Signing off (By Bosun Hanjo van Weerden)

Three captains
Three First mates
Four second mates
Four cooks
Nineteen nationalities
Six different bunks
Two hammocks
16 harbours
60 knots in the gusts
Ten tons of cacao
130 barrels
40.000 bottles of wine (roughly)
20.000 nautical miles (very roughly)

Just some numbers of these last two years. Some of those numbers don’t mean much written down like that, not even to me. But one is most striking: 20 months. I have now worked on the Tres Hombres for effectively 20 months. During the refits a few weekends at home and this last summer two months off to get my Basic Safety training and vaccination and some much-needed rest after the Atlantic Round, but still, twenty months. I signed on as a fresh-faced trainee who knew nothing of sailing, and now I am signing off as Bosun. I went from being uncomfortable with the rolling and a little seasick to the grizzled veteran who has seen it all and is not impressed. That is not to say that I did not love to be on the ship out at sea till the end, I did. It remains a great feeling to be out at sea with no land in sight and the ship rolling under your feet.

So I lived on a wooden ship with all sorts of people from all over the world, with limited space, with daunting working conditions like storms and hours and hours of rain. It really was a great time. Must have been, otherwise, I would not have stayed so long, right? But joking aside, it has been a great time, and all the people I sailed with helped make it great.

The last thing here on La Palma that I do before signing off is unload a barrel of La Palma wine that we loaded last year and has been ageing at sea in Tres Hombres’ cargo hold for that whole time. It has crossed the ocean tucked underneath the cacao and the rum,  and then Skagerrak tucked under bottles of wine. Right now, I am the only one still on board who was present last year when we loaded it, making this barrel from the Tendal winery also my most long term shipmate. The wine will now be auctioned off to benefit the people displaced by the Cumbre Vieja’s lava stream.

But for now, my Tres Hombres adventure is over. Now I’ll go to Denmark to help refit another sailing cargo ship, the Hawila, but Captain Francois, Mates Arthur and Guven, my replacement bosun Camille, cook Ed, deckhands Ali and Thore and all the trainees will bring her safely to the Caribbean and back to Europe.
I will miss them tremendously and wish them all fair winds and hope to see them well and good in Amsterdam.

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We have arrived in La Palma, Canary Islands (by Eddie Hecht, ship’s cook)

7 days at sea, which is pretty speedy for this leg.

We seem to be just speeding the whole thing really. Which is both amazing and exhilarating to be travelling so fast, but also exhausting as that means that the boat is moving and lurching all over the place all of the time. Walking from one side to the other becomes a complicated manoeuvre, getting dressed is difficult and sometimes nauseating and the galley a perilous place to be.

Two statements keep going round my head: “the galley is the heart of the ship” (and it is always warm as well) and “trust nothing” (especially in rough weather of course, when the galley can become the perfect setting for the Chaos show – beware also of the downwind sunny rolling by the way). Both things are, of course, not mutually exclusive and I feel grateful and honoured to be the current custodian of this space.

To reside there I have had to perfect a few new moves: “The Saturday Night Fever Disco Slide” (with a knife in hand), “the Emergency Karate Kicks” (to brace myself against an unexpected wave) and “the Ninja Catches” of various objects from various angles. And the most important lesson: ‘expect the unexpected’, a more positive-sounding version of the equally true, in this environment, ‘trust nothing’.

The food seems hell-bent on escaping, this recently included flying parsnips and twice saved tahini (now with extra seasoning). As for the dry store, that is a whole other matter! I caught 80kg of brown flour trying to make a break into the forecastle, little did the flour know that it would never find its freedom there. Numerous bilge potatoes – perhaps hoping to catch a ride out with the anchor chain?- and a mass exodus of lentils some of whom are still on the run but will no doubt be found with more extensive searching in port. To those that won’t, good luck to you – you deserve it. There was also an orange that ended up on a shelf 4 meters away, a commendable effort. Some of this is down to the odd bit of ‘interpretive’ lashing I discovered down there, but most of it is just because it really has been that hectic.

And so I embrace the chaos and love every minute.

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The World Below (by Michael Ross)

Not much has been written here about the inner world of the Tres, i.e., what lies below its deck.

Before I was able to set foot on board, I have always been curious about what’s there.
Now I can report from first-hand experience.

