which we ate with gusto, washing it down with a glass or two of wine. I found myself annoyed that I’d had a drink later, as when we were changing watch at midnight we needed to hand the royal, I’ve not been up the mast in the dark and was looking forward to this new experience, but as I’d had a drink hours earlier, the captain wouldn’t allow me to go up.

TA2 Day 73
Getting there..

I was on mess duty that day and thanked my lucky stars for it as the weather was truly antisocial. We were battling through wind and rain in a big swell, which had gotten bigger since we’d gone up from the deep ocean to the comparative shallows of the continental ledge, waves were flying over the deck on a regular basis and everyone spent several minutes dripping in the doorway before coming in properly! It was interesting being in the galley, I had to stand guard over things many a time, in case they decided to hurl themselves across the room, as it was, only three plates died that day, and Lucinda produced two stunning meals for us all, that woman deserves a medal!

TA2 Days 74 – 77
The English Channel!!!

The next day the weather had calmed itself and we had a good day’s sailing, we were getting into the bottom end of the English Channel by then and starting to see lots of ships, it made good revision for our RYA lights and shapes and rules of the road lessons, actually putting these things into practice hammers home how important they are. On dead watch (0000- 04000) that morning, amongst several other sets of lights around us, we spotted a single green light- a yacht, what we didn’t realise was how close it was until quite late, I was on helm at the time and suddenly found myself getting orders like “Port 20!, Starboard 10!” Once we had gone around it’s stern, it was easier to see how close it was, Ben radioed them and told them that they weren’t showing up on the radar, which came as a surprise to them I think, as they told us they had a radar reflector hoisted. Just goes to show the importance of keeping a good look out!

Later that day we gained a new member of crew, a racing pigeon, who stayed with us for about 24 hours, cadging a lift to France, he pottered around the deck, pecking at any brown shoes he saw in the hopes of food!

When I came up on deck for watch the next morning at 0400 we could see Alderny. The previous watch had been looking at it for some time too, the tide was against us at a rate of about 6kts so we weren’t actually making any progress. They said that at one point the ship had gone backwards! Luckily the tide turned soon after and we left the island behind as we headed for the French mainland. A good deck scrub got rid of the pigeon poo left by our feathered friend, (although he swiftly started undoing our good work!) and we finally got into Cherbourg just before midday.

Everyone was keen to get ashore and the ship was left eerily quiet, I decided to hang back and enjoy the calm before going ashore a little later. When I did head out, I expected to bump into people in the nearest bar, but they’d all managed to get a little further than the sea front, so I got myself an English newspaper and spent the afternoon sipping kir outside a little café bar and catching up on events back home, lovely and peaceful! Mick and Rachel found me there at about 6 and we went on together for a meal, indulging ourselves in a glut of seafood before meandering on to the Marina bar where we met up with Ben and Jules for one more drink. It was meant to be an early night for me as we had our RYA exam in the morning, but we ended up wandering home at nearly midnight!

We sat the exam after happy hour, generally it went well, though the French journalist who popped in near the end and started taking photos of us was a little off-putting! After that we were free to spend the afternoon as we wished before dinner. Lucinda did us an amazing ‘Last Supper’ of roast beef with all the trimmings and then, feeling rather full we headed out toward England. We were accompanied out of the harbour by a dolphin, who seemed to enjoy playing chicken with the RIB as it nudged the ship off the mooring. Sadly the wind was in exactly the wrong direction for us, so our last night at sea was done under motor. Forward Port stood our last watch of the voyage from 2000 to 0000, dodging ships in the busy traffic of the Channel made it a lot more exciting than usual too! It was a lovely night though and we were treated to one last stunning sunset before the stars came out to see us on our way.

TA2 Day 77
Weymouth!!!!!!!!!!

