A Young Man and the Sea

A Summer of High Seas Adventure Aboard the tall ship EUROPA

The “Friendship” Sail

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 23, 2011

August 22, 2011

0605 – 52.44.9’N x 4.32.4’E

By Matthew Maples

                It was a good night, all sail aloft, dark, calm waters and a clear-starred sky. Our sail down the coast of Holland has already been one of the most pleasant of our summer so far. As they usually go, nice nights follow fine days, and so it was blue skies, sunlight, warmth! To report such good sailing weather would become tedious on our long ocean crossings, but here, in the north of Europe, our sailing, while excellent, has often been marred above by clouded skies. It says something when I can only remember one earlier clear night sky in nearly two months.

                It is fitting that we have such good weather, for this sail we are having is a special one. The “friendship” sail as I call it is a short, one day sail for just friends, family and crew (past and present) of the Europa. It seems that in recognition of our event that the weather gods are going to go easy on us, at least for a day.

                We left Harlingen at noon, in company with the Oosterschelde, a three-masted topsail schooner (also Dutch). Both the Europa and the Oosterschelde occupy the same home-office in Rotterdam, and several crewmembers of the Europa will also sometimes work on the Oosterschelde. So, we really are the “closest of friends” as our Rederij director, Reinoud told me yesterday.

                I don’t know if it was because the weather and wind was so perfect for sailing, or whether it was just a typical day offshore in Friesland because the coastal waters were full of traditionally-rigged Dutch boats. Several dozen at least, sailing to and from Harlingen.

                As soon as we left the harbor we hoisted sail aloft, quick as we could, then spent much of our afternoon bracing for winds as we cruised past the coastal islands of Friesland.

                We were sailing nicely until midnight, but then to make our date with Amsterdam today we had to turn on the engine. There is wind, but not enough.

                Just a handful of days ago we ended our European Project program with our youth group who began sailing with us in Halmstad. They disembarked in Harlingen, but not before cleaning out their cabins and scrubbing their toilets. Their time aboard was starting to show by the time we had made it to Harlingen. Many were getting much more used to the sail-handling. In Harlingen we needed to hoist aloft a photographic banner for decoration, and setting it requires running out booms needed for studding sails. I sent aloft a gang of our trainees to do the task, and many of them already knew how to shift out the booms and where to lead the lines down to deck from aloft for our banner.  I did not have to tell them how to do much of the project. Quite good!

                I think most of them got a lot out of the program, chief among them friends. It is a bit unfortunate, but it always seems to be the last several days of a voyage that everyone begins to really know one-another and gel together as a crew. It makes the departure of everyone and the break-up of that rapport seem premature when it happens. On their final night, they were allowed to decorate the ship and have a final farewell party, before waking up to clean it up.

                The tall ship races are finished and our European Youth project has ended. Now we get the ship to Amsterdam with our friends to finish her birthday festivities. Then, on the presumption that we have too good of a party, we will spend nearly half a month in Zaandam doing maintenance before she heads south again, to Spain, South America and finally, Antarctica.

Advertisements

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | 2 Comments »

100

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 22, 2011

17-08-2011 10:00 

1900 – 53°35.4’N x 5°16.1’E 

By Matthew Maples

Happy Birthday to us! The Europa celebrated her centennial birthday on August 13 in Hamburg, Germany. All who sailed on her, past and present, were invited to her exclusive party. Dozens of voyage crew from past sails came aboard to mingle their stories amidst our colorful deck, complete with trays of appetizers and evening drinks from the bar. Both Rederij director Reinoud and Captain Klaas gave speeches, toasting the alacrity of our ship and its equally adventurous crews. Klaas said the ship was even older than him, though he is working on that! Then our current trainees gave a short presentation detailing their eventful sail from Halmstad. No doubt those who were present had a moment to recall the experience of their first Europa sail.

On the 15th, Europa moved closer to the mouth of the Elbe River to berth in Cuxhaven alongside one of her sisters, Elbe 1. As you may (or may not know), the Europa was not always the Ocean-Wandering sailing bark and was not always counted among the most famous tall ships in the world. Quite the opposite in fact, she was a floating lighthouse! At anchor in the Elbe River, the Europa’s original name was Senator Brockes, and was third in a series of light-ships that guided mariners into the Elbe River, hence her original designation as Elbe 3.

A light-ship carried a mast with a light-house lantern atop, along with other signal lights. More than just an anchored lighthouse, she was also an information station.  The crew aboard Elbe 3 would also use flag and light signals to relay information to passing mariners. She was not completely without sails though and carried a few staysails for maneuvering.

Luckily for us, the Elbe light-ships of 100 years ago were still made with sailing ship hulls and, even more lucky for us they were made of extra-thick steel. While this makes her a heavy sailer today, this also means that we have a robust hull, strong enough to break the sea ice of Antarctica. It is that hull that allows us to venture so far south in safety.

1994 was the year that the transformation from light-ship hull to sailing bark was completed. Headed by Dutchman Harry Smit, the ship became what we know her today, an ocean-crossing bark made in homage to the last steel-and-canvas square riggers that carried ocean cargo up until World War II. As our signboard says, we now carry adventurous people instead of cargo through the world’s oceans, those who yearn to go beyond the sailing books and their yarning tales of aged men and women, and those who want to experience the prowess of the ocean-going square-rigger for themselves. It is more than a selling slogan for a signboard, this is indeed what we actually do and why we do it.

