Everything is moving in circles, everything is rhythm.
The waves of this rhythm are the universal heartbeat.
Life on Nordlys – living the rhythmic pulse of the sea.
This rhythm of life is moving forward in spirals.
The sun, the moon, the stars and the planets are all circling above us in the sky,
Sometimes clear to observe, sometimes obscured by clouds, mists and sheets of grey.
The clouds of water also travel with the spiralling moving flow of air.
These movements of air bring raindrops on our heads, wind in our hair and sunshine on our faces.
We are sailing this wooden ship over the surface of this beautiful planet we call earth.
Planet earth, full of water, spiraling through the universe.
This ocean planet is floating through the universe; sailing between the stars.
The magical life of circles, cycles and rhythms is forever spiraling upwards.
We are sailing this wooden ship through the breathing liquid of life.
We ARE the water, we ARE the rhythm, we ARE the spiral of life.
Like the ocean tides, we will be born and we will die,
Over and over again.
The ever changing rhythm of the universe –
No change to escape.
We are nature; and the rhythm of nature is our life.
Movement and flow ….. We travel with our wooden ship.
We bring cargo infused with rhythm and flow.
We sail with this flow, making peace with each moment
Trusting in natures rhythm.
Allowing life to deliver through us, not by us.
We are nature; technique is an entity within the universe which is living next to us.
We are no robots, we need natural food, we are the natural cycle not the technical one.
We can only thrive by rhythm of the nature.
As we remember our ancient ways to be re-anchored back into life again,
We are the new ancients, traveling back into fullness and flow
The way nature guides and gives in her own time,
we become a deeper, richer, more abundant and generous spiral.
How do we get back home? Tacking!
Down the flying jib and the gaff tops’l, ease the topping lift, cast off tricing lines, staysailboom midships, coils of braces and headsail sheets on deck. Ready on the foredeck? READY! Ready about! About ship, helms a-lee! Mainsheet tight, ease the headsail sheets….there she comes, helm back midships, ease mainsheet, tack the jibs and… Let Go and Haul! Cast off tack and sheet of course, haul away lee course brace as you might, change boom lift, ease mainstays’l boom, tack the bob’s, all hands (or the windlass) on the tack and pull it down together with the lee-topping lift. Tack down! Course sheet home! Trim the yards, set the gaff tops’l, set the flying jib and then coil up and clear the deck!
15 minutes of the mariners full concentration is vital for the ship to make her way up against wind and current, not to loose ground against the ever blowing Northeasterlies in the Channel.
3 weeks ago all those lines were mere mystery to the most hands aboard Tres Hombres, now, at the command of prepare for tacking, everyone is whizzling over the deck, finding the right line to cast off, haul tight or stand by! No more discussions, commands are understood and taken out with pleasure and power. At force 5, instead of life lines the flying jib is put up and the helmsman is smiling pleasantly, feeling the acceleration of the ship and her leaning over in comfort!
Good food and good company as a power ressource, one common mission: living live in a natural way!One tool: the most beautiful sailing vessel on the seas, currently hunting after De Gallant, where early sailing memories with Captain Hendrik make me think of the old days as a deckhand without any concerns, without any limits.
Now we are passing on those good times, the tools and the experience to find a way in your life, it’s your choice.
P.S. : with some unexpected SW wind we are right now passing Dover, gybing the stunsails with boom and all to use the last heap of this rare wind, pushing us into the North Sea, where the next blow of NE will await us…see you soon in Amsterdam
Captain Andreas Lackner
Is your mind filled with the glorious majesty of the white winged masts of the Age of Sail? Or are you longing to master the arts of the traditional seaman? Then sign on, sailing on a cargo vessel is a unique way to discover the world and learn the art of real square rig seamansship. Price varies by voyage. The longer you sign on for, the less you pay per day. Visit https://fairtransport.eu/sail-along/ for the latest schedule and pricing or email email@example.com Tres Hombres Winter 2018-2019 new.odt
We would like to invite all of you for our next refit of the Tres Hombres in Den Helder, Netherlands.
