I have been sailing since before I can remember. When I was a little boy I grew up with my brother and my parents on a small wooden sloop sailing off the coasts of Africa, South America and the Caribbean sea. I did many other things in my life since then but I continued sailing on small leisure sailboats, mostly in the French Brittany and the English Channel.
Six years ago, the 10th of November 2012, I stepped on board Tres Hombres for the first time. It was in Cascais, near Lisbon in Portugal. I was signing on as a Trainee for a three month voyage that would bring me to the Island of Barbados, from where I was going to hitchhike boats to South America and start backpacking towards the pacific. I was looking for something to do with my life that would be more exciting and useful than sitting behind that keyboard for the rest of my career.
By the time we arrived in Barbados, I was feeling more useful on the ship than I had ever felt anywhere on land and my plan to go backpacking suddenly turned into sailing Tres Hombres back across the Ocean and bring her home with her belly full of rum and cacao.
Six years later, after more than 45 000 nautical miles at sea, 10 Ocean crossings and so many encounters, It is time for us to set sails one more time for another long voyage over the Ocean to the Caribbean and back. This time I will be the Captain of the proud ship and a wonderful crew of salty and hungry sailors.
Captain of the Tres Hombres.
Sail aboard our ships Nordlys or Tres Hombres as a trainee. Aboard you will learn all aspects of sailing cargo while you gain the necessary sea miles to start the journey towards becoming a professional master mariner. Learn more: http://fairtransport.eu/sail-along/ or email email@example.com for questions.
In her 75 years of life, Tres Hombres, has had many different occupations. Starting as a navy vessel for the German Kriegsmarine, being used a a fishing vessel, a package and passenger ferry in Ireland, being laid up at several occasions, and finally becoming an ambassador for the revival of the sailing cargo industry.
Seeadler, was her name when still under German registry. I can not recall if she was built under this name, but what I do know is that her keel was laid in 1943, somewhere in a Northern German shipyard. She was part of a program of the creation of a fleet of KFK”s, about 800 or 900 ships of this type where built. In two or three different diversities of design. The original KFK prototype was designed by an Austrian firm in the thirties. They took a series of hull types of Baltic fishing vessels, assumable sailing vessel hulls, and did one of the first tank tests with them. Through combining these tests, they where able to design a hull with a very small resistance through the water. Great seakeeping capabilities. And the advantage of being able to be effectively maneuvered and propelled, with the smallest amount of propulsion power.
The abbreviation of KFK stands for Kriegs Fischerei Kutter, meaning a vessel designed to be used as a patrol or small army vessel. With the added advantage of the possibility of being utilized as a fishing vessel, after her war duties would be fulfilled. For what exact missions our Tres Hombres served, will probably never be revealed. The story does go, that, after the second world war, she helped to clear the Baltic of mines. And, that during this operation, she even sunk in the Oslo fjord. What we know for sure, is that she picked up her peaceful intentions a few years after the war, and started a fishing career from the port of Kiel.
Capt. Jorne Langelaan
My watch mates are resting quietly around me in the darkness of the focastle. The thousands and one sounds of
the ship, the Bosun tools noises, the salty sailors boots heavy steps running on the foredeck, the yelling of the maneuvers (an hard-core symphony which might have sounded creepy or disturbing in the beginning of the trip but now incredibly familiar), together with the glassy waters knocking at the hull close to my ears compose a lullaby, the melody of an old hand-and-heart-made boat that has its own soul and spirit, that breaths as a living creature, that speaks, whispers, cry and shout, at its own way, in its own language.
The red light of my headlamp, which is restricted on deck by the Captain in order to get our eyes sharper and able to see even in the darkest moonless night, brights my bunk and these pages, making me feel alone somehow, if “alone” is a word with a meaning on board of a sailing cargo ship of walkable 25mt shared with 15 sailors. Being alone is a luxury of the land, and personally my biggest saudade on board. So I grab this precious moment and surf this intimate wave of sharing with you some impressions of this whole voyage, now that it is almost over. Yes, almost. Because on an engineless sailing vessel it is hard, pointless, counterproductive and even dangerous to tell such things.
Even if the betting already started nobody can predict with certitude when we will fold the sails, step on the quay, open a fresh beer and looking back at Her saying to ouselves “it is over”. Everything can be, everything can change. You never know. You cannot know. You can do your best, but still it is not you to decide.
The old chinese proverb “if you want to make Gods laughs, tell them about your plans” is truer than ever here and finds its perfect demonstration on the Tres Hombres. The ship and the elements are fully owner of our destinies. Isnt that epic great? So we are almost there and it is time for my watch to begin, lets see what it will be.
The summer trip seems to be a different experience to the way longer transatlantic crossing, but still it is something, especially for some brand new fresh sailors as most of us.
