You’re not the only one with mixed emotions, you’re not the only ship adrift in the ocean.
I remember this was the Rolling Stones song we listened to on the first crossing I did with Tres Hombres seven years ago. And I’m listening to it again now. Fighting our way to the Channel entrance. The last days were cold days, winds from the North East and sailing full-on by. It seems we may not be allowed to sail back home, but do we really want to sail back home? How are we gonna find Europe? Mixed Emotions.
Six years of sailing around the Atlantic and nearly home again. This time for the first time being captain. All the different captains I was sailing with coming up in my head when I stare over the ocean. What did I learn from who and what do I do with this now?
Some things come up: first sailing together on a Tjalk with Jaap in the Zeeland delta: Always try to keep the ship as close to the wind as possible, falling off you can always do later. After hoisting the leeboards hundreds of times it was time for countless hours behind the helm. Learning how to sail on strong currents in the Oosterschelde.
Later when I first stepped on board on the Tres Hombres in Portugal my first skipper was Lammert: The ocean has many ways to show her size (sometimes it’s hell, sometimes it’s paradise). The love for the ocean was born in the very first week of this Atlantic round trip.
After that year I was sailing with Andreas: how to keep the ship in perfect shape, a good combination of hard work and having parties in the harbours.
Next thing I remember: sitting with Francois a few years later in Boca Chica looking at the weather forecast above the North Atlantic: Depression after depression made our computer screen red. The only thing he said: That will go fast.
From Harry on the Morgenster: you can talk forever about the weather but in the end, you can not change anything about it.
Later I learned from Fosse on the Wylde Swan how to sail proudly backwards in a parade, and remember: a life full of adventure gets also boring after a while (altijd avontuur wordt ook maar een sleur).
Just some things from years and years sailing around. And now I have to do it on my own. Now Bob Dylan’s singing: Jeah How does it feel, like a Rolling Stone?
But not without a home: we are sailing home and even the eastern winds will not prevent us to come back.
I see grey skies looming in all directions. It’s becoming ever more clear that we are moving towards the North as the temperature drops, and the seas start to lose their blue.
The first response of my shipmates and I is to reflect the state of our surroundings in attitude and emotion; See grey, feel grey. This is not the complete process of the experience however, as golden hearts shine through the clouds, always to the Sun as we head East.
Every day I am more convinced that the human body is nothing if not adaptable. I’ve learned that it is the sheer power of will that keeps the body warm and immune, not the obvious comforts we so easily depend on externally. This same power is what keeps the ship moving forward, taking just another form of focus, and determination. If the skies can so directly influence our inner states of being, why then, do we feel so incapable of doing the same, in turn, to the skies? Are they not extensions of our own experience? Do they not hail from the same infinite universe?
Aye, I believe humans have indeed caught a glimpse of eternity’s sunrise and stopped to drink from the fountains of Zion, but we remain human still, blissfully mortal. It is our duty to undergo that which unsettles, and disturbs the world. It is discomfort that makes someone move for more, just as harsh winds fill a sail, and push a ship such as ours through oceans.
Sometimes we forget to reconnect with ourselves, and think past our coldness, but even still, as the ever changing seasons of nature would have it, there is always another stimulant that comes forward to lighten the mood, things as simple as hot food at the end of a watch, clean water to drink, or the sight of whales and dolphins dancing for us, welcoming us home. These things set in motion again, the cycle of that human potential, to overcome, and create our own experience, through laughter and teamwork. Long Live those Men and Women who see an adventure in a storm, or an opportunity to sow in barren ground.
We are now 21 days at sea. First, we tacked our way out of the Caribbean sea through the Mona Passage.
Squalls and sailing full-on by through the first ocean waves. After we sailed close-hauled all the way to the hight of Bermuda. We did see the lights of the lighthouses in the distance and heard Bermuda Radio inform the ships around that if you wanted to visit the islands you had to go into quarantine. We have our own small happy healthy quarantine on board here, in the middle of the ocean.