She has now been sailing bravely for 10 years and she has carried tons of cargo with very small rest periods in between. She survived really rough weather and really rough people. She has seen the most beautiful anchorages and the shittiest muddy foggy trenches. She has seen love, hate, respect and disrespect in any way shape or form imaginable. She has been build by great knowledge, enthusiasm and goodwill and she has been maintained like this as well. Effing awesome job people!!
But now is the time to clean up some bits which need more than only just further maintenance; now is the time to clean up the rust (of her steel structure and her human lovers) of many years; now is the time to clean up tunnel-views and resignation.
So this year will be rather special; we are planning a very extensive, (mid-July to end-October) and compared to the other years, different refit. Several major projects are planned which will reduce the overall maintenance workload, reduce the stress (on people and materials) and resolve some of the complaints aboard. This important refit will both strengthen and prepare the vessel for the next several years of cargo sailing.
Projects for this refit:
*Re-caulking the vessel
For the technical interested: Only a small job of the caulking is to keep the water out of the boat – its primary job is to bring tension in the hull and to bring up her strength to the designed level through added pressure in between the planks (several tons).
Reasons for a re-caulk: The hull is leaking a bit too much, it is moving to much when working in heavy weather or when powerful tension is applied to the rigging. Also many non-compatible systems of caulking have been applied over the years. There are additionally some wet seams which means possible rot between planks and future damage might follow. As per Lloyds (a major ship classification society) a composite build vessel has to be re-caulked at least once every 8-10 years; for Tres Hombres this is the time now. A composite vessel has a stronger backbone than a wood-wood one, yes, but if the tension between the planks decreases the movement goes into the plank-frame fastenings as there is a new tension-line between rigid and soft -> they (the fasteners) wobble their way into the surrounding wood -> humidity can enter -> potential rot, rust, loose fastenings
*We want to develop a recognized system of procedures and materials used in the maintenance and repair of the vessel – this will be orientated by the guidelines of classification societies and well-recognised handbooks.
As a result there should be a standard knowledge of how every part of the vessel has been built and how it has to be repaired, which will not only add to the overall strength of the vessel, but also simplify and accelerate work onboard during refit periods and maintenance underway.
*There will be new water-tanks fitted
*There will be an electrical refit
*There will be a rebuild of the generator (external company)
*There will be a lot of maintenance and nice-ifying work
If you want to learn something new, if you want to improve your skills, if you have been a caulking mallet yourself for years, if you are any type of crafts(wo)man, if you are eager to help and knock a heavy mallet on your already sore knuckles, posh things up or play the flute to keep the spirits up or if you “just” want to help – please join!!
We need specifically:
*Electricians/an electric engineer; our system needs some redesigning and cleaning out; has a few unknown faults and dead wires
*Woodworkers; changing planks on hull and deck, possibly batten-up planks, interior removal and refitting (tanks, frames), poshing things up
*Metal workers; change frames, install tanks, repairs (we have someone taking charge of this, but he will need preferably skilled co-workers)
*Caulkers; we need a few people who are skilled at caulking and we need people who are keen to learn it. This was the most rewarded and highest level job when building a wooden hull! Please do not underestimate this job; we will be tuning the Tres Hombres like an instrument. Concerning this hull the caulking is no rocket science and can be learned relatively quickly – but you need dedication and huge attention to details; you caulk too soft for one centimetre and you have a leak there; you caulk to hard you have a leak next to it as you are forcing the softwood planks apart in this spot… On this re-caulk we will practice and teach a technique which has been used in (mainly Scandinavian) fishing vessels for hundreds of years
*People who can sand, remove rust and apply oil and paint
*Riggers – this year we will only do small repairs though
*And of course the most important job – the cook; there will be around 20 hungry persons to be fed
This is a vast job for the time planned but the boat has to get sailing, no matter what; that’s what she does best. But we will manage, I promised the next captain and we always delivered on time.
But please understand the importance of this refit, for the company and for the ship itself; it will not be easy but very interesting, challenging and rewarding. This time will demand the strongest work ethic and a very high level of cooperation between all members of the refit team. There is no space for people who are not willing to give a good days work or spend hours discussing different methods and techniques during the working time.