It was quite the juxtaposition to see the two ships together. Elbe 1, still emblazoned with the red of the light-ship and with a still-working light atop her mast, next to her white sister Elbe 3/ Europa. Could they speak, I would wonder whether Elbe 1 would be jealous of her well-traveled sister in her tall white dress and shining varnish accoutrement. A settling sun gave a wonderful backdrop for our pictures of the pair and was soon replaced by a low, full moon of unusual intensity.

Our trainees seized the warm night to hold their Europa-Vision song contest and  every country aboard sang a song in representation of their home country. Each then faced our American Idol-style panel of scrutinizing judges, our loquacious English barman Andy Dodds, his wife Sarah and the ever-pernicious Diven, one of our deckhands from South Africa, who was selected for his long-standing reputation for tough criticism.

The Belgians sang an anthem, the Danes spun a song of sailors’ lament for shore-side distractions, and England pounded our deck in tribute to Queen. The winning votes though, went to the harmonious voices of Portugal for a folk song they performed.

Our trainees did not wait for the night for fun, they also filled their day in Cuxhaven with an international tug-of-war match. One by one, each country faced off against the other to test their hauling skills – honed by our days of sailing. “Two-six, two-six!,” they howled as they dragged one mewling mob or another past the center line. The first pull went far against plan however, for they were originally given a thick rope to pull, but so strong were all the trainees pulling against one another that they immediately split the line and all fell on their butts! We had to get a spare mooring line, normally used to keep our ship attached to a dock, for them to use instead. That worked!

They also spent the entire first half of their afternoon scrambling to find all our cardboard, cans, duct tape and bubble wrap, for they had been issued a challenge to design a contraption that will save an egg from breaking if thrown from the mast! Many put theirs in insulated cans, the egg immersed in wet flour. One team even put their’s within a big ball of baked bread. Only one egg, its fall slowed from a garbage-bag parachute, survived the fall from the foremast platform intact. And no, it was not a hard-boiled egg!

Early on the 16th, the Europa left Cuxhaven to pay final respects to her past life as Elbe 3. Sailing past the permanent pillar and light that replaced her as a light-ship, a wreath of flowers was dropped into the waters of her former home. Then she carried on west and north, out of the Elbe River and back into the North Sea.

Since then we have been sailing. The voracious rain of our last voyage has given way to slightly warmer weather, some sunshine and twilight sunsets. A huge improvement! Not completely engulfed in the act of sailing hard (as from Halmstad to Hamburg) we have had time for fun, games, lectures and post-dinner banter on deck. All our sails are out and we are gently heeled over. A pleasant sail, overall.

Harlingen is our destination. There our trainees finish their European program. From there we sail to Amsterdam, to conclude our centennial celebration for our venerable bark.

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples | 2 Comments »

Real Deal

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 12, 2011

August 12, 2011

0500 – 54°22.3’N x 10°09.9’E

                By Matthew Maples

                “Busy” is a word that could be used to describe the Europa on any day of the year. However, the past few days seem especially deserving of this description. We have on board a full complement of young European trainees who have been fully integrated as crew. Not only are they doing sail-handling, steering and lookout, but their duties extend to ship’s maintenance and even cleaning. They are getting the real experience of what it takes to run a deep-sea sailer like Europa. From furling square-sails high aloft, to looking down the bowl of the day’s dirty toilet, they are left with fresh hands rudely blistered by rough rope and brains burned by their quick learning of our hundreds of lines for our sails. Cheeks and noses are reddened from hours in wind and rain.

                That alone is a daunting itinerary, but our trainees are packing yet more into their schedules. Their days go beyond the rails of our ship and ship life, to the boundaries of Europe. Sailing and sail-training is not the final goal for our trainees, our sails are a medium for cultural interaction. “Cultural Interaction” so what does that mean here? “Cultural interaction” is a mainstay on bark Europa, long before our current trainees arrived. Here, people from all over the world find themselves on a complicated sailing ship, needing to get from point A to point B. No single person can run this ship alone, many hands coordinated by teamwork make this ship run smoothly, and everyone needs to rise beyond the boundaries of their nation, its language and culture, to find the common ground on international waters on our international ship.

                The array of “most diverse” crew awards we win in tall ship festivals is proof of how bedrock this concept is on board our ship. This time though, our trainees, subsidized by the European Union are going a step further. They are systematically learning classroom-style about one another’s respective culture and tackling whatever in-built prejudices they may have. Best of all though, is that they are introducing tenets of their culture to others via cooking a dish of their homeland for us daily. Thus far we have had our Swedish dinner of meatballs, a British dinner of minced onion pie and a Belgian dinner of stoempf sausage and mashed vegetables.

                Hailing from Western Europe, Scandinavia and Portugal, our trainees are (I suspect) learning the most about each other when they are on long night watches at the helm, lookout, or passing time in the deckhouse. Meanwhile, I would fancy a bet that they learned the most about sailing during the squall we had yesterday evening.