We are surfing over the ocean and keeping our heads clear: instead of watching tv and internet, we are watching the waves and ocean skies.
Instead of buying toilet papers, we are trimming the sails to go as fast as possible forward: destination Horta.
Till a few days ago: Pedro from Peter Sports café informed that the harbour of Horta was open but crew is not allowed to go on land. We can get provisioning and water to the ship and berth on a special quarantine pier: that’s it. So no playing rock n roll and dancing on the tables in Peter Sport, no Tres Hombres painting 2020 or writing my name on the Captains painting by Jorne, no way of getting my mail from the special seaman post office.
And since we have favourable winds, for now, I decided we are going to do this crossing without stopping in the Acores. We have enough food/water and gas on board for another four weeks. We are now homebound: for crew and ship, it’s better to stay in the rhythm of the ocean and have Amsterdam as a destination. Boca Chica to Amsterdam around 5000 sea miles, it will be a crossing to remember.
From today on we will steer North to sail around high pressure in the Biscay and Acores and as soon we have the good hight, we will try to get west first to first reach Land’s End and Lizard Point, after we hope to have good winds to get through the channel and the North Sea. For now, we are enjoining the ocean, this time even without airplane pollution.
All the best from the Tres Hombres
Captain Wiebe Radstake
On the 16th of February in Santa Marta, Colombia I stepped into a whole new world called sailing. Everything was new to me. Living with people you don’t know on a boat, ropes, sails, climbing, sailing terms.
After preparing the boat we went to Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. In these 9 days, I was getting a little used to all this stuff. But new stuff came up.
Getting dressed and undressed on a constantly moving floor, seeing your bowl of food sliding on the table, walking like a drunk man on deck. Going to the top of the mast is also a whole different ballgame in the waves.
Getting used to the watches. Pulling ropes when it has to be done quickly. In Boca Chica, we prepared ourselves for a long journey, probably (we know for sure now) not stopping in Horta, Azores but directly going to Amsterdam, Holland. After loading the barrels of rum and putting bags of cacao in every corner of the boat and putting love into the boat that has to bring us safely to the other side of the ocean, we left. Again a whole new thing for me, the big relentless Atlantic Ocean. The first days were a good introduction to the ocean. Banging into the waves. Getting almost lifted up from the bed while sleeping. Seeing the 25-meter long mast and her sails moving like grass in the wind while the moon is shining on the sea, gave me such a happy feeling. The boat moving up and down in 5 meter big waves, made me feel like a child again. Climbing in top of the mast while getting swung around, makes me feel alive. Even doing dishes is an adventure. Taking care of all parts of the boat, makes you realize how much things are going on. Countless meters of ropes, blocks, sails and so much more. The good food, laughing, stories under the stars every night, living so close together with 13 other people, the whole idea of a cargo ship without an engine, the sunrises and sunsets, the fight against the elements all the time and the fact that you can’t go anywhere makes the Tres Hombres such a special place to be. After almost 3 weeks on the open sea, I think I understand why people saying this is a life-changing experience and I am more than happy to have this experience!
Tug; tack, tack, (accidental tack and gybe), tack, tack, tack, tack, etc.
Like Tres Hombres’ mission, we sail backwards to go forwards
Learning from the past, bracing and making fast
14 days of full-on by, Starling satellites sail through the night sky
Engineless, just starlight in our small 32 m world alone in the ocean
No mirrors or wifi for egos and vanity
Self-reflection here on a grander scale
Bunts and clew-ing
Olden rum-run living
Care and nuture giving
We are now a week on the eastward crossing. We are heading to Europe. Sailing across the Atlantic. From Boca Chica we were heading straight into the Mona passage with huge waves, which made us a wet welcome on the great ocean. The boat was healing deep into the water at the realign. Our socks were soaked and the boots felt like little lakes.