It was rather an odd sensation after all these months to come out on deck and see such a familiar coastline, there was Portland Bill, the chalk man and his horse, the cliffs of the Dorset coast, Portland Harbour, and nestling in the middle, Weymouth. We set sails one more time to do a little showing off out in the bay and then it was all hands aloft to stow for the last time. As we approached the harbour a small flotilla came out to greet us, friends and family shouting greetings across the water to the crew from yachts, dingys and small motor boats. We couldn’t stop and chat though as we had to man the yards as we came in, our PA system blasting out Monty Python and firecrackers exploding as a certain crewmember chucked them out from where they were standing on the topsail. I’d bagged myself a spot on the royal the night before so I had a fantastic view of everything. There was a band playing on the quay and a good crowd had turned out to see us come in. Something had to go wrong though, the wind was blowing us off the quay so it took us ages to get alongside, and we bumped the bow a bit, which was rather embarrassing! Still, it was only a little bump and nothing got broken, and all else was forgotten as the gangplank was put out and loved ones came aboard to welcome us home, drinks were laid on and the party started!

So that’s it, we’re home, my grand adventure is over…. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over the last few days, working out what to do next and the conclusion I’ve come to is fairly obvious if you know me. This is in my blood, metaphorically speaking, there’s no way I’ll ever be happy working on land, so I’ll be off to sea again. I’m already looking into enrolling on a deck officer course which would qualify me as an Officer of the Watch. With that under my belt I’ll be able to make good money on the tankers and cargo ships for some of the time, and then be able to go and play on the sailing ships for the rest. Running away to sea isn’t nearly so romantic as it sounds, the next three years will probably be quite dull a lot of the time, but I’ve finally found what it is I’m going to be good at, and in 10 years time I’m aiming to be Chief Officer on the Pelican, so watch this space!!

Life on the ocean wave – Crossing the Atlantic

21st May 2008

TA 2 Days 44 – 46
Bermuda to the Really Big Blue Yonder

How lovely it is to be sailing again, after all the waiting and uncertainty our freezer part arrived on Monday afternoon and the engineers worked late into the night to get it fitted and working for us, those guys deserve a medal. We were up early on Tuesday to get the frozen stores back on board before heading over to the dockyard to bunker alongside, and then we were off out into the big blue yonder. Bermuda disappeared over the horizon pretty quickly as we made way and the new crew started to find their sea legs. Some fared better than others, Mick turned the same colour as his shirt (pale green) and Terry turned ashen, poor loves. I am pleased to say that they’ve now returned to their normal colours and are doing fine. The highlight of the day was when Jules was surprised up on the foredeck by an orca (killer whale) blowing almost next to her, two more gracefully surfaced on the starboard bow briefly, only about 10m from the ship, a fantastic sight on our first day out! We had set off in fine sunshine with a stiff breeze but by the time Aft Starboard came up on deck for the First Dog watch (1600 – 1800), the sky was grey and dull and as we reached the end of the watch the rain started.

It was a miserable night for all the watches by all accounts, the rain was horizontal at times and when we got up for Morning watch (0400 – 0800) it was still going, it eased off gradually though, and as the first fingers of dawn reached out there were slivers of sky to be seen. By mid-morning it had become a glorious day with not a cloud in sight and we were able to take our ease on deck. Those of us doing the Day Skipper theory had a lesson on fixes and tides in the afternoon, which made my brain go a bit fuzzy as I was tired, but I got my head around it all later when doing my homework, always remember: True Virgins Make Dull Company!!

After a good nights unbroken sleep (the joy of a four watch system!) I was full of beans this morning, Forenoon watch passed uneventfully enough, with a nice break in the middle when Keith the Mate gave us a talk on sail trimming, I know now that we are not pushed by our sails, we are sucked by them, (unless we are running before the wind, when we are pushed). Polly’s brand new fishing lure has sadly been lost, something seems to have bitten it off over night, so she and Jessie are now improvising with some old bits and pieces they found on board, I hope they manage to get us something during the voyage, fresh fish is always such a treat! Everyone is settling down into the ships routine nicely now, hopefully in a day or so we’ll start some fun and games to keep us entertained, meanwhile we have lessons to get to grips with, and some sunbathing to do!