We crossed (without particularly fair winds and currents) the English Channel twice in less than a month, the damned tricky unreliable English Channel with its unpredictable winds and its scaring intense cargo monsters traffic. This has its sailing, nautical but also emotional consequences, repercussion on moods and dynamics, on deck or down in the bunks, as well as inside and outside yourself. This can mean for example that when there is no wind and you feel stuck and bored, kind of useless with no ropes to pull, you can easily get also stuck into a quarrel between peanut butter maniacs and chocolate paste lovers, which it is not such an important either interesting issue, if you know what I mean. The presence or absence of the wind, being anchored in the middle of the Channel unable to move, drifted away or backwards by the currents, the stillness of the wait, all very very tricky elements, and you have to learn how to take care of them. It is therefore very important to keep yourself busy, at least for me it is a strategy that helped a lot. Go to Bosun asking for tasks, take care of the ship to show your love and respect to her, hoping that he will send you up in the riggings, maybe to oil the leather around the shrouds, and there hidden by the sail in the silence of the sky you can listen to your heart beat so loud, making all the other voices quiet, finally.
Sitting on the galley roof staring at the tanks which seem to have released all their petrol cargo on the surface of the sea, so quiet and oily as it looks, witnessing one of the dirtiest fact of our society, a secret hidden in the oceans were every day thousands of thousands of thousands of metal monsters,spitting stinky gases and smokes, whose bellies are filled with a pure foie-gras style with all kinds of evil goods and cheap shit for all kinds of pockets, coming and going from and to all kinds of places, all kinds of materials, colors, shapes, flavours… it seems like we need it, it looks like we desperately need it considering the speed they travel in order to deliver their cargo on the other side of a planet. But do we? Really? What for? And Why? (ps. WHY NOT IS NOT AN ALLOWED FUNNY ANSWER). Are we able to reconsider completely, till the roots, our consumption? Am I?
How many questions, new and old ones, melting together in the messy pot of your mind…and from the outside they sneak into the inside and all the little things and details and events of just a single watch can be strong heartquakes, especially if you are an hopeless empathic sensitive human as I am or used to be? A huge refit of myself started, the one that was waiting for some time now but on land you know… there are lots of ways to postpone it, not to say avoid it. On board of the Tres Hombres, there is no escape from yourself. Your ego will try to trick and tease you but if you accept the challenge and the pain that eventually comes with, you can live a very blow-minding experience. Tolerance, acceptance, adaptation, self confidence and self questioning, the discover of the potentiality of your body, the power of the trust or distrust, in yourself and in the others, the strenght that turns into weakness and reverse, your certitudes upside down… and then the wind starts to blow again and somehow you get through it and you survive your own self while pulling ropes or adding extras crazy sails. or sliding the stunsail boom under the yard inside after having gybed it for the first time believing you cannot do that without making some bullshit… but your beloved one right next to you believes in you, so why wouldnt you?…And you just do it.
I wont go deeper into details, the salty sailors who are reading these lines will probably remember, recognize,understand or at least know what the hell I am talking about and some words could eventually recall some old memories of their very first waves, and the curious followers of the adventures of this ship and her crew are warmly invited to step closer and taste the salt of our personal challenges and mission while we are also sailing cargo pushed only by the winds. The harder the environment, the greater the lesson!
We all have our own hells and heavens, our skeletons and untied knots, dreams and nightmares, and there is nothing more interesting and that will make you feel so connected with yourself, with all the dark and shiny shades of this self, than sailing here. So personally I feel blessed and I am truly thankful to have the opportunity to face this me and eventually, hopefully, grow stronger and be a better being. I promise to myself not to give up on this quest as well as on understanding how this sailing masterpiece and the elements work together and bring us from A to B emission free. Who knows, maybe my path will keep me here for a little more if life will decide I deserve some more of this magic, or somewhere else seeking the same beautiful thrills that made me feel so alive, the learning crashed, the painful downs and unforgettable ups.
I want to thank all the crew, for the good and for the bad, I learned something very important from each of you. And a special one to our Captain, a humble guy who is a pure wild sailing living legend, ready to everything, unpredictable as the winds he loves, who opened up the arms of his knowledge and experience with patience and respect, smartness and balance, it is a true honor to pull the same rope, execute his orders, listening to the explanations of maneuvers, the afternoon lectures or the sunset readings, the generosity to welcome us on board and share his floating home with us, unknown strangers. I have a long list of memories and moments to be grateful for but I will keep it for me.
You are all free to write your own joining this outstanding project to improve yourself and the world living a true life changing adventure.
“We have been longing to see it even if it was missing, but the treasure is there, for sure. Hidden by trickster demons and lost in the labyrinths of our questions and answers” Corto Maltese
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.
Here we are on Nordlys; sailing this wooden ship.
Captain Lammert Osinga
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 http://fairtransport.eu/sail-along/ for the latest schedule and pricing or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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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 email@example.com 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.
captain Fabian Klenner
Eskerrik Asko Getaria!
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.
Captain Andreas Lackner
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.
Captain Andreas Lackner
Hi there folks on land,
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.
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.