Tres Hombres blog: Learning the ropes

Next to being one of the few engineless sailing cargo ships, engaged in international trade, Tres Hombres is a sail training vessel as well. Nowadays most squareriggers, are occupied in some form of sail training. With us, it is of course the combination with carrying freight in this century, what makes it really special. Normally we have any number of: up to eight trainees on board. Trainee, is the modern name, but I am inclined to name them apprentices. Originally an apprentice would be a practical student to become a ships officer, and normally an apprenticeship would take an average of four years. Because really, what I feel as my personal goal here on board, is to inspire them for a career at sea, a return to sea, or at least an unforgettable memory and love for the precious place the ocean is.

So how are we trying to teach the mysteries of the sea? First and most importantly, I would like to refer to a short poem of: Longfellow, his poetic writing says more than I could describe in a thousand words:

Wouldst thou- so the helmsman answered,
Learn the secret of the sea,
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery!

It does say most of it, and it comes down to the point, that you are learning by doing. And you ought to give this time, a lot of time. Apart from this we also try to organize a short lecture in each day watch, every day. Since leaving Boca Chica we have talked, apart from the safety procedures, about: ship design, shipbuilding, history of sailing ships, standing rigging and bringing up lower and topmasts the traditional way. Right now we are doing an experiment as well, where each new trainee is coupled to one of the experienced crew members. This way we reenact the old tradition, of having a seafather appointed to a green hand. This seafather is teaching the intricacies of the arts of the seaman, at a one person to one person way.

In the more than 15 ocean crossings Tres Hombres has made in the previous years, our teaching concept has been proven right in many instances. Currently one of our deckhands, started as a trainee the past year. And even one of our Captains, grew from trainee, via deckhand and officer to his position of command!

So join Tres Hombres, and comprehend the mystery of the sea…http://fairtransport.eu/sail-along/

Truly yours,
Capt. Jorne Langelaan

Tres Hombres blog: Sailing to windward

Leaving Boca Chica, when bound for the Azores, one has two most straightforward options for reaching the North Atlantic ocean. There is going West of Haiti through the Windward passage, or East of Dominican Republic through the Mona passage. Theoretically the Windward passage would give a more favorable wind direction, the danger of loosing all wind in the lee of Haiti, and the disadvantage of the lee shore of the Islands and reefs of the Bahamas. The Mona passage is shorter and against the trades and currents. With the weather forecast of the coming days, there is not much advantage in taking the Windward passage, so, as Tres Hombres has been doing year after year we choose our course again against the trades, bound for the Mona passage.

One of the old master mariners of the grand windjammers firm of Leisz, I believe it was Capt. Heinrich Nissen. Formulated the rules to sail a big or small squarerigger to windward. They are universal, and are still used on the few squareriggers, sailing to windward without engine assistance. So, as we are one of them, we have been making use of these rules since Tres Hombres started trading in 2009.

They are the following:
1). Always carry the right amount of sail to guarantee optimal propulsion. At times this can mean pushing our vessel hard, and keeping as much sail on her as possible. It might also mean taking advantage of a favorable current or tide on one of the tacks, and reduce speed accordingly.
2). Decide, usually with a current or tide against you, if you want to keep speed, and do not pull your sheets to tight. Or, sometimes with a favorable current and tide, if you want to pinch as close to the wind as possible, to keep the advantage for a longer time.
3). Always put your ship on the tack which is most advantageous to reach your destination. This destination might be the final destination, or especially on longer or coastal voyages, a point where you want to be to make the most of an expected weather or tidal change.

Just before sunrise we tacked and in a few hours we will tack again, closely applying the rules of the trade…

Truly yours,
Capt. Jorne Langelaan

Tres Hombres blog: Familiarization on a ship

In Boca Chica, we do not only load cargo, but we are also having a crew change. Two of our sailors have left, and five new ones signed on. This makes our crew 14 hands all told. A good size of crew. Large enough to have two watches of 6 and the Cook and Master in the daywatch. The sexes are equally devided this trip, so we have 7 female and 7 male crewmembers. 14 hands should be enough to weather most situations, while it is not too overcrowded that a full watch can not eat together in the galley.