TA 2 days 47 – 49

It has begun. There is murder afoot. Four people were killed off today, and I have my suspicions that the sweet and lovely Mrs Hinton is the perpetrator of more than one of these heinous crimes. Alright, so I may have killed someone myself, and have my sights on my next victim, but it’s now kill or be killed on the Pelican, and it’s all Becky’s fault anyway…

Since I last wrote, we’ve had two days of glorious sunshine and today, which has been much less glorious but a heck of a lot of fun. On Friday we played with the mizzen topsail, which is the one sail that isn’t attached to any rigging and has to be hoisted up from the deck in a sausage. To prevent it from unravelling and flogging all over the place while it’s going up it’s tied with bits of rotten cotton, or in our case red knitting wool. Once in position above the spanker it gets sheeted out, the wool breaks as we heave on the rope, allowing the sail to unfurl. It worked first time, which I think even the Mate was slightly surprised at, though unfortunately our speed went down after we’d put it up. We also still have bits of red wool hanging off the rigging, which I think looks rather pretty, so I’m up for putting it up again!

Yesterday the wind started picking up a bit more, getting up to about 20 knots at times, the sunshine continued and after a busy morning of happy hour and rope-work lessons I found a bit of time to lounge on the foredeck after lunch. No sooner had I laid myself down on the deck though, and Keith the Mate was there asking me to pull on ropes because he wanted to play with the foresail. A voyage crew’s work is never done! I did get to go up the mast a couple of times though, which I always enjoy, I think in the end I managed about 20 minutes of sitting in the sun, and then it was time for class in the mess. We’re now learning how to calculate the course to steer, taking into account the tide, variation (the difference between magnetic north and true north, which is slowly but constantly changing) and deviation (how much your compass is out due to all the metal and electronic things you have around). It’s a bit of a brain ache sometimes, but I actually find all my mistakes are due to moments of utter blondeness, like pointing the plotter the wrong way along a line, even though it has a big blue arrow on one end of it saying COURSE! In the evening, as it was Saturday night, we had a pub quiz, with each round of questions compiled by a different watch. We were even allowed drinks, only two each, but in the middle of the Atlantic, after 5 days at sea, a glass of wine was a massive treat!! When the scores were totted up, Aft Starboard watch came second only to the permanent crew team, so we’re feeling quite smug with ourselves.

Today we had Morning watch (0400 – 0800) with a climb at the end of it to gasket the royal up; a sheet (that’s a rope to most of you) broke just as I was making tea to keep us going for the last hour, leaving one side of the sail flogging. The wind had increased steadily overnight and has stayed pretty consistent all day, it’s gone up to about 30 knots, which means we are now hooning along at an average of about 9.5 knots!! The sky has been grey all day and the sea has started throwing itself at us over the side occasionally, this is what I imagined it would be like! I’ve decided I like Sundays on board, we don’t have to do happy hour, (though the heads always get done) we don’t have lessons, and the captain invited the watch leaders to join the permanent crew for Sunday Service. This has me confused when I was told about it, apparently it’s a tradition, so I figured I’d just go along with it… What it turned out to be in fact was drinks (one each) and nibbles in the saloon, huzzah!! (Sshh though! It’s a bit naughty!!) After lunch the fun started, Becky has organised a game of Murder for us; each member of the crew has been given a contract on someone else, specifying a location and a weapon. To kill your victim you have to be in the right place and touch them with the object, you then take on their contract and pursue whoever they were supposed to kill. This should keep us entertained for days, as we are all now becoming increasingly paranoid and on the watch for people approaching us with random objects. Some of the locations are going to be very difficult to get the victim to as well, I thought James was looking at me funny this evening as we made ready to go up and stow the t’gallant, I was sure he was going to try and job me on the yardarm!

TA2 Days 50 – 58

Blimey! It’s been over a week since I wrote anything, and as we’ll be arriving in Horta tomorrow I need to get everything down so I can send the news home as soon as we get there, well, maybe after a visit to the much talked about Pete’s bar…

So, I last wrote on Sunday, when we were going great guns in winds up to force 7 and getting rather damp from the spray and waves coming over the side. My watch fared pretty well that day as we got a full nights sleep, but the other watches got the brunt of it in the small hours when the wind rose up a bit more and the rain started, apparently there was a waterfall coming off the spanker at one point! It calmed down as the daylight came in and by the time we came out on deck it was just another averagely grey day in a big old swell. We had good news at the morning meeting though, we’d done 200 miles in a 24 hour period!!(That was 3am-3am which I suppose is cheating a little, in the 0000-0000 period we only did 198 miles, but that still beats Pelican’s previous record!)