                After the calm of our voyage’s outset, and the windy (but steady) passage south from Halmstad, our squall shook awake any who may have become lackadaisical about sailing. Our watch came on-duty after dinner to relieve our shipmate’s and sent them down below. Then, the church spires of light-lit Copenhagen were passing on our starboard and the sky had the lapis lazuli and violets of twilight above the clouds. Any sense of early evening calm was lost, for off in that starboard distance drifted darkened pillars of deep-blue and black clouds, highlighted by bursts of silent lightning. Walls of distant rain fogged the air and land beneath the clouds. Tthis squall would be no surprise, its wicked intentions were quite apparent from afar. This time, Captain Klaas did not go for his customary post-watch beverage or to bed. He stayed near the wheelhouse.

                We prepared. Halyards were made ready for rapid running as crew and trainees were stationed and ready to strike our highest sails. Then we waited. I stood at the helm with two trainees, watching our sails, wondering when we would almost certainly get hit. Te mate paced the deck in anticipation.

                I saw it before I felt it. With a sudden whoosh the square sails all went aback, followed by strong wind. A full second passed, then the ship heeled over to port. I put the wheel hard to port to fall off from the wind, but a moment later, Klaas, like the wind he was responding to, whooshed into the wheelhouse, taking over the rudder and giving commands for sails to be struck. The sails were quickly on their way down, pulled away from the wind by our mob of wide-eyed, line-sweating trainees.  Our top stack of squares, skysails, royals and topgallants were taken away and hands scampered aloft to furl them, securing them to the yards.

                It was an orderly sort of chaos, but we weathered it well. Our trainees learned something of the excitement of sailing and a taste of its testing dangers. Now they see first hand why it is important to work together, communicate well,  and exactly why we always Ballantine coil those halyards!

                That was the 9th. This morning of the 12th we have dropped anchor at the entrance of the Kiel Canal in Germany. The coast and islands of Denmark are in our wake and Germany lies before us. Our voyage has been inundated with rain. For days it has been gray skies, fog and perpetual rain – the kind that slowly seeps into some seam or hand opening of your foul weather gear, and drop by drop, hour by hour, slowly makes you soggy anyway. It is the kind of rain that drop by drop, creeps into the wheelhouse, alarming the mate who calls for towels to protect our navigation charts! Scarcely can a coat hook be found on ship where wet weather gear is not dripping in vain attempts to dry them before a next watch. It is the kind of rain that you hope ends when you go to your bunk, but awake to hear that it has not ceased, decreased, or even increased since! It is not awful, but I guess it will make us all appreciate the sun whenever it comes back to Germany. I think we are starting to get used to the rain.

                Better than the rain was our sail. We made it without engines for the vast majority of our little voyage from Halmstad to Kiel. The wind was quite variable, both in direction and wind speed, forcing us to set, dowse, and tack sail throughout our days all day. Lots of practical  hands-on sail training for this batch of trainees, particularly for a spell in which we had to tack multiple times to make our way west after coming south from Halmstad.

The fickle but sometimes tenacious wind was even putting tears into some of our sails, namely the outer jib and both our courses (lowest, biggest square sail). While underway, we took those sails out of our rig and bent on fresh sail, sparing no time before setting it again. Our trainees did an excellent job in being helpful to our crew, tying on numerous robands and hank lashings to get those sails attached strong and ready!

                Sailing, lots of wind, sail-handling, setting, furling, foul weather, fogged white-capped seas, tacking ship, sail repair and replacement…what more could our trainees want? They have weathered nearly the full gamut of the tall ship sailing experience.

                Maybe a day of motoring in the Kiel Canal will be a welcome relaxing of our pace? Or will they soon become bored with the iron jib doing all their work?

We have a date in Hamburg to make, a short stopover to celebrate the birthday of our venerable square rigger.

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | 2 Comments »

Fickle Neptune

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 8, 2011

05-08-2011 10:00
 0230 – 57˚15.5’N x 11˚49.1’E
By Matthew Maples
 
     King Neptune himself must have been upset with us – the race has ended early due to foul winds. A south-east wind blew in the face of all the sailing ships who tried to tack around the north-west coast of Denmark. The tall ship fleet must be in the Swedish port of Halmstad by noon today. With a tight schedule unfit for easy winds, there is but one thing we can do- douse all sail and turn on the “iron jib” down below and steam into the winds. After leaving Stavanger we went south, but needed to sail halfway to Holland before we could make a tack to carry us in between the Danish and Norwegian coasts, and even that tack was not in a position to pass a waypoint that was close to the coast of Denmark. For that we would have had to probably sail yet farther south to continental Europe.
 
     It is an inglorious end to a race that never really seemed to get started. From little wind to wrong wind, the race was ended by the race authorities at 1400 local time on August 3rd. Most ships were still under sail by this time, but a few of our competitors, such as Oosterschelde, Shtandart, Morgenster and Alexander von Humboldt, had abdicated their positions prematurely and turned on their engines. The trio of large Russian ships, Sedov, Mir and Kruzenshtern stubbornly stayed in the race, along with our the larger Scandanavian vessels such as Christaan Radich and Staatsraad Lehmkuhl. We can be counted among their number, tacking our ship until the end. In the preliminary results, we are set to finish 11 out of 20 in our class, and 44th overall.
 