But we kept going. We were motivated to solve this difficult area and were looking forward to the wide ocean. For a few days, we are now surrounded by miles of water – the Atlantic ocean. The weather cleared up and we can finally dry our clothes. Life is nice but sometimes every little thing is a competition on board. If your environment is shrunk by some cargo. I just came out of the foxhole. It is noon and time for lunch. Today our cook serves a quiche with vegetables and a nice salad. But suddenly everything changed.
I was on the way to the aft for the watch change, as the captain shouted “man over board”!
The mood on board suddenly switched from smiles in the faces of our crew to concentrated focused views in their mime. The MOB shout is the nightmare of every sails-man. Each officer is getting a shock of adrenalin with a little heart attack.
Who is it?
The scared trainees gathered on the aft. Our fearless cook climbed on the galley roof and pointed towards the one together with Anna, a courageous trainee. The course got clewed up and we tacked the boat around. While the starboard deckhand made the dinghy ready. I ran to some live rings to throw them. Wiebe, the captain, stood on the helm and gave the commands to each one. We braced around.
Soon the dinghy was dowsed into the ocean. First Mate Paul jumped straight to the engine and started it. His strong arms pulled the starter so good, that it started straight away. With Martin on-board they paced over the waves towards where the spotters where pointing. The captain shouted commands through the VHF. Everyone can hear what is going on. On board everything got prepared for the arriving of the missing one. Blankets and towels have been brought on deck.
They found it!
Soon the dinghy drivers were replying “we have it”! The lost one was a fender and everyone’s fear was released. Nobody was missed today. It was a drill. The most important one. We are training the Man over board, the Flooding, the Fire and the Abandon Ship Case. But this drill reminds us all on rule number one: “stay on board”! Which means both feet stay on deck. No running and if the weather is rough like at the Mona Passage we keep on hooked in, on our safety lines and stays. It reminds us all how difficult it is in hard weather conditions to find a person in the water and bring her back.
For this day everything went well and we learned a lot from this situation. After we continued with our watch-system.
We are fully loaded to the brim with Coffee, Rum and Chocolate. Barrels in the noise room, that’s probably a first. With time to think after weeks of harbours and civilization, I am finally writing my 4th blog article on this journey. Returning home I really look forward to seeing my families and friends again after that long time on the road.
The crew is in a really good mood, after more or less a week at sea everybody is getting into a rhythm again. The old crew falls into its patterns and the new crew gets their feet wet. Old inside jokes developed over time get retold while some stories as if by a silent agreement are not being talked about. And everybody knows that these days of crossing the ocean to Bermuda are the last days of Caribbean Sun before entering the actual North Atlantic, into the European Spring.
The thing I will write about our last harbour, Boca Chica, is that you are not supposed to drink the tap water there – am I surprised? My personal favourite from all the places we visited in the west is Grenada. It had the right mix of exotic but sympathetic roughness. It had a distinct culture, friendly people and on top of that a green and lush nature. The whole crew had a great field day visiting the Grenada Chocolate Company – a delicious slavery-free Oil Down included.
Stepping on land in Horta at the Azores would be a very welcome experience after all the stories I have heard of these islands, but to be sure we are stocked up for the « long crossing » directly to Amsterdam. From our perspective, it looks like Europe is doing a unique social experiment where the boat is somehow not part of it. We are lucky enough to have plentiful supplies of bog roll and the best homemade pizza I ate in my life. I am prepared for a small chickenpox party after arrival to get done with it. We don’t see many aeroplanes, but got a friendly visit from a US Coast Guard helicopter while passing Puerto Rico. What happens to the rest of the planet? No daily crazy media frenzy to worry about. Our little world here is not changed that much, except the worries about our relatives at home belonging in the risk groups. We are probably at one of the more sane and safe places at the moment.
One thing I strongly remember is that day on the crossing to the Caribbean when we drove the dingy on a calm day around the Tres, she dressed up with all the Stun Sails you can find. That tiny self-sustained world floating in the nothingness of ocean above an abyss of kilometres of water. That was an « Apollo 8 Moment »: Treat that floating home and anything on it with all the love and care you can, there is nothing else around it. If somebody sees a metaphor there I’m happy…
Now after being engulfed in a waft of slightly fermenting chocolate beans for an hour or two I’ll return on deck to finish a wonderful, sunny Sunday off-watch.