Beginning with the bow, there is the locker, where various things are stored (there is never enough storage on a ship).
This is connected directly with the famous Focsle, (see Blog entry from 11Apr2018) where half of the trainees sleep while the other half is doing watch time.
It is reached by a steep ladder from the deck. If the hatch is closed, a small bulleye still allows you to distinguish day and night.

Each of the 8 bunks in the Focsle comes with a heavy wooden chest tight to the ground to pack your clothes into, and a small cupboard-like space for further personal things.
There is even the luxury of reading light at each bunk. Although the headroom above the beds is rather limited, the Focsle as such is not as narrow, allowing for sitting together and having a chat.

Next to it is the dry store. (I never heard of a “wet store”, though. There probably isn’t one).
The dry store belongs to the kingdom of the cook in the galley above and is visited by her frequently
when fetching food by climbing a steep ladder below the galley’s table.
One needs to have a really good memory to remember where what is. One would expect mainly tins and rice here, but not on the Tres Hombres!
There are plentiful fresh veggies and other delicacies from which the cook creates her marvellous meals, primarily vegetarian.
Vertically through the Dry Stores runs the anchor chain, hidden under its floor.
Some quite essential valves sit on the ceiling, to be operated e.g., for bilge pumping.

Further mid-ship there is the heart of our freighter, the cargo hold, fitted with brackets for the barrels and other goods to be transported.
The ceiling can be opened by removing a number of wooden planks, which are numbered and need to be put back in exactly the right sequence.

Aft, connected by a steel door, there is the library, from where the bunks of the crew can be reached.
I think there are enough books for the next 99 trips, the roster does not allow for much reading anyway.
Playing cards are available, too. I recommend the ones from “Lagerstein” (Merchandise if an Australian pirate band).

In the aft, we reach the most essential “navigation room” (also called “bridge”), where all the communication devices necessary for planning and monitoring a safe journey are.
Safety equipment such as Immersion suits is also there. It is here where the Captain, first mate, bosun and watch leaders collect information about winds,
streams, zones to plan the next days. Charts with information about almost every harbour can be found here, in form of books but also downloaded on the computer.
This is where century-old sailing techniques meet modern technology which not only helps to navigate through ever more dense traffic but also help to fulfil the demands
of an ever-growing set of rules and regulations the Captain has to obey.

The nav room is actually a very nice place to be, sitting on the benches, talking when there is nothing urgent to do.
But that’s not why we are here.

Sticking the head out of the sliding hatch of this room into the fresh breeeze, you’re next to the head, one of the other very essential rooms on board.
It even has a water flush! Enjoy!.

Hope you have now an impression of what’s in the belly of the Tres.

Michael the Catweazle.

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My first week at Tres (by Michael Ross)

Emotional farewell at the port.

Tears are wiped away quickly by the fresh wind.
Hectic activity onboard redirects my attention:
Sails need to be launched! Where again was the halyard for the inner jib?
I can’t remember but someone tells me where it is.

Once the course is set everyone is assigned to one of two watch groups,
in a 50/50 mix of male and female.

The “Swedish” roster of 4/4/4/6/6 hrs begins, i.e. only one of the two groups will sleep at the same time.
Within days, everyone has now the chance to “enjoy” odd and less odd times on the deck.
The ensuing sleep deprivation can be quite daunting to the beginner,
in combination with bad weather, stirred up feelings, everything onboard is so different to the world onshore.
It really cracked me. But you’re never let down or pressured in this unique family where everyone looks out for the other.

For the first weeks of this winter trip, you never can have enough layers wrapped around you,
to prevent the cold from creeping in through feet, hands and face at night watch.
Just you may not fit through the tiny door of the toilet cubicle anymore which you will have to use sooner or later.
From time to time, the watch leader orders some adjustment of the braces or even a tack to optimize the course of the ship. This
gets us exercised and warmed up.

Why am I doing this? I don’t know. But I strongly feel this is the right thing to do for me.

I’m paid with unforgettable moments such as:
A bucket of seawater where I wash my hands at night in a sparkling flurry of fluorescent plankton,
Table-cloth sea surface near the Isle of Wight without any noise whatsoever,
Dolphins swimming next to us on a full-moon night,
Joyful ride on the waves under the sun near the Bretagne coast while I’m steering,
but most of all, a group of people with 100% mutual trust,
learning/teaching marlinspike seamanship on a 100-year old square-rigger.
I’d like to be with them for a longer time.