Please contact Hilde, our crew manager, on firstname.lastname@example.org to tell her about your abilities and availability – we want to plan as good as possible ahead (which project to start at which point of the refit and what material to buy) and avoid to have more than 20 persons working on the ship at the same time. On the refit we offer decent accommodation, good feeding and a professional environment.
I will most likely be involved in the planning and running the show – my name is Fabian, I am a merchant master mariner, a shipwright and a mechanic. I have skippered the Tres Hombres for a small part of the last Atlantic trip and have restored boats for some time. I will be the person on the front and Andreas (the famous co-founder of Fairtransport and most experienced refit guy) will do the logistics.
What a moment, when we had to call out: let go stern line, let go bowline! All our friends, from whom we have known not one a week ago, were standing on the pier. Ruurd, Jon, Jesus, their families, the mayor of the village, the harbor master, the fishermen who just gave us 4 bonito’s for the voyage and even an official from the Basque government.
But the crew had no time to wave goodbye, as we had to pull the ship off the lee shore with a long rope and giving her some initial speed before setting the squares and making way to the harbor entrance and head out to sea again… a beautiful maneuver after a great visit of this magic place, Getaria!
Special thanks to Ruurd, who had us ordered to this place, in order to load organic Txacoli, a young, fresh wine grown just around here, some cider and a lot of biodynamic bottles from La Rioja and the Douro valleys. He also arranged a fantastic meeting with the wine makers, the crew and the great women of the village, who prepared a meal we will not forget! And that’s how it went on…
In between the loading of the cargo and some maintenance we enjoyed the great weather which came with us, after 6 months of rain here. If there was no party or interview planned, we went to the farmer Jon to plant the Dahlias we brought from Holland, took a swim at the local beach, where the Atlantic rollers would come in smoothly or climb around on a vertical mountain . A seaman’s life can be very hard sometimes.
This port was one of the most welcoming ones we experienced and as a refuge harbor also a suitable one for a ship like ours, coming in and out without help. At arrival, we did not have all lines fast yet, a beautiful lady jumped onboard, asking for an interview with the captain, which he could not refuse at all, while another man made a little film about Tres Hombres throughout the process of harbor furling. A dentist was ready to receive a patient, showers were made available as well as power and water, cider and Txakoli…
We also had the chance of visiting the impressive Albaola shipyard near Donostia, where a replica of a whaling galleon is being build. They might need some crew in future who know how to sail a ship without motor…
Now, back at sea, we await the 5th fish meal in a row, as the precious tuna is being prepared in yet another way by the cook, not wasting a spine of it.
All in all it was a great stay in Getaria and hereabout seaman’s life is worth a break in it, before the wind will blow away all thoughts and dusts of the land again.
Alive, living, liquid skin of earth
Scores of rolling water made hills
Tubes of side by side charging, swollen ripples
Racing towards the rising sun
Spilling into the golden light.
The boom is being a sea-saw
Hypnotically cutting into the choppy blue view
Up and down I see the Spirits of air and wind
clutching the ropes at the booms tip
Their ethereal bodies
Flapping and flying in glee
Angels in the breeze
We tip and rise
Green froth, blue skies
alternate in view
I’m being rocked by Nordlys Soul
Within this realm of blue.
The waves are all singing in chorus
harmonies of churn
The orchestra of ship through sea
And as my body tilts and rocks
New sun upon my face
I realize the Nordlys ship’s
A pure vessel of grace –
Gracefully slicing through the sea
Like a spear shot through the air
The Nordlys swans through ups and downs
Like a comb through silken hair
“Goodmorning.. and good luck!” is what the outgoing Watch will whisper to you as you crawl out of the foxhole (or the makeshift bed I made in the cargo hold) and enter the deck covered in a drizzly night sky at 4am. They will go to bed now, and at least for four hours, it’s your turn to take over the helm and blink your eyes, re-assess the weather and wonder whether four layers of clothes will suffice this night or day or what day is it again? Or should I try to contain my body heat a bit more and done another layer of plastic raincover and go “Full Condom Mode” as Portside Watcher Boris likes to call it? Aboard the Tres Hombres we all transform into well-packed, Gore-Texed, rustling and damp plastic penguins, some of us dealing better with the disturbed sleeping patterns than others. Welcome to the place where they take your precious sleep routine and cut it merciless in six pieces, where you will be awoken by a cheerful “Goodmorning!” at least three times each 24 hours, be it at 8 am, 8 pm or 4 am..