    Though we have steamed forward since, it can hardly be said that we had a bad sail. On the contrary, it can be said that we had a good sail because of the bad wind. It forces us to tack, to maneuver our ship under sail. It causes us to muster most, if not all, of our ship’s company and forces us to work together and synchronize our efforts to turn our ship through the eye of the wind…using only the wind. I suppose that is what these races are really about, to get our multi-national crew and trainees to work as one and move our floating community down the coast without spewing exhaust fumes. No mean feat by any measure to maneuver a bark with nearly 30 sails and a crew that is largely new to the ship or even sailing. But we did it, again and again while we were sailing, and probably made a better experience for all of us because of it. As much as some of us might hope for, a good race may not necessarily be with steady winds off our quarter, fishing lines off the stern, drinks on the poop-deck and sun-bathers on the fore!

     Many of our trainees came to sail and perhaps they earned a better experience by having to make the most of a bad wind and to use their muscle and teamwork to brace, set-and-re-set our acres of canvas. Though discouraging that we could not make it to our port under sail, I think everyone understands that it is a lack of time and not ability that prevents this. 

       I don’t think they are that bummed anyway. I saw most of our trainees having “a jolly good time” on the sloop deck this sunset evening, learning Shetland Isle folk dances while one of our trainees, Iain Johnson, a Shetlander, burned away at his fiddle. Apparently they are learning some fun dances to do in the upcoming Halmstad crew parade – a new class aspect to Europa’s on-going pirate-and-mermaid theme?  They still have all the experience and camaraderie of being a part of a tall ship crew, whatever the weather. When not helping us with our character-building work, they seem to be having plenty fun enjoying the sea and its sights, as well as the fun of meeting and making new friends from other countries who also like to play card games.

       I think everyone ( and maybe the galley?) is enjoying the rash of birthdays we are having on board. Cake and pies for everyone and today is the fourth one in a row! Chocolate and cherry cake for our bosun Daniel Baxter, apple pie for Scott Anderson, pineapple upside down cake for Jonas Sandberg, and lemon pie for Lydia Feller. The galley has been in constant use for most of this voyage. It is a good thing we had all that tacking to help tackle burgeoning waistlines!

       We also had an unusual afternoon guest drop in on Wednesday. A wayward falcon landed on the baggywrinkle of our mizzen mast. Unexpected, but perhaps he did not expect to find a conveniently moving island with three trees out in the middle of the North Sea.

       And what of Neptune and the bow-chasing winds he sent us for this race? I suspect this is his punishment for the fleet not using the Force 7 winds he sent us in the Shetlands. No doubt many a sailor there had their fingers crossed for wind, and Neptune duly answered with a fine sailing wind…for the class A big ships! Perhaps he is wroth for our squandering of such winds! To make matters worse, the wind is supposedly going to stop being in our face and come from the west…the day after we are in Halmstad. Fickle Neptune! 

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | 2 Comments »

A Slow and Exciting Start

Posted by Tall Ships America on August 1, 2011

01-08-2011 10:00 

By Matthew Maples
It is the first night of our last race. There is little wind to fill the sails and the tall ship fleet is slowly sailing down the west coast of Norway. Red and green lights at all our sides bob like the colored lanterns of All-Hallows Eve, the only visible traces of our competitors. Even with our studding sails set on starboard we only make about 3 knots.

Even though the winds were not strong, the beginning of the race was exciting enough. Just before the race began nearly all the class A tall ships (the biggest size class) mustered at one end of the starting line just a few miles from Stavanger. As the race was beginning, the ships began to turn and hoist sail, making for the line. The Europa was in front, hovering just behind the starting line and we seemed to have waited until the last moment to turn. The cameras on our deck whirred like incessant insects as the entire fleet of class A’s headed straight for us. Leading in the front were the two big Russians, Mir and Sedov. Mir quickly pulled past us, her sail being hauled aloft to the tune of large deck speakers electronically barking orders in Russian to the sailors and cadets. Sedov came alongside our port, looming like a horizontally-placed black skyscraper over our comparatively tiny Europa. Sedov was close enough to us that Captain Klaas would later joke (was it a joke?) that we almost tapped them with our stern as we turned toward the line. With several dozen ships present there was a forest of masts, enough that it began to be difficult to tell which masts belonged to what ships!

In the jumble, both Pogoria and Morgenstern had turned too early toward the starting line, and had crossed it moments before the race had begun! Both ships were forced to do a 360° turn to penalize them for jumping the gun. I don’t know if it was true, but I heard that the race control remarked over the radio that the race had a slow and exciting start! The ships then fanned out for room, making south at a slow pace.

Already we came and went from Stavanger. It was a quick visit, only about 3 days. It was a crowded festival, especially among the ships, who, to fit in Stavangers small harbor, were tied together, sometimes as many as three and four abreast! With so many ships in such a small area, it was only natural that the ships would host many planned and impromptu parties and social gatherings for all the sailors and their friends.