Martin Zenzes, Bermuda Basin, 2020
We zijn weer terug op de oceaan, na meer dan drie maanden, vier eilanden, een continent tientallen tonnen Cacao en koffie, vaten vol rum laden, gedag zeggen tegen bemanning, vrienden, hallo zeggen tegen nieuwe vrienden, na niet kunnen slapen van de hitte, onstuimige winden in Colombia, windstilte achter St. Vincent, ontmoetingen met oude smokkelzeilkapiteinen, tientallen keren zeil zetten en weer weghalen, na wandelingen over verlaten stranden, een weg zoekende door overvolle toeristische plekken, na bellen met thuis, na veel heimwee maar ook een intens geluk gecombineerd, was het tijd de oceaan op weer over te steken. Het ruim, de bemanningsverblijven, alles aan boord van de Tres Hombres ligt vol met vracht voor Amsterdam.
Na hoog aan de wind onder de Dominicaanse Republiek weggekomen te zijn, kruisend door de Monapassage waren we vanochtend weer op de oceaan. Weer 5000 meter onder de kiel. De oceaan swell van drie meter op de kop, elke paar minuten een automatische dekwas!
We voelen ons vogelvrij, eindelijk weten we wat het is vogelvrij te zijn. We hebben aan alle kanten van het schip water zo ver je kijkt, we kunnen alle kanten op maar weten ook weer niet waar we kunnen aanleggen. De vrijheid van een vogelvrij verklaarde: met het virus rondspokende in Europa weten we niet waar we straks binnen kunnen varen. We zijn de oceaan op gegaan, gezond en vol goede moed al kan ik erbij zeggen dat het vreemd is niet precies te weten waar we aan zullen komen. Met een motorloos vrachtschip is de tijd al moeilijk in te schatten die je over een oceaanoversteek gaat doen. En nu komt daar nog bij dat de eerste haven ook moeilijk is in te schatten. We varen verder, eerste doel: Horta zoals alle voorgaande jaren. Kunnen we daar over drie a vier weken niet in dan varen we rechtstreeks door naar Europa. Extra water en proviand is gebunkerd, we kunnen desnoods zes weken op zee blijven. Niet dat we dat willen: het liefst zou ik nu bij mijn zwangere vrouw thuis zijn maar als dit het lot is, zullen we niet langer klagen want wat mot, ja dat mot.
Tot nog toe is de oceaan prachtig, gisteren in de Mona Passage hadden we elke wacht zo’n 3 squalls met windshifts en veel regen over. Nu een mooie Noordooster bries (5bft) en zonnig weer, de Tres steigert en rolt er prachtig tegenin. We willen naar het Noorden, ter hoogte van Bermuda hopen we de Westerlies tegen te komen en daarmee naar het Oost Noord Oosten te rollen. Ondertussen is zelfs de ergste zeezieke weer op de been en is iedereen aardig in het ritme. We genieten, de zon, de golven over dek, Galley en zelfs over de roerganger heen; ik lees boeken van Slauerhof en Nescio. Twee oerhollandse schrijvers die mooi over het water en Holland kunnen vertellen. Het water daar zitten we op, holland daar verlang ik naar, al zal ik ook blijven geloven in het leven in het nu: in een wereld die in crisis is zitten we misschien wel op de beste plek. Voor het eerst in jaren is deze manier van transport de snelste manier om van de eilanden naar Nederland te komen (sinds er bijna niet meer gevlogen wordt tussen Carib en Europa). In plaats van te piekeren over virussen kijk ik op het kompas, kan de roerganger nog wat hoger, nog wat meer snelheid uit het schip halen? We zijn op de terugweg en ik heb, hoe mooi dit ook is, haast om begrijpelijke redenen!