Today my day starts at 03:45 am, but until 00:00 I served in yesterday’s evening watch, and before that we started the day with a morning watch at 07:30 am. It’s breaking me up. Physically, as I notice that I cannot access enough energy to take the slack out of a rope and fasten it, while this task seemed to be not a burden at all to my fastly growing muscular arms a couple of days ago. But also mentally, as the short stretches of sleep don’t go well with my ingrained insomnia. If I only have 3 hours of sleep ahead of me, I don’t sleep. At home, I already need 3 hours alone for my personal bedtime ritual, consisting of steamy cups of tea, a hot bath, an evening read and Netflix. Aboard, there’s no Netflix, and certainly no bath.
It’s also the sounds that keep me alert and awake. The continuous sound of rocking waves, just a few inches from my head. The sudden shouting of orders and rambling of boots overhead when a sailing maneuver is being executed by the other Watch. The distressing shrill of an iron saw piercing those precious hours of bright morning sleep.
And of course, the movement. For days on end, it was impossible to walk, sit, chill, cook, pour a cup of something in a normal steady way. Imagine sleeping. I constructed a makeshift cabin of plywood in the cargo hold to keep my matrass in its place. It helps against the sudden danger of catapulting your body through this massive room when the weather gets rough. But my body is still in a constant state of tension as I lie swaying in bed. After a few days, you get used to the continuous presence of muscle ache.
But where there’s drizzly darkness, numbing and aching bodies, small underslept eyes and signs of snappy grumpiness, there’s also bright moments of joy.
There’s the mouthwatering tiny taste of freshly caught mackerel, garlic and seasalt seasoned and grilled, shared with the anticipating crew of 17.
The quick and easy comfort of slipping a hot water bottle under your damp clothes while you stare into the bright starry sky.
The sudden and unexpected gift of good conversation with the people you’ve only just barely met but sharing the same misfortune with of peering hours into the misty night at the bow to spot any oncoming fishermen’s boats.
A sudden windless day of sunshine and the captain’s decision to let everyone take a swim.
The complete and utterly shameless singing out loud of any song that springs to mind, be it 4pm or 4am.
Sober and solar powered dancing parties which erupt during the daytime maintenance hours when the sun breaks through on deck.
The adrenaline rush of climbing the bow spritz to unfurl the flying jib sail while the sea is rough and the bow keeps banging onto the towering waves and splashing water into your boots.
Stupid word jokes.
The realization that suddenly every mundane, ordinary task turns Extreme in hard wind and rainy weather conditions that turn your world upside down and make you fear for falling over board executing them – Extreme Woodworking, Extreme Dishwashing, Extreme Toothbrushing!
The unexpected sharing of your Watch mates’ private snack supply in dire times of need.
The joy of First Mate Shimra when her Starboard Watch has finally mastered another sailing maneuvre.
The sudden gasp of surprise when you flush the tiny onboard toilet in the middle of the night and the fast vortexing water turns into a mesmerizing cosmic swirl, displaying glow-in-the-dark aquatic bioluminescence flushed back into the ocean.
The feeling of your head touching your pillow three times a day.
The living of life on Tres Hombres time.
Falmouth for orders!
Coming back on a 4-mast bark from a voyage of 6 months out or more, having past Cape Horn the wrong way around, fully loaded with guano or saltpeter from the Chilean Pacific coast and in the end entering the English Channel again, what a feeling this must be for the ordinary European seaman!
Still this was not the end of the voyage and many times the final destination of the cargo was not clear at the time the ship left the south American loading port, so where to go? Lizard Point it is, the southernmost tip of England, where the flag officer in charge would have the answer.