Port time is over and we are all back on sea watches. On board, another group of new trainees learn to sail, most for their first time. It is a bit haphazard, maneuvering for a race and teaching, all in the same moment, but apparently that is what tall ship race sail training is about. It is a lot for them to take in, to see so many ships and our own underway what grandeur for a first impression! Perhaps the on-deck reality of pulling, sweating and coiling line brought earthy reality to the romantic image of so many ships sailing in the late afternoon sun.

Thankfully, we have a handful of ‘veteran’ trainees, many who have been on board since Waterford. They have learned enough that they are often leaders of the trainee watches and we on the permanent crew regularly delegate duties and even some sail-handling to them that we otherwise used to do ourselves. They are a huge help in setting good examples for the new trainees, as well as ease them into the nuances of watch schedules, eating times, cleaning times all the clockwork finesse that keeps us fed and the ship orderly. Some have even become our regular topmen who scramble aloft after setting our squares to overhaul the buntlines creasing the sails.

Like the other races, this promises to be a short one, only 270 miles. In just a few short days we will be in Halmstad, Sweden.

And for those of you who have been following, we did well in our last race from Lerwick to Stavanger and we placed fifth in our class. More importantly however, we beat the Pogoria in real time (not race-corrected time). Pogoria should be a faster ship than us, but we managed to cross the finish line before her. A notable achievement for us and our bark that we hope to replicate for this race.

Photos from the race start from Lerwick and the port event in Stavanger can be found on Sail Training International’s website, click here.

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | Leave a Comment »

When Ships Race Like Horses

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 29, 2011

27-07-2011  

2330 – 58˚53.6’N x 6˚02.6’E – Hogsfjorden, Norway.

By Matthew Maples
The race was ending just as dramatically as it had begun. A mere 12 miles of the North Sea lay between us and the finish as we bore closer, downwind in the night-fallen sea. The Pogoria was visible in the darkened mist with her red over green sailing lights shining like eyes perched upon her mast. She was close, very close in fact, and I watched her creep closer through the gloom as our watches handed over duties. We square-riggers were not alone. The Norwegian Live was close by, as well as another yacht, tagging along with our pack. All were close by, in lengths that could be measured in meters, not miles.  We were all bearing down for the finish like racehorses bottlenecking at the last moment. The beginnings of tall ship races often begin with the tall ship fleet jockeying for position, but never have I seen the last leg of a tall ship race have the same close-quarters wrangling that we now found ourselves in. 

Soon, the Polish Pogoria was closer on our starboard, close enough that we could look inside their deckhouse through their lighted windows and hear the water whoosh against their hull. What was she scheming? Did she want to force her way across our bow and oblige us to give way? Did she want to sweep onto our port side and go for the closer side of the finish line?

We did not wait long enough to find out. Our mast lights came on, illuminating our sails in golden glow, as Captain Klaas stirred us into motion to brace the yards more square and stretch the windward tack corners of our course sails to reach for the wind at our backs. It was apparent that Pogoria was seeking to pass us from behind.

Despite Pogoria’s predations, Klaas had an ace up his sleeve. A small yacht was close on our starboard, out of Pogoria’s line of sight. With our sails newly trimmed, we were able to garner enough speed to pass the yacht. As the Europa lurched forward, the Pogoria was greeted with the yacht in its path, forcing them to maneuver to avoid the small boat. This cost the Poles their gamble, and the Pogoria fell back.  Soon their mast lights came on as the Poles trimmed their sail to try to recoup their loss, but it was to no avail, the Pogoria fell behind us in the last, critical minutes of the race. Lit like a stricken ghost ship, she lingered in our stern and was well within earshot when Captain Klaas sounded a blast from the foghorn as our bow crossed the line at exactly 01hour 03minutes and 53seconds UTC on the 27th of July.

This race was a short one, it was only a little over 200 miles from Lerwick to Stavanger, and we had a fairly steady wind at our backs to coast us across. Unlike our previous sail to Lerwick from Orkney, there was not much sail-handling to do after the beginning of the race. The beginning was exciting though, as the 48 tall ships in the race bounded away to Stavanger like a pack of hounds let off their leash. On all sides were our fellow Class A tall ships. At one point we could look to our starboard and see a pack of half a dozen square-riggers, among them Statsraad Lehmkuhl, Christian Radich and Gloria, all reaching for the horizon!

With the race over and Norway’s lights in sight, we trimmed sail and made for the fjords past Stavanger. We were a day early for the festival, a day that we spent half-sailing, half-motoring in a network of fjords. It was an awesome sight for us to see the coastal rocks rise into the stone and green walls of a fjord. To sail here, is akin to sailing into a water-filled canyon.  At one point Klaas saluted a passing ferry with a boom from our horn. Its echo reverberated throughout the canyon, bouncing off the stoic fjords for half a dozen seconds. Klaas must have enjoyed the effect, for he saluted the ferry several more times, causing multiple echoes to careen across the fjord in sonic marvel. It sounded as if an entire fleet had entered the fjord! Norway knows we are here.