It is a privilege to be part of this completely different world, despite all the inconveniences.
Where life focuses on the essential, and the horizon is wide and far.

Michael, the Catweazle.

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Take a good look at her (By Natalia Boltukhova)

Take a good look at her!

The curves. The canvas. The tempting lines.
The salt, whispering from the crevasses in the weathered wood. The wind, the memory of which is trapped into the folds of the harbour
furl.

She is Tres Hombres, Tres for the crew. Trusty, steady, free.

What most might not realize is that she is so much more than an engine-free sailing cargo ship. Sure,
carrying rum, wine, gin, chocolate, and coffee, Tres sounds badass enough.
Her true power, however, lies in bending time and transforming space.
She navigates dimensions and realities with the same grace and ease that she does the waves.

Those stepping aboard soon feel the simultaneous pull of the gravity in one direction, and complete
freedom from it in another. Like surfing a wave on a humongous windsurf board.
In the one sense, the seeming downgrade in lifestyle conveniences common in what
we agree to call the developed world comes crashing down like saltwater splashing
you from behind while you’re scrubbing the pan after the dinner, in the dark, in the cold seawater,
while the world around you rocks back and forth.
Never stable, never entirely clean, all the while clad in layers of slightly damp “warm” clothes.
You know, The Reality.
The Reality of realizing that no other life form we know has showers with hot water switched
on with a turn of a valve. Or a bed that could fit six people, but only one sleeps in it.

The Reality of weightlessness in space and time, head up, gaze tracing the neuro-net
between the stars, back to the immediacy of compass and steering,
when the line between where the ship ends and you begin, blurs, like the horizon
stitching the ocean and the sky. The ship becomes the means through which
you become a complete, inseparable part of the entire world, galaxy, universe.
It is indeed, a transporting vessel, true that.

The Reality that despite our nature and nurture, we are all more similar
than we are different, that deep down we all crave love, understanding, and belonging.
Tres is capable of doing just that. It doesn’t matter where you step on and off.
Remember, she bends time and space. Where and when doesn’t matter.

Sixteen of us started this journey together in Den Helder, four stepping off in Douarnenez,
more joining in Baiona, and so on. Already it feels like parting with family.
Speaking of which, a few days in, with the watch routine setting in, the friendly bickering
between the crew sparkled here and there, adding to the whole family vibe,
no less than grinding more coffee beans than needed (and with a hand grinder no less!)
so that the other watch doesn’t have to do it;
or taking the load off the cook’s shoulders for a day, or taking one for the team scrubbing the toilet,
or rushing to cast off the correct line when in the heat of the moment
a less experienced one mixes them. That’s love and respect.

When you trust someone else – a complete stranger in the case of Tres – to have your back,
to keep watch while you sleep, bake the sourdough bread that you kneaded and put into the pans,
you cede the sole control of the situation, thus becoming part of something larger than yourself.
That’s your belonging.

When you and your crew member dangle bent over a swaying yard, folding the unyielding sail
desperately and fruitlessly trying to convince it to furl
(“Argh – for satan!” – a classic Danish sail coaxing spell),
hear the same response from the sail: “I’m just not meant to furl, hon”, that’s understanding.

And there you have it.

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Departure Tres Hombres (by Giulia Baccosi)

On a grey, Sunday afternoon our good ship Tres Hombres and her happy crew set sail and cast off lines to head where the fishes fly and the sun shines bright: the Caribbean paradise!

The refit is finally over, but a new chapter begins now for the sailing crew who hold in their hands a blank new page: they’ll write their own story of their sail cargo adventure because every voyage is unique and unrepeatable. As much as these papers wait to be filled in with memories, the cargo hold longs to welcome once again barrels of spirits and bags of beans.

There is always some sort of epicness blowing in the wind when this annual event comes! A surreal excitement vibrates in all the people present, on land, on the tug, on board. You can definitely feel it, almost touch it. So much work has been done and we were all looking forward to this moment to come: the ship is ready for her 13th voyage around the Atlantic!
This was made possible by all the commitment, dedication and hard work of us all. Well done, everyone! We did it together!