It was then a challenge for the captain to steer his ship as close as possible along the coast, able to sign the name of the ship he is commanding, to shore. Then the man on shore will find the wire messages he got from a shipping office in Northern Europe, regarding this vessel, and signal the essence of the order over to the ship: the final destination for unloading the cargo! Old-day internet you would call it, using different colored flags going up and down a flagpole, always still adding a salute and some information about how many days the voyage took and how many were lost at sea.
Tres Hombres, as you know always keen on following up the precious traditions from the era of Sail, had to go close enough to shore as to have phone reception, for these orders. After a great unloading in the heart of Amsterdam the crew was anxious to put to sea and after seeing the weather forecasts we decided that there was no time to loose for making sail on a southbound voyage.
But where to go exactly? Supercargo Ruurd was still involved in wine tastings and presentations and would need some more days to finalize the orders of wine for Amsterdam. What was left to us was pulling the sheets and tack out our way through Northsea and Channel, until Falmouth… Or lets say, Ile de Quessant, where we passed at a four mile distance, to receive the orders we needed: Getaria it was, in the deepest of the Bay of Biskay! Rioja wine has to be taken on board and this harbour is one of the closest to the well-known wine area in the North of Spain.
In between, the crew is getting hold of the right ropes, commanded by our old shipmate Shimra and our through-salted, iron-man Lenno, while our new second mate Noe is getting the trick of the trade, guided by me and Gerrit, who knows the ship as he would have the same one at home in his lake in Friesland.
Getting accustomed to a rocking kitchen and feeding 17 mouths which eat twice the amount as they would do on land, is Meria, new ships cook and a great personality. Mikael, who left his farm to go to sea and did not leave his ship since then, as bosun in a function which is put aside for him. The ploerten from Den Dolder are constantly asking for food in many ways: give me ropes to pull, let me learn about the weather, the waves, the ship and the old ways…and giving all their love and knowledge (comments;-) to this ship where they worked on in the dry-dock since years already. Jeroen is chipping away in his pace, just bothered sometimes by sleeping people and once in a while by a big wave, covering tools and him in saltwater. Boris is the singing spirit, assisting his sister in the rollercoaster-galley. Jonas, calm as ever, is silently working his way up to an able bodied seaman, surprising with ever new outfits. Giulia and Collin, just arriving from their mountain-cave onto our little floating universe, giving all their charm and patience and delicious goodies brought from La Palma. And last but not least, Wout, our old, trustful trainee from earlier voyages, who is cheering us up with stories about life in marriage and the cargo-world out there on the road as a professional trucker.
Today the anchor winch has been taken apart, put in function and together again, now we all just wait for the wind which we expect from the Northeast, to give us a ride through the Bay of Biskay. Preparing for a new port, new cargo-partners and new crew, an ever changing life, like the wind, expectation unknown, fulfillment guaranteed.
Here we are, it’s the fifth day in the open sea and it already feels like we have been here for ages, guess it is due to the Swedish watch system that rules on 48h cycles and requires some time before bodies and minds get used to this unnatural rhythm.
We have more bedtime than what we get on land in our terrestrial lives but still it doesn’t feel enough most of the times. Living and working on a sailing vessel is definitely a challenging experience for thousands reasons and our feelings change as well as the crispy surface of the water around us. We already experienced quite a few different weather conditions from Amsterdam to here and our moods have been challenged a lot getting up and down with the waves, but I must say everything is pretty smooth on board and we feel more and more at home as time goes on.
Each of us has something to learn and something to teach, we share knowledge and skills as well as stories and dreams, we do take care a lot of each other as the most natural thing to do, and this makes everything way much easier. It is awesome to see how fast you can develop deep brotherhood and sisterhood bounds on board with perfect strangers.
We are somewhere in the English Channel, struggling against currents and winds, tacking when it is requiered, checking the ship lanes, we are constantly surrounded by giant massive cargo ships, petrol tanks, oil rigs and other unknown metal floating creatures appearing on the horizon and approaching us with unbelievable speed, and then disappear as nightmares at dawn leaving behind a smoggy disgusting fog.