Earlier in our trip, we had joked that because we were sailing south, even to Norway, that we would have lovely warm weather to rescue us from the frigid tempests of Lerwick. As the afternoon ended yesterday, Klaas pointed to a small patch of light in the gray clouds forward; “See the blue patch, summer is coming!”. I think many of us thought it was a joke, as Norway is a rather northern place, but it actually was sunny and fairly warm here! Our coats and woolen caps came off, and coffee and lunch came on deck today for the first time in weeks. I think many of us had forgotten about how lovely it was to be warm and see sunshine whilst we were in the gray north.

We finished our sightseeing stroll in Hogsfjorden fjord. After our anchor hit bottom we turned from sailing to celebration – with, naturally, a Europa BBQ Braai and a first-class spread of meats, potatoes and salads. It is a relaxed, final last night together for our entire crew before we haul up our anchor for a tall ship rendezvous in waiting Stavanger.

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | 2 Comments »

Lerwick – Land of Fiddles and Vikings

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 25, 2011

By Matthew Maples
24-07-2011 10:00
 

We should be out at sea right now, enroute to Stavanger, Norway. Instead, our docklines remain firmly fixed to the concrete pier of Shetland. Outside, the wind howls for the third day in a row, now joined by the cold rain. Even within our ship we wear multiple layers for warmth, sometimes with even our winter coats, caps and mitts on to keep away the chill of the northern winds that bellow down from arctic regions. Winter gear? Isn’t this July?

It may be summer but this is the Shetland Islands. Here, we are only a mere few degrees from the Arctic circle at this latitude. When we depart, we will sail ‘south’ to Norway. It says something about how north you are when you are sailing south to Norway!

For better or worse, the race is delayed and we wait. Regardless of the cold, we are far from bored. Lerwick has given the ships a welcome and festival with warmth far in excess of the frowning weather.  These maritime people seem to understand well the needs of a ship and its crew, with ample facilities and entertainment in offer.

In competition with the howl of the wind, the very air of Lerwick is permeated with music. Every time I walk off the ship I hear the sounds of bagpipes marching through the streets, of fast-folk-fiddles and bellowing accordians from one of the outdoor concert venues or a solo musician upon a street corner. The Shetlander’s are a proud people and the full effect of their musical heritage, costumery and tradition is on display. Yet the Shetlander’s manage to meld the rare combination of pride and hospitality without a hint of arrogance. I remember witnessing a folk-dance event held on our pier. Many of the Shetlander’s knew the traditional dances played by the fiddles and accordians, and they did not mind when some of our tall ship crews joined in. Despite our less-than-fancy footwork and off-kilter coordination, they accepted us into their fun and tried to help us along.  All in good cheer.

Lerwick looks like what one expects an “old-timey” seaside town to look like with gray stone buildings with winding uphill streets topped by a cannon-studded fort. Our forest of masts completes the illusion of time-travel to an earlier maritime era.

The excitement did not begin in Lerwick however, our voyage from Orkney to the Shetlands was quite an energetic sail. With the wind coming from the north we were forced to tack our way around the west end of Orkney to make our way to the southern tip of the Shetlands.
The passage was quick, even as we were close hauled with steady wind, for the Shetlands were only a mere 90 miles from our starting position in Orkney. Arriving at the rolling green pastures and cliffs of southern Shetland on the 20th, we sailed past a cliff-borne lighthouse, where Colin Baxter, father of our bosun Daniel Baxter, was awaiting us, camera at the ready to shoot a photo finish of our voyage. We would end our day anchored in Mousa Bay, near the most intact “Broch” (an iron-age tower-like structure of mysterious purpose) in all of Scotland. Klaas has a knack for anchoring us in places with good breakfast scenery!

Despite arriving, our work was just beginning anew since we had to tack again and again up the east coat of the Shetlands. Our tacking skills were improving by now, no mean feat, as tacking a square-rigged ship is an involved manuever, requiring as many hands as possible for success.
In tacking we alter our course by bringing the bow across the face of the wind, using only our rudder and sails to bring the wind upon the other side of the vessel. It is a good exercise for crew and trainees, as we need to work together and in concertion with our 24 sails to manuever our ship.

It begins with a slacking of our headsails to take wind pressure off of our bow and bringing our mizzen spanker sail closer to the wind to increase the force upon the stern. With the rudder swung to the opposite side for steerage, we then brace our main mast squares for the new tack, and let the foremast sails go aback, filling backwards with wind so that we are actually pushed backwards and to the other side of the wind. Then our triangular staysails are brought to the other side and trimmed for the new wind. Throughout the whole manuever sails are taken away and reset, trimmed to a new tack and squares are braced. All of it needs to happen on time and quickly, putting the boot of time to our butts to really work the ship – a test of our skill truly! We had plenty of practice since the Orkney’s and the improvement was really showing as we tacked for show a few times outside of Lerwick, whilst the other tall ships merely motored into harbor.

Though we groan at the news of headwinds, perhaps it is a good thing for our us and our trainees – it is a lot of experience at sailing – a lot of ropes to pull and sail to haul aloft. Though harder then simply setting the sails and enjoying the view, we are better sailors at the end of the day for all the work. Besides, it makes dinner taste better.