The land and refit crew, together with friends and family members, gathered on the quay in front of our headquarters in Willemsoord to wave their goodbyes and send their good wishes for the winds to be fair and the journey to be safe. Tres was looking dazzling after all the care she received in the past two months and the light that was sparkling in the eyes of the sailing crew was stunning.
Our loyal tugboat, the GAR, a historical vessel that celebrated its 100 years of activity on the water this year, came alongside to fast the lines. As tradition Capt. Dirk and his wife Louise towed the ship out of the locks into the North Sea while people onshore followed her way from the canal, the walls of the lock till the dike. Fair Winds Black Lady, see you when the winter ends!

The first encounter at sea has been with a massive oil rig platform, an image that strongly contrasts with the beauty of this wooden brigantine sailing by, remembering us why we do all this.
The last line went off and the topsail got raised first. Tres Hombres was finally free to do what she knows best: sailing the oceans powered only by the winds!

An unexpected twist happened just as we all thought that was it. A last-minute accident delayed the actual departure of a night: a crew member injured himself, lightly. For safety reasons, Captain Francois decided to drop anchor and as a precaution evacuate him with the rescue boat of the coast guard of Den Helder in order to bring him as quickly as possible to the hospital to be checked. You don’t go out at sea unless you’re totally sure that your crew is fully able! After confirming that it was only a minor injury, the crew member got back on board with a second ride of the tugboat and at dawn, they heaved up the anchor and headed off with the first morning lights. A final rush of stress for us all but that’s life: not always smooth as we wish but a constant surprising challenge and learning opportunity. The crewmate is now doing well and happily sailing along.

A challenging first leg awaits them now, a passage that will take them over the cold North Sea waters before passing the white cliffs of the Dover Straits which marks the entrance of the jam-packed English Channel, crowded with container ships, fishing vessels and windmill farms, sailing between the tides and the currents, by unstable winds and along and across the treacherous TSS (Traffic Separation Schemes). This is possibly one of the most technical legs of the whole journey, where weather and navigation require high levels of seamanship. Crossing the Atlantic is nothing compared to crossing the English Channel engineless!

Their first port of call is Douarnenez, an historical fishing port located in the most western part of the legendary Celtic region of  Brittany, in France. There, empty barrels and cargo will be loaded, together with good amounts of salted butter, apple juice and cider for the happiness of the crew.

Our brave sailors are out at sea now while we write and read, pushed by favourable winds while they slowly realize their dream is becoming true: they’re sailing the ocean engineless on the one and only Tres Hombres!

 

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Observations (by captain Anne-Flore Gannat)

Mornings are grey, afternoons are sunny.

Probably an effect from temperature changes.

Dense fog at times and horn sound from invisible creatures.

The Moon is growing each day among the stars.

Breads rise well and overflow into the bottom of the oven and are delicious.
The four cans of tea and coffee are very often filled up due to the annual usual frozen summer in the North sea.

Stories and laughter at night go well in many directions.
The proud crew is tacking the ship as if it was their children’s toy.

Falcons and birds dare to pause on deck or on the yards and fly away when we move around the canvas.

The culinary experience is still a pleasure these days.
Twelve mackerels ended up in the oven, two were missing…for the vegetarians’ demand, they got it for the next meal. Yep, sausages have been shared too.

Beauty and serenity of tight ropes and slack lines, standing or running, ready to be activated, to be touched.
Not all of them are meant to be embraced, nevertheless they are essentials.

Mystery of life, what is the message sent when the wind isn’t turning into a convenient way.
Okay, the convenience is dictated by nature. Find resourcefulness draw from deep.
Being a drop of water in this immensity, a grain of dust on the planet and I forget to find reasons for every matter.

Just go on the dear seas.

Just observe.

Sentinel of faraway.

A-F

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The crossing … (by captain Anne-Flore Gannat)

…of Skagerrak is quite smooth.

20 or 25 kts were expected in the middle so I drew a blue line on the chart, do not pass over. Fortunately we never had to dowse the royal and as soon as the wind increased we turned the ship around towards the peaceful Danish coast. Each watch gets the fun to tack the ship within their watch of 4 or 6 hours.
Set the flying jib and gaff topsail and shade on deck.

I actually would have liked to experience some fair winds again because we have just a little bit now and some questions started to appear from trainees about my arrival date prediction. Between 6,5 and 0,5 kts speed over ground, the guessing is an abstract game. Then we wait patiently with harmonica and guitar melody
at times and sheets repairs.