After 2 weeks of loading in the port of Andres, Boca Chica Dominican Republic it’s time to sail out again. Exactly 2 weeks ago we sailed into the harbour with sail and hand power only, A perfect manoeuvre around the reefs, into the sheltered old harbour, throwing mooring lines to the harbour workers and stop the ship just in time.
We loaded many tons of Cacao for Amsterdam all by hand, it has been long days! Around 150 bags of 70 kgs each were stacked on top of the sixteen barrels of rum we loaded earlier that day. It sounds like this is all doable in one day but the Dominican Republic is a place where nothing happens in a fast way. You need to talk to a lot of officials and see a lot of nice offices from the inside to get the cargo on board.
The cargo hold is completely filled up, we filled up the aft compartment and even built an additional floor over the bags of cacao. It’s a very big operation to get everything in a good place and use every space we could. Thanks for the team for working together these long days in the warmth of Dominican Republic.
During the loading process and the process of getting the ship ready to cross the ocean again, more and more information about some virus in Europe was coming to us. After getting all the information about closed harbours, borders etc. I made the final decision: we can’t wait here, we have to sail, we have to bring the ship back to Europe.
So tomorrow we will sail out of the harbour of Boca Chica with the early morning winds. From then on we don’t have internet, no phones etc. We are living in our own world, a world without rumours about viruses etc. I think the ocean is for my crew and our ship the best place to go to at this moment.
Our office onshore will send us updates about where we can and where we can’t go. In the logbook, we will write down Horta as our destination. We will see in a few weeks if we can go in there or not. Till that time it’s us and the sea and I wish you all the best on the land!
Captain Wiebe Radstake
Now, normally I would only echo these commands to help make sure everyone on position knew exactly what was happening and that the ship now was committed to the upcoming tack but now it happens to be me standing at that helm that is going Alee and I am not the echo but the instigator as I quickly spin the wheel.
« Ease the foresails! »
As the helm comes to a stop I turn to grab the Main sheet and haul away to bring the main into the middle to give more pressure onto the aft to make sure the bow will pass through the wind. A quick glance over my shoulder before I make fast to look at the flag, make fast and then that moment.
As everything goes quiet, Will she pass through with her big belly full of rum?…
There it is, that tell tail in her sails and that first gentle sway to the other bow.
« Let go and Haul! » « Tack the Fore Sails! » Spin the helm to the middle and I’m easing out the main on the new tack as on deck the deckhand starts calling out which brace is fast and for the opposite side to « Slack out make fast ».
Someone is already changing the topping lifts and the mid stays also get tacked by whoever is finished with his or her station first.
And as I correct my oversteer the Tres is slowly making speed again and setting herself into the motion of the sea and the energy level that comes with tacking a square rig sailing vessel with only 6 people is slowly easing off as her deck get squared.
Damn this is cool.
Two years ago I would have never thought I would be in this position on the helm in charge of my own watch steering the ship towards Boca Chica where this particular adventure of mine all started.
Two years ago when I first stepped onto this fine and taught vessel to sail with my friend Jorne as an interesting way to go back to Europe after having been hiking for quite some time in the wilderness of New Zealand and the States.
Two years ago something rekindled that what initially only had been intended as a fun way to revisit the old passion for traditional sailing with the man that had started that for me 20 years earlier.
Two awesome years of adventure, stories, beautiful pictures, new friends, amazing opportunities and new places to visit.
And I am very aware of the opportunities I have been given in this company, from volunteer to deckhand and from deckhand to mate (with a little extreme crash course re-education in the middle, Thank you Enkhuizen :])
I am very grateful for the chance to work on these fine ships and the trust I feel from the people already having been involved many years before I came around.
I’m going back on deck now so we can set more sails, so I’ll finish with this…
Two years have gone by since I fell in love with an amazing woman with salty blood that lights up my life, 2 black-hulled beauties, a company, a mission and I guess a career… and that’s way more than I had ever hoped to dream for when I first stepped onto these planks.
Can’t wait to find out what’s next.
Lenno Visser, 2nd Mate.