On the afternoon of the 21st, the day of our arrival, we had our crew parade to celebrate the opening of the festivities. Our trainees continued their traditional theme of pirates and mermaids, while the crews of several dozen fellow tall ships in port sported everything from smart white navy uniforms to foul weather gear and buckets on their heads. Leading every crew was a small mob of Shetlander’s dressed in the steels and leather of their Viking ancestors, brandishing both axes and grins in homage to their heritage. The crew party followed with a sea-bound horde of tall ship crews and trainees in attendance. Since then, Lerwick has provided tours, fireworks, and evening concerts to accompany their lively island banter to entertain.

Lerwick has been a good host to us, so it is not painful for us to stay because of the race delay. A force 7 wind has kicked up the North Sea, making the passage painful for the “not-so-tall-ships”. We would be fine, if uncomfortable in such a mess. Regardless, the race authorities have chosen to delay the race until tomorrow. Hopefully by then the wind will have abated and we can begin our crossing to a waiting Stavanger.

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | Leave a Comment »

Sailing, Scenery and a Live Soundtrack?

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 19, 2011

19-07-2011 10:00

0600 – Stromness Harbor, Orkney Islands. It has been good sailing for us since we left Rum Island. Coming up through the Upper Hebrides, often making 9 to 10 knots, we flew past the northwestern corner of Scotland – Cape Wrath.

 

Old Man of Hoy

Nearing the Orkney’s with some time to spare, we cruised slightly more northward of the western side of the island. We had a rendezvous with the Old Man of Hoy. The western face of Orkney is an epic wall of stone, a natural wall without the imperfections of mortar, the cliff faces had streaks of red upon them, with great hills of green rising behind. Rising above the sea, the stony pillar that is the Old Man of Hoy commanded our attention and cameras. Self supported, the natural pillar could be said to appear like a man with a square beard when seen from the northern face. Under sail as we cruised among this scenery, our crew’s cameras made our deck sound like a field of shuttering crickets.

Anybody not with a camera in the their hand seemed to have a fishing line out our back, as several of our crew have developed a taste for the mackeral of northern Scotland, causing us to always be trailing a few long “spagetti” lines as we fill ice boxes with the striped fish for some fresh food. Cruising further north, then east, we ended our day at Kirkwall Harbor for the night.

On the next day we cast off our lines and rounded Orkney making for the harbor of Stromness. Cutting in from the perimeter from the east, we entered the island-encircled waters of Scapa Flow, our quiet sails leaving the watery graves of Germany’s scuttled WWI fleet undisturbed. We were greeted at the gray-stone seaside town of Stromness by a small forest of masts. Already many ships of the summer’s tall ship fleet were in harbor in Stromness.

Stromness

With no space for our own ship left, we had to come alongside a large barquentine, the Gulden Leeuw. Jammed full of tall ships of all classes,  the harbor town of Stromness, with its squat gray houses, rounded streets and church tower, along with its penchant for fog creates a perfect setting for a wharf full of tall ships. Our masts seem to complete the town, creating a scene that will no doubt feature on postcards for years to come.

Yesterday, our voyage crew took a day away from the ship for a bus tour of the Orkeney’s, and we filled our decks with passengers for a day sail in Scapa Flow. With intermittent sunshine and a good wind, we glided past the green hills and cow-filled fields of Orkney. Joined by Tecla for the afternoon, we set squares and all but our upper staysails to fill with the ample breeze. Uniquely, we also had two bands of musicians on board playing sea shanties and maritime-inspired folk music for the afternoon. Most of us were in a bit of disbelief as to actually have a live soundtrack to our sail handling!

We have had a splendid stop in the Orkney’s, but in a few hours we will again cast off our lines to make the final stretch to the Shetlands. Apparently headwinds await us, but we hope to make the most of the unfavorable conditions.

By Matthew Maples

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | Leave a Comment »

Rum Island, Shetland Islands, and the Hebrides

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 15, 2011

By Matthew Maples
14-07-2011 10:00
 

Our journey northwards to the Shetland Islands, while leisurely, has still been as exciting as a tall ships race – at least it is for those who have not seen the islands of the Hebrides in far northwest Scotland. By day we slowly weave through chains of forlorn islands of stone-strewn cliffs and weathered, greened tops. Every island we cross seems to be more impressive then the last one left in our wake.  Today, as small showers of rain and fog came and went, the islands would disappear and re-appear, lending a dream-like flourish to an already dramatic landscape.

Using the sunshine of yesterday to our advantage, we dropped anchor around noon at Colons Isle, a small island landscape of rolling, goat-dotted hills that bills itself as “The smallest island in the world to have it’s own brewery”. Sailing into Colons, we were accompanied by the Bessy Ellen, a ketch-rigged wooden tall ship piloted by long-time friends of Captain Klaas. Mooring their ship alongside our own, we were soon joined by another tall ship, the Gallant. Together, all three ships were tied together for an impromptu tall ship lunchtime gathering.

The weather was surprisingly sunny and warm enough that some of our crew actually went swimming in the cold Scottish waters.  After a day of leisure at Colons, we set sail for the north. By later evening our sail was finished and we anchored at Iona Island in the vicinity of a milennia old monastary, Iona Abbey, on the island’s shoreline.