The day passed uneventfully until the evening when we were joined by a large pod of dolphins who played in the bow wake for quite a while, much to the delight of all on board as we’d not seen any up until that point. Since then we’ve seen quite a variety of dolphins and they’ve become a less of a novelty. We had a pod join us a few days ago which Ben announced to the ship over the tannoy in the most bored tone of voice possible, as if he was back at Kings Cross Station telling us the train was delayed.

Tuesday started off equally grey and wobbly, with a fair old mist around us too which made the world look smaller than usual. Just after lunch we spotted a mast on the horizon, a cause for some excitement as the closest we’ve been to another ship has been several miles. This one was a small yacht, looking very small against the swell which hadn’t abated since the stormy weather of the previous days. The bridge hailed it on the radio several times, but received no response, so the decision was quickly made to hand the sails and go and see if they were alright. The crew responded magnificently and we had the sails in in a trice. We motored back toward it, noticing as we got closer that it was looking distinctly haggard. The jibs, though stowed, were hanging over the side of the bowsprit, and the mizzen mast was down across the stern, lines were hanging in the water all over the place and there was a life ring over the side too. We launched the RIB as per the drill we’d practiced in Hamilton for emergencies and sent Keith, Keith and Little Jon over to investigate. We watched anxiously as they drove over the huge swells and Keith the Mate boarded the vessel, he checked it thoroughly and they then returned with a bag containing the ships documents, there had been no-one on board, but there were bags packed and ready to go on the bunks. The captain put a call out to the coastguard and they were able to shed a little light on the situation, the two person crew had been rescued by another boat a few days previously, leaving the boat to drift after she broke her tow. The documents that were retrieved told us some more about how they’d come to grief, Keith the Mate read us excepts from the log the next day as a lesson on how little problems can so easily mount up into disasters, and a reminder that tiredness is just as dangerous as a gale.

After the sobering events of the day we had a complete switch of mood for the evening, it was Alison’s wedding anniversary so we had a party to celebrate. Everyone got dressed up in their finest togs and we had cake and toasted the happy couple. As Alison’s husband isn’t on board, James kindly stood in for him as he and Alison share the same surname!

Wednesday passed peacefully enough, the weather had improved somewhat, but not enough to get everyone out sunbathing yet. The highlight of the afternoon was a pod of whales passing us, not particularly close, but still closer than most of the ones we’ve seen, they were being followed by dolphins too, leaping clear out of the water as they dashed along, presumably after the fish the whales were hunting.

By Thursday lunchtime the weather had improved beyond all measure, the sky was blue, the sun was shinning, but, unfortunately, this also meant that the wind had died! Captain Mike decided it was a good opportunity for a photo run in the RIB for those of us who wanted to get some pics of Peli in full sail. We had nearly everything up, including the Mizzen Topsail and she looked glorious against the blue sky, bearing down on the little RIB as we crossed in front of her to get the best aspects. Sadly the wind didn’t pick up at all and by late evening we were only doing abut 2.5 kt, it was only then that Mike finally admitted defeat and we stuck the engine on at about 10.

When I awoke in the morning things were peaceful again, which had to be a good sign. Sure enough the wind had picked up a bit so the donkey had been put to bed and the squares had been re-set. We had a lovely day sailing on smooth seas and the sun stayed with us all day which got everyone out on deck trying to boost our fading Caribbean tans.

Written on Wednesday, Horta.