The other night while one of those crossed our way we let our imagination play for a little dreaming to board them like the good old pirates with machetes and hooks. These visions reminds me clearly why I am here and why I appreciate so much this project and what it is fighting for. It could be scaring to look at the computer screen and see all the marine traffic in this area and knowing we are the only ones with no engine, but at the same time it makes you feel you are part of something epic and it is just the right thing to do. Moreover, we deeply trust our captain and the older members of the crew and I also like to believe there is some good white spell which protects this Beauty and us against those monsters. May the stars save the fools and let them live forever!
This sailing masterpiece had no wind to play with for a while and it was a pity to see it anchored in the middle of the Channel to avoid to be drifted away by the currents, but this gave us an afternoon of holidays and we enjoyed it swimming and chilling under a shining warm sun framed in the bluest sky. It felt like a baptism to jump in those cold waters, shouting and laughing as kids to release all the stress of the departure. We are all here for voluntary choice, but this Beauty is the best school I have ever been into and I feel blessed and honored to be part of this crew.
Ahoi! Da steht Jorne an Deck, winkend mit seinem Hut, während die Tres Hombres gemächlich an unserem Schlepper vorbeisegelt Richtung Schleuse in IJmuiden. 8 Monate war sie weg, durch tropische Hitze, atlantische Stürme, Englischen Nebel und am Ende noch 2 Wochen Gegenwind…
Vollbeladen ist sie mit allem was wir uns wünschen von der Karibik und Südamerika, Kaffee, Kakaobohnen, Rum, Kokosöl…und einer crew die aussieht käme sie gerade zurück von der Entdeckung Amerikas.
Kurz vor der Schleuse werden die Segel eingeholt und der Schlepper macht längsseits fest, wonach die lang vermissten Liebsten der crew an Bord springen und sich in die Arme fallen. Kaum ist unser Schiff fest am Kap der grünen Hoffnung in Amsterdam, wird die Ankunft der tapferen Seeleute zünftig gefeiert und Geschichten und Rum fließen in Strömen…
Sobald der Nebel sich lichtet wird gleich begonnen mit sail-training, die neue crew vermischt sich mit der alten, die noch ein bisschen festhängt am Seelenmagneten Tres Hombres und die old hands zeigen den neuen die Leinen mit der Ruhe und Einsicht die einem nach einer solchen Reise bleibt.
Werft braucht sie jetzt keine, Jorne hat das Schiff in einwandfreiem Zustand übergeben, mit frischem Teer, Lack und Leinöl, wie es Tradition ist auf der großen Segelschifffahrt.
Nach nur einer Woche im Hafen, in der 40 Tonnen Fracht und 13 Besatzungsmitglieder das Schiff verlassen haben, ist eine neue Crew angeheuert und eingewiesen und ein neuer Auftrag angenommen: Wein für Amsterdam muß geholt werden, Biodynamischer Wein aus Rioja und Bordeaux.
Ruurd, unser Supercargo, hält am Sonntag vor der Abfahrt noch eine Weinverkostung mit den spanischen Weinbauern an Bord, wobei lokale Weinhändler Ihre Bestellung aufgeben und Verträge geschlossen werden.
Am Montag früh geht’s los, unser Freund und Anteilhalter Ramiro schleppt uns in gemütlichem Tempo auf dem Nordzeekanaal zu den Seeschleusen, während Steuerfrau Shimra die Sicherheitseinweisung mit der Crew vornimmt. Kaum öffnen sich die Schleusentüren setzen wir alle Rasegel und der Schlepper bleibt mit einem herzlichem Salut vom Horn zurück, wie auch die Gewohnheiten vom Land, das Internet, das Bier nach der Arbeit und die Zeitung mit all den Neuigkeiten von denen wir auf dem Ozean gar nichts wissen wollen.
Der Rhythmus beginnt sofort, alle neuen Gesichter die eigentlich noch gar nicht fertig sind mit Staunen und sich realisieren wo sie sind, werden zur Arbeit an Deck, zum Essen und Schlafen geschickt. Jeder Augenblick eine neue Erfahrung der sich in ihre Seele brennt. Noch in derselben Nacht kommt uns die Nordlys entgegen, die roten Segel wie Schimmer aus einer anderen Zeit, hart am Wind und vollbeladen mit Wein und Olivenöl. Lammert kämpft seit 10 Tagen gegen den Nordostwind an, wir haben ihn von hinten und verlassen ein paar Stunden nach der Begegnung schon wieder die Nordsee…
Das ist das Leben im Gleichgewicht mit der Natur, so wie´s geht geht´s, ob´st willst oder net. The law of limited competition, jeder hat das Recht mit zu spielen im Leben, die Spielregeln stellt die Natur.
