Sailing on a Tall Ship Eye of the Wind.
Last year I spent a week on a tall ship sailing amongst the rocky islands off the west coast of Sweden.
Life on board a tall ship is simple. The Captain is in charge. The ship is controlled by ropes. At all times nothing else matters! When the Captain orders ‘Brace the main mast one point to port’ the call echoes round the ship and the crew leave whatever they are doing. Ropes are taken off their pins and cast on the deck, some to give slack and some for hauling. The mate or senior deckhand tell the sailors which ropes to man. Smaller ropes, or sheets, are usually hauled in pairs, one to do the hauling and one to take up the slack. It can be tricky if the sail jams. As I pulled and the sail released with a jerk I found myself sprawled on my back on a heap of rope – giggling. The sailor with me stared at me deadpan and said “Dorothy, we have to get this sail up”. Hastily, I stopped giggling, extricated myself from the ropes, and hauled!
It’s the bigger ropes that need a line of people to pull together, like the anchor rope. Not the best job when it’s wet. Pulling on them can also be tricky. You all have to do it in sync so that’s where a shanty or two come in handy. When a manoeuvre is complete all the ropes used are re-coiled – every time no matter how often they are used. This is vital as there is so much rope everywhere. All ropes are coiled clockwise – worldwide.
Cross the Atlantic 2022
What I didn’t know is that all the sails have different jobs to do according to their size, shape and position. It’s the Captain’s job to know which sails to use to sail the ship safely and efficiently in any conditions of weather or water. For instance, as we moved amongst the islands we were sometimes in the teeth of the wind and sometimes in the lee of the land, sometimes in open water and sometimes in narrow channels. This entailed constant upping and downing of different sails. “Strike the main t’gallant” meant take down the top sail on the main mast. “Set the main stays’l” meant unfurl and raise the triangular sail between the two masts.
I was fascinated when we got hooked up on a lobster pot line to see the Captain arrange the sails to ‘sail’ the ship sideways to free us. This was explained to me by a fellow passenger who was both a Lufthansa pilot and a qualified Captain. The owner of the ship, also a qualified Captain, was also on board so we had three Captains. When I remarked that we must be trebly safe the pilot chap said “not necessarily………………”??
I managed to climb the mast and clamber out on the bowsprit. The sailor who took me out there said the trick, if the bowsprit happens to go under water in heavy seas, is to hold on. If you let go it will come down on top of you with the next wave. Fortunately I didn’t have to put that to the test. But the view of the ship from there with sails set is magical.
After seeing the towering masts, the acres of sail and the far-reaching views life on board is small. I had a cabin with three bunks in which the floor space was slightly smaller than an average hearthrug, but it was comfortable. Fortunately, because of covid I had it to myself. I couldn’t imagine sharing it, especially with a stranger. When I got back, home felt like a mansion. There is constant work and very little privacy so it’s good to get on with other crew members. On my ship the multi-national young crew were delightful and added greatly to my enjoyment of the voyage. Each evening we tied up in a little Swedish fishing village so were able to go ashore and stretch our legs. At one of the villages several elderly men gathered to see the ship having been sailors on it when it was a working vessel in the 50’s and 60’s. On another occasion the ship’s company had a BBQ whilst moored at a jetty in an isolated spot. They lit the ship with floodlights as the sun went down – magical.
Would I go again? You bet! I want to go far out to sea, sailing at night and doing the 24 hour watch system. I’m tossing up between crossing the Bay of Biscay and rolling with the long Atlantic swell, or joining a scientific voyage around the British Isles. Haven’t quite decided yet…………………
Dorothy, voyage crew summer 2020