The fair weather stayed with us for Saturday, it wasn’t quite as warm as the day before though so the tanning saloon didn’t open. Most of the day was spent creating our costumes for the evening’s party, it was open fancy dress and everyone rallied to the call magnificently (mainly because the rule was no costume, no beer!) We were an eclectic bunch that night, the party was made up of a priest (our esteemed Captain), a nun (Polly), a fireman (Oli), Colonel Gadafi (Rob), Bob the Builder (Engineer Mike), Somerset Maughan (Ray), Crocodile Dundee (Mick), an Admiral (Ben finding any excuse to put leggings on!), a greek goddess (Rachel), a diver (Lucinda), a mermaid (Becky), a gypsy (Jules), an engineer in a very tight boiler suit (Anthony in James’ suit), two jellyfish (David and Alison), a fender (Jessie), a south Cardinal buoy (Lesley), LJon came as Jessie (just an excuse to wear her bra and dress again!), James came as Francis, complete with the hairstyle and speech mannerisms, and I went as a carrot. As to why I decided on a carrot I am still at a loss, it seemed like a good idea at the time I suppose… We had a good laugh that night, our nun got groped quite a lot by the priest and the Admiral, (she didn’t seem to complain), and it seemed to me that there was a beautiful love affair starting between the fireman and our pseudo Jessie!

Sunday is a day of rest, so there was no happy hour and no lessons, we’ve been kept busy all through the week with our day skipper course and the subsequent homework, so it was nice to have a day off. The permanent crew and watchleaders held a Sunday service once again, purifying our souls with holy water (the fizzy kind, with a bit of gin to give it some flavour…) I do like Sundays!

On Monday it was back to the grindstone, the day skipper lessons aren’t getting any easier, we’re now working on calculating the tide fall to figure out if there’ll be enough water underneath the boat at low water, it involves tables and graphs and maths, which I’ve not had to deal with since school, which feels like a long time ago now! We were only about 90 miles from Horta in the evening, when Chiefy came up from the food store with some bad news, the freezer had died again, a cracked pipe this time. The freezer stays cold for quite a long time, especially if the door stays closed, but even so, we had to stick the motor on to get us to Horta as soon as we could. We took in the squares and while my watch and the watch due on after us ate supper, the other two watches went aloft to do a good harbour stow on them; finally I had my chance… I’d been waiting for Anthony to go aloft for the whole week, carrying my vicious weapon (dental floss) in my pocket. I eschewed pudding and timed my arrival on the main top to meet him as he came down and got him as he set foot on the platform, a most satisfying kill! That day was particularly bloody in fact, 3 or 4 people died, there’s only 7 of us left now, since Chiefy killed the black widow this morning (in the dive locker with a piece of toast!) I’ll give a full run down of the murders when the game is over, we who are left are busy puzzling over how to get our next victim, while trying to keep an eye on who’s still alive and how to avoid them!

Anyway, yesterday mornings wake up call was “We’ve arrived!” Peering out of the porthole we could see green stuff, with white and red bits on it too… Land! Houses! Uncensored amounts of BEER!! We moored up on a commercial berth while we waited for a big djinn place to shove off and then came across to the marina side of the harbour a few hours later. Then, finally, we were allowed ashore, by mid afternoon most of the crew was in Peters Bar, which we’ve heard so much about. It’s a proper mariners bar, the walls and ceilings covered in burgees and flags from boats that have passed through over the years, there are notes pinned to the wood above the bar for other boat crews to pick up and they also have a scrimshaw museum in the back which I’m hoping to have a nose round later. My watch pulled the short straw for night duty so I didn’t get wrecked, instead I got a good laugh at the drunkards as they wobbled back in the wee small hours. Still, now we’ve done our night we are free to go out for the next three nights, look out Horta, here I come!!!

Bored in Bermuda

5th May 2008

We’ve been sitting here for over a week now, and quite frankly, we’re bored!! Bermuda is lovely but very expensive and we came here to sail, not spend! So, the latest on the grapevine is that our long awaited freezer compressor is on its way, even as I write, it may have arrived, but even if it doesn’t materialise, we’re going tomorrow, if we have no freezer we shall make do on tinned and dry stores, which will be interesting.

Most of the week has followed a similar pattern, mornings have been taken up with happy hour and then training, afternoons have been free, mostly we’ve wandered around Hamilton, shopping or drinking in one of the bars on Front Street. I did get out on one of the ships bikes one afternoon, I went up to the north shore to sit on some rocks and cleanse my brain. It didn’t quite work out quite like that though, as I met some locals up there who were keen to chat to me, they were very nice and told me quite a lot about the history and geography of the island. The locals are all very proud of their colonial heritage and are very aware of the land they live on and how it got here, probably because they have to little of it.

