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.
It’s 12:00 in the morning. The stars are out once again with unbelievable expression, and the Moon has returned after her trip under the horizon. We are 130 miles from the coast of Haiti, enjoying calm seas and steady winds from the east. It is quite a challenge to even remember any troubles that used to govern my day today, as everything here is so remote, and the endless open waters constantly offer the sense of a new life. Even sleep feels new, as we rock, and the waves toss our boat around like children playing innocently.
The sea has a real talent for playing with one’s thoughts, and as the eyes adjust to the starlight, strange, and beautiful figures dance in the shadows. Glowing trails of defensive algae mark our path through the water, and it feels as though we are sailing over galaxies.
I sit with my watch crew, and we dive into the concepts of Man, and Evolution, bewildering theories of what can be achieved, and what it means to exist as creators. Some days it feels as though all the answers are already known to us collectively, but I think we all get a thrill from the sense of mystery, and I believe its this mystery that makes the pursuit of knowledge worth anyone’s attention.
It isn’t always a dream state though, and when reality kicks in, it doesn’t hold anything back. I find myself having to focus more than ever lately, climbing up onto the Royal Yard, or under the Bowsprit, tossed around with incredible speeds as I grab for ropes and sails, finding my limits, and then leaping over them every day. I live for the high-pressure moments, where the mind is completely silent, and the heart and body guide my movements. When one can really let go, and BE the result, instead of always trying to DO, that is when life can be felt in each breath, and the soul can be seen through ones work.
When the sun rises later today, I’ll wake up again to meet him for another day of this fantastic adventure.
I was starting my trip with the Tres Hombres in Santa Marta, Columbia. I am a newbie to sailing and in fact, never have been on a ship before so I thought the Caribbean Sea would be a good start. When I arrived at the marina and had a first glance at Tres Hombres, I was really excited. The appearance of this historical beauty impressed me a lot, even she was not in action and all sails were dowsed. I felt the urgent need to get on to it and get known to the crew that was already honoured to call Tres Hombres their home. I can describe my first contact as you can read it in sailing fairy tales. I was invited to sit down with the lovely crew during picturesque sundown in perfect weather. Then I got a small tour around the deck and was introduced to my place in the « foxhole ». Even that the air quality dropped immediately in this 8 people sleeping room, I knew I would feel comfortable here and the bed was actually larger and better than expected. When we left the marina and set sails to get to the cargo harbour of Santa Marta, my heart made a jump and I could see and feel what sailing looks like. Later I realized, that this was just the light version of sailing. But since I am adventurous and love to be outside and in nature, my personal happiness tank was filled up more and more, the more days I spent on board and the more experiences I acquired. I can’t tell, what I like the most. To learn about rigging, ropes, knots and navigation as well as practising manoeuvres, climbing up the mast or maintain the ship. Or if it is the confrontation with mother nature that inspires me and also make me think about the impact that we all have. There are only a few chances to watch stars like this in the real world. Being on the ship day and night creates a deep sense of consciousness and you get one with the ship and your surrounding. When all sails are hoisted and the wind is strongly blowing into it, and the waves are shaking this small piece of wood with a couple of human beings attached to it in the middle of the ocean, it does not just feel like riding rodeo. It shows you the power and beauty of nature in all facets.
It is almost ironic, that we are on this mission to transport cargo worldwide emission-free and therefore show the world that there are alternatives to established systems. And while doing it, you will be totally reassured to do so and take your share in saving our planet. So if you want to have a once in a lifetime experience, I can recommend a trip with Tres Hombres or if you are not that brave, just buy Fair transport rum, chocolate or coffee, because it is really good 🙂
The last 54 hours we were beating against the trades. In the morning the winds are East and we steer North, North North East. As soon as the sea wind effect in the afternoon makes that the wind is North East we tack with all hands and steer for 12 hours South East (around 120* overground). This full-on by/closed hauled sailing made us win around 100 miles in the East direction in nearly 3 days. That sounds maybe not so much but can be the big difference to reach Boca Chica/Dominican Republic. At the moment the wind picked up 22 knots and Tres Hombres is jumping against the increasing waves. We have a course of 130* and the ship is heading toward Cabo de la Veda, the most eastern point of Colombia. Tonight when the land wind effect will stop the evening breeze we will tack again and try to get a ground course of 15*. I hope we can make the 350 miles to the Dominican Republic in 3 days full on by starting tonight. I think we will arrive around Thursday night a little east of Isla Beata at the border of Haiti and Dominican Republic. To get into the bay of Santo Domingo we will use the land/sea effect again.
The atmosphere on board is very very good, the crew is really into it, the tacks are going faster and faster: Douse the outer jib, douse the gaff top, clew up the course, everybody in position, helm’s a lee! Ease the jibs, tack the stay sail’s and let’s go and haul! Set gaff top, outer jib and make speed again.
It’s so nice to have so many people from different sailing cargo ships on board. Marine and Lenno, come from the Nordlys, they know how it is to sail on a Fairtransport ship, Anna who sailed on the Greyhound, Luuk and Logan coming from the Ceiba project in Costa Rica, Lars from the Hawila in Copenhagen. And then off course the people of Tres Hombres already sailing here on board since the Netherlands: Paul/Martin/Soraia/Karsten and Daniel. It’s a fight but the spirit on the Tres Hombres is high!
In passing first behind St Lucia, we ended up behind Saint Vincent without any wind, and the starboard watch spent six hours bracing non stop in the scorching heat looking for even the slightest breeze, to no avail. after another couple of hours, we finally caught some wind again and continued to Saint George, Grenada, where we were tugged in with the help of local fishermen.
I think its safe to say none of us knew much about Grenada before arriving there. At just over 112.000 inhabitants, its’s the 10th smallest country in the world. Famous for its valuable spices, its unsurprising that Grenada was heavily colonized from the 16th century onwards by the Spanish, the French, and finally the British until its independence in 1979.
The island has everything from beautiful beaches lined with palm trees, to tropical forest inland, and the way to get around is by the little minivan buses that drive at breakneck speed down the winding narrow roads. The Grenadians are friendly and easygoing people. Music is always coming from all directions, the smell of spices is in the air, the sun is blistering hot every day so we decided to start work at 6 am and finish earlier so we can go to the beach or out for some ice cream or a local Carib beer.
The new trainees that came on board in Martinique are getting their first sail training and climbing instructions. We visit the Grenada Chocolate Company, that makes delicious organic chocolate, and after a guided tour of through factory, the staff treats us to a huge cookout of the national dish ‘the oil down’ a sort of giant stew.
For me, Grenada is an unsung Caribbean paradise, a land of spice, hidden treasures and smiling faces. I have many fond memories of it as we set sail to our next destination, Colombia.
Amber Grootjans, Trainee.