On June 15th I boarded Tres Hombres in Copenhagen with no sailing experience beyond being a passenger a handful of times and having never stepped foot on a tall ship. Since my first time sailing, I have dreamed of travelling the world by sea this way but questioned where and how to start the undoubtedly challenging learning process from square one. The world of cargo tall ships was introduced to me when I met my partner last June, a sailor and wooden boat builder who shares my passion for travel and fostering a more sustainable future.
I was excited to learn about engineless Tres Hombres, Fairtransport Shipping, and their active mission centered around sustainability. I sometimes feel alternative methods to climate negative business practices are merely progressive ideas rather than current practices. It gave me some hope to see that this was not the case with Fairtransport. When propositioned by my partner to join him as a trainee with Tres I was thrilled by the concept but nervous given my lack of experience, understanding of tall ships, and sailing in general. My motivation to learn eventually overcame my fear of trying and we signed up for the summer trip from Copenhagen to France.
Upon arrival I was blown away by the beauty and intricacy of the ship itself and equally intimidated by all the lines and sails I knew nothing about but would need to learn to handle. We set sail the day after our arrival and despite feeling useless in the process of sailing her I felt welcomed and understood by the crew, especially the other trainees. They expressed their sympathy for my unknowing and assured me they too were once in the same position only weeks prior. My nerves w ere somewhat soothed as I watched them pull lines alongside the professional crew with the confidence I hoped to build as they had. The first leg to Bornholm was short but at that time I was convinced my decision to take on this adventure had been the right one. The environment on board was friendly and I was very grateful to the deckhands, the first mate and the trainees that patiently directed me where to pull during manoeuvres, explained the function of the many daunting lines, sails, terms, and sailing etiquette that was all like that of a new language to me.
Sailing into port for the first time in Gudjehm was a thrilling experience with the entrance to the harbour leaving less than 2m on either side of the ship. Upon successful docking, we were warmly welcomed by friends of the crew from previous trips as well as bystanders clearly impressed by the vessel and its tight fit into the quiet harbour. We celebrated at the bar we were shipping wine to and were treated to bottomless glasses of wine and a beautiful dinner. I realized that sailing is only a key part of this experience and the community making the mission possible is the beating heart.
Time in port and the shorter passages in between were relaxed. They gave me time to become familiar with living aboard the ship and getting to know my 12 new roommates but the real learning began when we set off on the leg to Ireland. The original schedule had given the crossing an estimate of a week to 10 days but as we set out with the wind fully against us we were told it would likely take longer. To move forward we had to travel in a zigzag fashion which meant tacking (moving the sails from one side of the ship to the other) every few hours. Although a lot more work than sailing with the wind, the need for so much sail handling in our watch of 5 meant hands-on contribution. This translated to a much better understanding of how the ship moves, what different manoeuvres mean, where all the lines are and their specific functions. With repeated explanations, patient ropey tours, and trust from deckhand Giulia and first mate Jules, my understanding along with my confidence in my knowledge of the ship grew tremendously.
The passage to Ireland took a total of 17 days which I’ve been told is about the same duration as an ocean crossing. There were many highs and lows of that leg. Massive swell washing over the deck, keeping us constantly wet and making laying in my bunk feel like riding a mechanical bull. Dreaded 12-4 am dogwatch wakeups while hearing the chilling heavy winds howling above the deck from a warm, mostly dry bed. In contrast, the beating hot sun but completely flat sea made for days of making little ground and often drifting off course. Lack of fresh produce towards the end of the journey as we hadn’t expected to be at sea for nearly as long as we were.
However, trying, the lows showed me I can endure levels of discomfort far beyond what I’d had to in the past and made the highs so much higher. Swimming in the calm sea and laying out to dry on the warm deck after days of cold wetness was a heavenly experience. Sun and moon set and rise over the water like those in paintings. Daily dolphin visitors coast along with us on the bowsprit and at night leaving magical glowing trails in the blue bioluminescence. Laughing to the point of tears at jokes that probably wouldn’t be nearly as funny if we weren’t all sleep-deprived and a little stir crazy. Last but certainly not least, finally arriving at our destination, stepping foot on land and enjoying the simple luxuries I’d taken for granted in everyday life. Hot showers, clean clothes, feasting on fresh fruit, and for the rest of the crew a cold pint of Guinness. Despite being one of, if not the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done, it was also absolutely one of the most rewarding.
After a few blissful days in Ireland, saying goodbye to some crew and welcoming new faces, we loaded our cargo while at anchor with the help of a fisherman’s boat and set off to France. My partner and I are now some of the most experienced trainees on board. This means that we are now the trainees explaining things and reassuring the ones who just stepped on. It is because of this that I can now truly see my learning curve and realize that I’ve accomplished my goal of being confident in my ability to help sail this ship. Beyond no longer feeling daunted by the task of learning to sail on smaller ships, I also have a newfound sense of empowerment in my ability to learn any skill I commit myself to try. Although maybe not entirely true I feel that if I can do this, I can do anything.