Photo JC Richardson

Summer in Scotland ended. Today fall came, making it much colder, with some rain, and sometimes some sun. A south-born breeze followed the morning sun giving us a steady Force 3 (7-10 knot) wind to carry us northwards. Squeezing through the Gunna Sound, we sighted a total of eight basking sharks. These sharks, growing up to 11 meters long, are some of the largest species of sharks in the world. They are, thankfully, vegetarians as well.  We sighted them probably “grazing” with their grandiose size mouths near the surface, scooping up the smallest plant and animal life in the ocean.

Photo Greg Skomal

A minke whale was also seen late in the afternoon, trailing our vessel for about 20 minutes and appearing periodically for heaving gulps of air – allowing us a short glance at its long, arching back and small dorsal fin.

Sirius hates the whales and sharks so much that it is beginning to be comical. Whenever he sees them appear he pokes his head through the rail to deliver a stern barking at the offending sea beasts! I think our crew is beginning to learn that there is interesting wildlife to look at when they hear our mascot dog sound his alarm. You know how much your dog at home hates the postman when he delivers the mail? Imagine how it must hackle a dog to see a whale breach just outside his floating home!

It was a good sail for most of today, giving us plenty of opportunities for more sail training. It’s been especially bracing as we had to keep trimming our yards to match a wind that slowly crept from the south to the north-west. We ended our day braced sharp, fafter starting out nearly square and downwind in the beginning. What would otherwise have been a lot of work is made easier with the enthusiastic willingness of our trainees to learn and sail. Thanks to Jay’s deluge of daily sailing classes and our on-deck, on-the-job practical experience, our trainees are beginning to get a better grasp of how our bark sails and how we manage her acres of canvas.

We finished with our anchor resting at Rùm Island. Some of our crew had a brief foray ashore for a evening walk and a short stay at the nearly deserted island which is a nature reserve. A small, one-room pub was found in Kinloch Castle, giving our crew ashore a place to find refuge from the midges (small, gnat-like annoying insects).

Tomorrow we heave anchor and move amble northward to gaze at the fabled Isle of Skye. Hopefully another lovely sail day in our Hebrides Tour.
 

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | 1 Comment »

In Greenock

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 12, 2011

By Matthew Maples

10-07-2011 21:00
 

It feels like we have just arrived, but already the festivities in Greenock are winding down, an ending for our sail celebration in Greenock. More importantly, however, it is the last stop for many of our trainees and some of our crew.

Today was the lynchpin day, the day of the parade and awards ceremony. For several days our trainees had worked on making costumes for a mermaid-and-pirate themed ensemble. I was surprised at the amount of effort they put into it! They spent several days making wigs for the mermaids from spent strands of our rope and painted canvas fish tails for their bottoms.
The rest made pirate outfits from their trainee shirts and had a formidable armory of pirate weaponry to match their mandatory moustaches. I did not personally see the parade but our on-board education “ringleader” Jay, told me that they were among the most enthusiastic group she has seen in a parade. In between sea songs the growling pirates frightened children whilst “mermaids” (generally our tall and hairy men on board) frightened grown men with kisses.

For our racing efforts, we won 3rd in our class – a huge improvement over our near dead-last placement after the first day of the race. We were also recognized for having the most nationalities on board any single vessel with 15 in total.  Our standing in the race is all the more noteworthy when one considers all the cultural and linguistic differences our crew have to face even before they can begin to race.  We have people on board from not just Holland, but the UK, Switzerland, Germany, Israel, Sweden, the Shetland Islands, US, Canada, Australia and even South Africa. The list goes on from there –a veritable menagerie to live within one ship!

Tomorrow is the day most of our trainees depart. Many of them have already expressed how much they enjoyed our adventure. Tomorrow they will leave and their bunks will be filled with new, wide-eyed trainees eager to see our sails unfurled and full.

Recently, Jay told me an interesting story about a conversation she had with the charismatic Gabriel Perez, Captain of Columbia’s Gloria. Apparently he was watching us as much as we were watching him during the race!

He said that his crew must have thought he was crazy, because he was always asking “Europa! Europa! How fast are they going? What is their course!” He said that they were taking pictures of us from afar then zooming in on them to analyze exactly how tight our sheets were, or at what angle our sails were.  He was even confused at one point, wondering why some of our staysail sheets were slackened, tightened and slackened again…he agonized about it, thinking it was some sneaky sailing trick we were pulling! (Though we were probably just training our trainees or being indecisive about sail trim!)

He even told his crew up forward to be on watch for the Europa to deploy its secret weapon, the extra sails, our studding sails! He said that when we set our studding sails, his crew came running back to him, exclaiming that, “The Europa has its secret weapons out!”

Our race with Gloria ended so closely, that we passed the finish line mere minutes ahead of her. Towards the end of the race he noticed us tack, and seeing our speed increase, he then wanted some of that speed for himself and ordered a tack likewise! But the time lost in tacking was enough for us to get ahead to the finish.

A fun race, especially when you know your competitors pay that much attention to you and your secret not-so-secret weapons! We look forward to another race after the Shetlands, but for now, our next voyage is a calmer cruise-in-company with the other ships northward to Lerwick, of the Shetland Islands.

To see photos from the Greenock Tall Ships, click here

 

Posted in Bark EUROPA, Matt Maples, Sail Training International Races | Tagged: | 1 Comment »