Yesterday, Sunday, we got the whole day off, so after breakfast Polly and I got the ferry to Nelsons Dockyard, where we wandered about looking for a wooden boat that’s being built, climbed a tree and made a nest, did a little shopping and had a very nice lunch. After that we got the bus down the island to Horseshoe bay, where we did a little sunbathing and general lazing, we stuck a toe in the water and decided that it was far too cold for a swim, but a bit later I decided I smelt too bad and steeled myself for a dip. It was cold, compared to the Caribbean, but once in and swimming vigorously, I felt much warmer. I swam out to some rocks where there were some crazy prehistoric looking suckers stuck on, I later found out they’re locally known as Suck Rocks! When it was time to go and find a bus we wandered on down the beach, clambering over rocks to get on to the next beach along, where we found several more of the crew, they’d sensibly found themselves a much more secluded spot, away from the crowds on Horseshoe.

Today we started on our day skipper lessons, lots of chart work and learning of symbols, and I have homework!! (I can’t believe how excited I am to have homework, I used to hate it!)

Changes and a problem

1st May 2008

Bermuda
TA2 Day 36 – 38

We were joined by the rest of the new crew on Monday, and we lost Francis, Tom and Dave on Tuesday, which brings us now to a total of 25. Just in case you’ve not kept up with all the changes, including the ones I may have failed to mention at the time, the cast of characters now stands as this:

Mike Lovegrove – Captain, who I actually sailed with on Astrid on the Tall Ships Race 10 years ago, he’d joined as voyage crew for the heck of it.
Keith H- First Mate
Ben – Second Mate
Mike – Chief Engineer
Keith G – Bosun
Becky – Cook
Oli – Assistant Engineer
LJon – Bosun’s Mate
Jules – Science Officer

We have 4 watches now, which is a great relief to those of us who’ve been on the three watch system up until now;

Forward Starboard – Anthony, Jessie, Lucinda and Terry.
Aft Starboard – Myself, Lesley, Mick and Clover.
Forward Port – Polly, Ray, Rachel and David.
Aft Port – Rob, James, Eric and Alison.

Ant, Polly, Rob and I are watch leaders at the moment, but as the voyage progresses and everyone gets up to speed it will get swapped around so everyone gets a turn. The new faces are quite a mixed bunch, we have a couple of couples, David and Lesley, who’ve been married for 26 years, and Rachel and Mick, who are boyfriend and girlfriend. We have a 74 year old, Eric, who started sailing on Tall Ships in his 50’s, and we now have a medic, Clover, who’s been sailing forever, (ish). Lucinda is due to take over from Becky in the Azores, she used to work on the Soren Larsen where she was permanent crew. Alison is a country lass, who’s more used to heaving hay bales and is a qualifed tanner. She did a trip on the Malcom Miller 28 years ago, but hasn’t sailed since. Terry’s from Salford, retired now and up for adventures, this is the first time he’s actually seen a Tall Ship in the flesh, last year he learnt to fly a plane in Florida and next year he plans to learn to ride horses in Spain.

It was so sad to see the people we’ve become so close to go, but we know we’ll see them back in Weymouth when we come in. The change I failed to mention at the time was the loss of Nick, who left us in the Caribbean as he had to get home for some work stuff, we will be joined by him again in the Azores though, and we’ll have a beer waiting for him!

On Monday I was set the task of checking all the harnesses we have on board, a very important bit of maintenance as we put our lives in their straps when climbing the rigging. It took me most of the day to get them oiled and checked thoroughly but it’s good to know they’re in good working order!

Tuesday dawned with some bad news, the freezer compressor had died overnight, putting our plans for leaving on hold until further notice. We’ve been helped out by a local wholesalers who’ve kindly lent us some freezer space for the interim as the part we need is being flown out from the UK. It should arrive on Thursday, so we may be able to get off on Friday, time will tell…

What all this does mean though, is that we get to enjoy the island a bit more, we’ve been over the basic training with the new crew now, we did a bit more sail handling today and got a lovely harbour stow on the topsail and course in the morning. This afternoon we were free to do as we wished, Ant and I did some shopping and mooched about, nothing particularly interesting, but we’re going to have a full day out tomorrow, venturing further afield hopefully!