Swimming cargo: salty, sweaty & satisfying – by Nadine Gamerdinger

So three months have already passed since we left Den Helder.

We’ve visited several ports and cities, survived the bay of Biscay, sailed past a volcano island, and crossed the Atlantic ocean.

We finally arrived in the Caribbean. To be honest, it took me a moment – and another look at the map – to realize where we were. So far from home, but still feeling at home.

The ‘pirate ship’ has reached its destination, ready to fill her belly with some of the finest rums.

Loading the barrels in the ports of La Palma and Barbados – surrounded by huge cruise ships – was impressive, but let me tell you a story about swimming barrels from boat to the beach, and back!

Approaching the beautiful island of Marie Galante really looks like it’s cut out of a movie. Crystal clear water, empty white beaches, palm trees, and turtles popping their heads out of the water every now and then. We dropped anchor in the bay next to St.Louis and took the empty barrels out of the cargo hold to prepare the unloading for the next morning.

First a little explanation. Why do we swim the barrels?

On an engineless sailing cargo ship, like Tres Hombres we like to stick to this spirit as much as we can. So whenever it is possible we use our own muscle power, instead of burning petrol. It’s also a tradition of the old days of sailing cargo we like to keep alive and celebrate on Tres Hombres. Back in the time when there were no big industrial ports, it was normal to anchor, drop the barrels overboard, and swim them to shore.

Last but not least it’s a lot of fun and a highlight for the whole crew and all the people who come to watch and sometimes also join us.

A working day on board Tres Hombres

6:30

Waking up with the sunrise, enjoying porridge and coffee for breakfast.

7:00

Dropped the first barrel overboard. I took the chance and grabbed the first barrel, followed by three other swimmers and one mermaid (yes, you read it right, a mermaid!). Enjoying a nice swim, facing a small Caribbean paradise island, and watching little fishes pass you by. What a way to start a working day.

7:20

After a 20 minutes swim we reached the abandoned beach. We rolled the barrels out of the water and carried them through a little palm tree forest to the trucks of the distillery. Together with the people from the Pere Labat, we unloaded our barrels and off they went to be filled.

9:00

Our Captain Francois joined the team at Pere Labat Distillery and filled up the barrels himself. The Pere Labat Distillery is one of the three distilleries on the island, which produces Rhum Agricole directly out of the sugar cane juice.

A few days after loading the barrels we visited the distillery and were able to get a glimpse into their production process, and of course, getting to taste some of their delicious rums.

12:00

After a few hours, the barrels were back at the beach, ready to be carried off to the ship.

For unloading the barrels from the truck we used the help of a small crane because after being filled up they weight around about 250 kg. The reason that we weighed them is for quality control, to know their weight when they leave the distillery and then how heavy they are upon arrival in Amsterdam. During the crossing evaporation of the rum occurs, making the barrel lighter. This is what we call the angel’s share.

12:30

Rolling the barrels back through the palm tree forest and down the beach, our swimming team was ready to take over again. It’s tough work because we have to roll them in a special way, to make sure that the cork doesn’t get stuck in the sand. If you get close to the cork you can already smell the rum inside. Swimming the full barrels is the easiest with at least two people, to be able to push them through the waves and towards the ship.

13:00

Back at our Black Lady, as we like to nickname her on board, the other part of the crew has already prepared the ropes and chains to hoist the barrels out of the water. Now, the sweaty part starts. The barrels have to be loaded carefully, they’re almost as heavy as a baby elephant. Good communication and teamwork are the keys to a satisfying loading so that the barrels are stowed securely and arrive safely at their destination – which could be your living room!

Now the sun is setting on another adventurous day. We end the cargo day with a more refreshing swim in the turquoise waters, raising a glass of last year’s stellar rum, all hands toasting together: Long Life to Sail Cargo!

Do you enjoy reading our crew’s adventures? Imagine being there when you enjoy our products at home!

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