Funktionieren tut´s nur wenn wir nicht falsch spielen oder faul sind, mit Motoren zum Beispiel, die uns das Abenteuer der Seefahrt rauben, oder anderen Maschinen die uns das Denken und unsere Kraft nehmen. Des Geldes willen.
Moderne Reeder wissen nichts von der See oder den Menschen auf Ihren Schiffen. So hart wie es ist, um erschöpft gegen Strömung und Wind an zu kreuzen, so schön ist ein Sonnenuntergang vor dem Wind mit vollem Bauch. Es ist an uns um unser Dasein im Einklang mit der Natur zu verbringen, respect the law of limited competition, komm an Bord eines Segelfrachters.
My name is Barry Macdonald and I am a documentary photographer from London. I joined the Nordlys in Blankenberge, Belgium where she was unloading wine and olive oil from Portugal to make a photo essay about her work.
The crew of 8 consisted of their Dutch Captain Lammert, First Mate (Belgium), Cook (Belgium), 3 Deckhands (2 French, 1 Belgium) 1 passenger (A lovely lady from Belgium who wanted an adventurous holiday, so had paid to sail for 12 days) and myself. Everyone is bi or tri lingual and English is the common language of the ship. 9 is the maximum and 7 is the minimum crew to sail.
We had to wait an extra day for a storm to pass and then were pulled out at 14:00 by the local rescue boat, tug boats are hard to find when every sailing ship has an engine to come in and out with. Leaving the harbour is the time of most action, with all hands on deck, the sails need to go up in the right order, at the right time, so we sail straight past the dangerous shallow sand banks. When a rope or a sail is stuck there is a quick sharp dialogue between Captain and crew, always factual and to the point, and never once with any temper and then fast action to form a resolution.
The Captain and First Mate are in charge of the two watches. We work 6 hour shifts in the day and 4 hours at night. So it’s 08:00-14:00; 14:00-20:00; 20:00-24:00; 24:00-04:00; 04:00-08:00. Each watch is therefore woken up 5 times in 48 hours, (7:15, 13:15, 19:15, 23:45, 03:45). The cook is the only person excluded from the watch system, he has to cook the 3 meals a day to fuel the crew.
My first watch is at 20:00 so the captain sends us to bed at 18:00. The captain has his own cabin in the aft (back), the rest of us sleep in the fox hole in the bow (front) of the boat. A narrow ladder drops you into this small wonky triangle of 8 bunks. The space is dark and musty, a mixture of old socks and salty rain gear soaked into the wood. Your bunk provides you just enough space to sleep flat, and you have a small wooden chest for your clothes. Spare rope, the ships anchor chain and dry food all are stored here under the floor as well. When the ship is sailing your bunk is constantly moving with the bow cutting through the waves, sleeping below the waterline means there is a constant noise of the sea swirling around, it’s a bit like sleeping in a washing machine at first.
We are woken at 19:15 for dinner before the shift, a mist descends on the boat and we sail through the darkness of the Channel only being able to see about 150 feet away from the boat. We keep our eyes and ears open for any ships or buoys, your eyes play lots of tricks on you at first, I even thought I saw an iceberg at one point! A huge ship is sounding its fog horn at 2 minute intervals, but we can’t see it, the computer tells us our courses will not meet.
We wake the next watch at 23:45 and make tea and coffee for them, we swap watches by the wheel at the aft and Captain Lammert gives a status update, it’s always positive, no matter how much we have moved. My watch sleeps at 24:00 and is woken at 03:45. I still haven’t slept at this point because of the noisy fox hole, the wind is incredibly cold if you are not wearing enough of the appropriate layers. I cannot understand why the crew endures such hardship. It’s hard manual work for every rope, a total lack of privacy or free time while at sea, sleeping is hard in the fox hole, the toilet is in a small cupboard on the back of the boat, and hard shift patterns mean you are lucky to get 5 hours of sleep. Working the watches makes 2 days feel like 4 or 5.