A falcon is flying around us not as the fulmars who, again, take a dip next to the ship.

Seams like the Tres doesn’t want to run into the shipyard yet to be scraped off, loose her spars and gets some noisy torture machines on her ribs for a moment.

But I try to assure her, in November, she will glide along a flock of sea wings birds. All as strong as her, determined to eat miles and parade with other sister ships.

Anne-Flore

 

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Another week in paradise (by Rosa Haberland second mate)

And so I return yet another time to Gudhjem, home of the Gods. This beautiful small port on the North East coast of Bornholm and its people hold a very special place in my heart. Sailing along the coast and passing the rugged cliffs, anticipation for our arrival rises.

Soon Thor, the local wooden motor vessel, steered by Soren, will greet us in front of the harbour and receive our towline to provide the final pull into the narrow entrance. The first lines go ashore as we spot all the familiar faces in the crowd of people watching our arrival. Time for the line pulling circus to begin. In expectation of rough weather, we manoeuvre the Tres all the way into the inner harbour. When we arrive at our final berth, Ursula is ready to greet us with her opera voice. Her beautiful singing stuns all of us into perfect silence and changes the mood completely from the previous action, paving the way for the hugs and kisses about to be exchanged.
We are baaaack!

Maria, Thomas and their team have a welcome dinner at Provianten bar waiting for us, accompanied by many bottles of the delicious French wines we are sailing for them and followed by some serious dance moves.
After all, the sea legs ask to be shaken out.

We spent a beautiful week in this little paradise, safely towed into the corner while it’s blowing outside. One afternoon, we turned the harbour basin into our own private pool for an abandoned ship drill.
Dressed in the bright red immersion suits we follow our first-mate-turned-mama-duck over the railing into the water. After the initial giggles have ebbed off, we practice the caterpillar, the attention circle and climbing into the dinghy. Insulated like seals, we enjoy floating in the cold Baltic water.

Safety first, ice cream second. The quest for the best scoops in town is still on. We unload the last of this summers cargo and visit the new wine bar and butik Kanten in the neighbouring harbour Teijn. Another must-see
while we are over there is the small brewery Penyllan, where Jess brews beers with a wild yeast culture and ages them in wooden barrels.

Also welcoming us with open taps is brewmaster Jan from Svaneke. A long time supporter and recent Tres Hombres crew member, he opens his home and sauna for us to pass a rainy afternoon.

Anders, the chef of Provianten and new resident of the island, invites us to his housewarming party. In his own words “the house is pretty warm now”. Julie takes our cook Jeroen on a farm tour to hunt local delicacies for the journey back around Skagen, adding some treasures of her own to our provisions.

The warmth and generosity with which we are received here year after year is simply incredible. Thank you all for your love and support for our good ship, its crew and our mission.

Tussen tak and see you next time,

Rosa

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Somewhere between Denmark and Copenhagen (by Clarissa Mayer)

Morning Watch

Exact time, day and date are not the most important parameters on board. Therefore, watch changes, meals and sea miles gained towards the desired destination make you notice time passing by.

After patiently awaiting the right wind and slowly moving along the southern Swedish coast, in the course of the night we finally made our way through the Copenhagen sound towards the Kattegat.

The gentle wake up of the other watch promises us a sunny windy day and a tasty breakfast. So we begin the day with fruit porridge, coffee and warm bread fresh from the oven to get ready for our morning watch.
After watch change daily chores call and we wash the deck and clean the galley. The major part of the watch is to take care of the sail handling, adjusting the sail trim to wind and course. So we gybe to change course, trim the sails and set the lower and upper bob to gain further speed. After some days on the same watch and a team experienced with the Tres, manoeuvres run quite smoothly.

Luckily, the wind gives us a break to enjoy the morning sun. So what to do? From my position on the helm helping our second mate to navigate through a lane of huge container cargo ships, I observe another type of action on deck. Guided by our oldest but most sporty watch member, my watch starts a Tabata class. Imagine three people engaging in 8 x 8 high intensity exercises on a moving deck. Utilizing the cargo hold and the aft and random planks as their sports gear. 20 seconds of action are always initiated by a sharp whistle and finished with a bell ring from the phone. This noise and the ever stronger swearing about the duration of the class are the only things that add to the sound of wind in the sails and waves against the hull.
What’s the tune? Sunshine … sunshine reggae … ”

Clarissa

 

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