My First Tall Ship Experience

My First Tall Ship Experience

This is the start of my tall ships story and I am happy to say the story is still progressing as we speak.

In 1966 I saw my first Tall Ships Race as it raced out of Falmouth. I was in a small open motor boat and we were passed on either side by two tall ships with full sails set. It was like being in a canyon of canvas.

Two years later I applied to sail on the newly commissioned STS Sir Winston Churchill but my application was not successful. I was very upset as one of the boys from my school,  Falmouth Grammar, was accepted because he already sailed on the local sail training boat. I thought they should give a newbie a chance. After that I pretty much forgot about trying to sail on a tall ship. I did sail off and on on a variety of yachts with friends in Cornwall and Pembroke. 

In 1990 one of my sailor friends told me he had recently sailed on the Sir Winston Churchill and he gave me the details of who to contact so I could join a voyage. My over twenty year wait was about to end.

I made contact with the Sail Training Association (STA) in Portsmouth and booked a voyage in April 1990 from Fort William for a ten day voyage around the West Coast of Scotland.

At the time I was living in Derbyshire and I was instructed to make contact with the local branch of the STA as they had arranged a minibus to get from Derby to Fort William to join the Malcolm Miller, sister ship to the Winston Churchill.

It was about a twelve hour journey setting off at some ungodly hour in the morning.  By the time we got there I had a headache from the constant chatter of a man sitting behind. Like the rest of us he was hyper excited.

Once onboard we were taken through some training programmes, the one that sticks in my mind was how to steer the ship using the ship’s wheel and following the instructions of the Captain. One of the things we were instructed to do was to repeat back to the Captain the order you had just been given. All part of the marine training to ensure you understood what you had to do. In replying we had to pretend we were in a gale of wind and make sure we were loud enough to be heard. Well, I was the loudest, no surprise there.

Soon after that our watch was the first on duty and I was chosen to be on the helm as we left harbour. I must have made a reasonable impression because as we came to the Corran Narrows the Captain asked for me to be put back on the helm. There were likely to be some tricky helm instructions due to strong tides and little room for error. I was dead chuffed!

As the 10 days passed we learnt to go aloft and to stow the square sails, One evening we anchored off the South East end of Skye and it was blowing about a force 5 from the North West. Up the mast we went and out along the yardarm, Ian was sent to the far end of the yard and I was next to follow him. Ian had trouble hauling in the clew and our watch leader had to come out along the yard and pass behind me to get to help Ian. Now technically she should have been clipped on to the safety wire all the time but to get to Ian quickly she just unclipped passed behind me and then reclipped on. She had a lot of bottle. There’s me thinking ‘What am I doing up here.’ I have a family to look after! But after a bit you get used to it and as long as you DO stay clipped on you ain’t going to come to any harm. Certainly a lot of adrenalin was used! But that’s the buzz, and I’ve been hooked on going aloft ever since.

By the time we get to the North of Skye and aiming to go to the Shiant Islands a full F9 Gale was blowing and I’m on the helm again, soaking wet from rain and spray and with the biggest grin on my face you can imagine.

In fact the winds were so bad we had to turn back and shelter in the lee of Skye.

Trips ashore were made and we joined in a wake in Plockton, complete with our own musicians. Too much drink was consumed but hoe hey that’s all part of the experience.

The voyage finished as we manned the yards and sailed into Oban. Now we were real tall ship sailors hardened by the sea and spitting salty tales to whoever would listen! What a brilliant start to tall ship sailing!

It had taken 20 odd years to realise my ambition. Little did I know that it would change my life in two hugely significant ways.

Firstly I should mention that my Watch Leader was a young woman called Debbie. Suffice to say she is now my wife of many years.

Secondly the seeds were sown for what Debbie and I would do together which is why you are reading this story from Classic Sailing.

The story continues and next year I sail from Cape Town to Falmouth on Oosterschelde. Which should mean it’s just about 12 months from now to my retirement. Yippee. Then I can do more sailing, bring it on!

What was your first tall ship experience?

The Sail Training Association (STA) is now the Tall Ships Youth Trust and they have amazing adventures for young people 18-25.

Letters to the Editor

Photo information

Top photo is the Norwegian Tall Ship Sorlandet leaving Falmouth in 1966, I sailed on her a long time later. Photo courtesy the Falmouth Packet Newspaper

The Grin, that is the actual photo from my first voyage in a gale north of Skye on the Malcolm Miller, photo Debbie Purser.

As a Watch Officer, date forgotten.

Watch leader on Malcom Miller that went to St Malo

Tryptic, Christmas voyage in the Canary Islands, Malcom Miller, First Officer Bob Lamoureux, take me to the worst bar in town, Captain Barbara Campbell, a well deserved MBE for services to sail training, and me as the Bosun serving Christmas dinner on deck. Probably about 1999.

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