The longer we sail I start to understand why these sailors endure these difficult conditions, for pay that is below what they could earn on engine powered cargo ships, for much less work. The power of the ship when all 5 of her sails are raised is a phenomenal experience, the sailors are tuned into the wind direction, the current and tides. As the wind changes they let the sails in or out to always harness as much power as possible, they all glance up occasionally checking the sails are full and taught. All of the people on board come from different backgrounds and have a wide spectrum of personalities, but they are all linked by a love of “real” sailing and a concern for the environment. The crew has to spend a lot of time together, and all rely on each other for their safety when they are alone in the middle of the ocean. It takes a flexible, unselfish and pleasant person to be a successful crew member.
We wake the cook at 06:30 to start breakfast and we wake the watch at 07:15, they eat and we swap watches on deck, then we eat breakfast and go to sleep. I sleep a few hours, but am ripped out of a dream at 13:15 for lunch. We eat, swap watches, they eat and sleep, I am finally getting used to the rhythm of the boat. The voyage was smooth with a good wind behind us so for the most part, they had little work to do apart from minor adjustments to the sails. At one point the Captain emerges from the navigation room with a big smile, and shouts across to the massive cargo ship half a mile off our port side, that we are doing 11 knots and nearly matching their 12. When we are going so fast the ship is heeling (leaning) with the power of the wind at what at first feels like an extreme angle, the waves slosh onto the deck every now and then. Sometimes when the wind drops and the current is against us we might drop to 4 knots, but everyone is always happy as long as we are moving forwards.
We are crossing the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and there are huge cargo ships and car ferries dotted all around. We see lots of floating plastic, even some birthday balloons that floated away and now bob between England and France forgotten about.
I do my first dog watch at 24:00, this is everyone’s least favourite, as there is no sunset or sunrise, just darkness, but tonight is fairly clear and we have an amazing starscape to wonder at. The captain stops referring to the compass and starts aiming for stars instead. Eventually we spot a lighthouse we need to pass, so the last hours of the watch are spent slowly edging towards this growing light. I knead the dough and put it in the oven to rise, the next watch will turn the oven on and there will be bread for breakfast, everyone has to help out with preparing tea & coffee and cleaning the galley. I gain a greater appreciation for the cook who hand pumps the freshwater and cooks amazing meals, while his kitchen lurches from side to side.
We sleep from 04:00 to 07:15 and when we wake up there is a beautiful sunrise and we are near the coast of England. We eat a quick breakfast and swap watches. The Captain informs the previous watch that they won’t be going to bed, but they will take the sails down once they have eaten. We drop the sails in reverse order, and slow down as the work boat comes out to meet us and tow us into Torquay harbour.
We dock easily with all hands on deck pulling the ship to the quay. I was questioning my decision to sail along 40 hours ago and now I am sad to be back on land and miss the feeling of the sails being filled with wind, and the boat moving. We are early so the unloading will happen on Monday, giving the crew some time off, but first the ropes and sails need to be packed carefully, the deck washed, bilges pumped and rescue suits aired and dried. We are finally finished sometime after 11:30, the previous watch has been working since 04:00, no one goes to bed and we share lunch and a bottle of wine to celebrate a safe voyage. Lots of people come by to the visit the Nordlys intrigued by the ship who is at least 100 years older than the other ships in the harbour, and amazed when they are told she is a working cargo ship.
After a weekend of odd jobs on the boat, exploring the coastal paths and catching up on sleep the unloading starts early on Monday morning, taking advantage of the high tide that leaves the boat closer to the quay. 20 tons of cargo are unloaded by hand or using the 2 masts to winch heavy barrels just like the sails are moved. We are met by 3 sets of traders who take wine, olive oil, olives and sea salt to be sold in the UK. The Captain is the face of the company working with the traders in person and visiting local organic farms to meet the owners and view the production methods.
The next day the Nordlys is made ready for sea and sets sail for Douarnenez in France to deliver and collect her next cargo.