On a sailing ship (really on board any ship), as told before, much of the seaworthiness of the ship is determined by its crew. The crew ought to be working together smoothly as a team, helping each other, trusting each other, and blindly falling back on each other. This situation is reached, through different mechanisms, in a perfect world, allready before departure. First of all there is the backbreaking work of loading the more than 200 bags of cacao and the equally heavy, but more coördinated work of hoisting barrels of rum and melasse, weighing almost 300 kilograms, with the whip, bow- and stern-fall, into the hold. Secondly there is the living together in close quarters with a minimum of comfort, no running or hot water and the continuous sharing of household tasks like deckwashing and doing the dishes. All of this in the tropical heat and powerfull rain showers of the Caribbean spring. Third, there is the social part, of coming together in musters, at least daily, sometimes more. Here the Master shares the information regarding the latest news about loading, weather, schedule and happenings in the office, here the crewmembers can share their toughts about practical, social or personal matters, and the proposed plan for the work of the coming day is set out, and if needed reviewed. Then there are off course the nights spent on deck or in the galley, listening to each others; weary, wild and weird sea stories, yarning and trying to find a shared understanding.

Finally there is the theoretical side of explaining the crew about safety, ship and seamanship. This is what we are trying to accomplish, these days before we set sail. Meaning every morning after muster, a lecture about different subjects is given. Yesterday we talked about the different safety procedures: man over board, fire, flooding, abandon ship, climbing the rigging and working the anchor gear. Today we made a start about shipbuilding principles especially focussing on the type of ship represented by Tres Hombres. Tomorrow an introduction to square rig seamanship is scheduled.

Truly yours,

Capt. Jorne Langelaan

 

A bloody seagull on a soapbox can sail downwind, but it takes a seaman to go against it.

Tacking against the trades,

Since leaving the anchorage of Cabo Rojo, we have been close hauled. A term, used by sailors when sailing as much against the wind as physically possible. It is also the course where the qualities of the sailor and his vessel are most tested, independently of the strength of the wind. In the Caribbean sea, when one is intended to move from West to East, there is no other way than going against the prevailing trade winds.

The voyage, before I came on board, which departed after loading coffee in Santa Martha, Colombia, and brought the ship to Cabo Rojo, Dominican Republic, was a good example of a close hauled voyage with strong winds. This is really where crew and ship are tested to the limit. Before leaving Santa Martha, the whole standing rigging was tuned as taut, that she was able to carry sail to the utmost. And this is what she did, and this is what had to be done. Because only with fighting over every degree and mile, it is possible to make headway against the trade winds and their accompanying currents. Especially when they are stronger than average. It has a prize though, a wooden ship pushed this hard, has a tendency of leaking more than in less challenging circumstances. Her crew becomes tired after days of fighting the adverse weather, having not a dry rag left, and being tossed around the decks and cabins.

This trip, to Boca Chica, we encounter a total different situation. Quite the opposite in weather really, the wind has not been very strong and at times even absent. At these occasions there is barely enough wind, to even steer the ship in a straight course. And as we have to tack almost every watch, to fulfill our intended zig zag course against the wind. We had it two times now, that we were not even able to tack her, due to the absent push in the sails, combined with a swell to stop her bow. If this happened, stubbornly we would, make speed again and steer into another tack, to only experience the same disappointment. And finally after having encountered the failed slow motion maneuver twice, we would finally retreat to the even more ground loosing maneuver of jibing. Also sailing with these light winds, would not be so much of a challenge, where it not for the constant strain of the current setting us West, and at our slow speed, making our zig zag course often not more than a parallel track.

Our voyage plan positively stated a voyage of 125 miles, yet we logged already well over 300 miles since heaving up anchor. These miles are not won, with a nice racing speed, no, we are averaging a speed of: 3 or 4 knots an hour. Our crew is in high spirits though. We are looking forward to fasten our mooring lines in Boca Chica. Meet up with the new crew members, who are awaiting our arrival, to join our ranks. And finally start loading the final precious cargo, cocoa, rum and melasse, up till her marks, to return home across the North Atlantic ocean.

So even these days the age old saying holds true: A bloody seagull on a soapbox can sail downwind, but it takes a seaman to go against it.

See you soon,
Capt. Jorne Langelaan

Tres Hombres blog: It’s not entirely the ship which defines seaworthiness

Preparing to go to sea..

So while we are at sea again, I would like to explain a little bit about preparing a ship to go to sea. As you have read in the previous weblog, we have been at anchor for two weeks. I write: we, with that I really mean the ship and her crew, because personally I only joined the ship two days before setting sail. So really most preparations found place under the command of my predecessor, captain Fabian Klenner. So what does it entail? To explain in short: crew, ship and gear has to be ready for sea.

Most crewmembers have been for quite a few months on board. The core crew: mate, cook, deckhands and one of the trainees, has been on board since her departure from Den Helder last year. Of the core crew, most of them sailed before that on Tres Hombres, and of the other crewmembers some of them have. This means there is quite a bit of experience on board to built on. And under the command of Fabian, several safety drills where carried out to keep the crew up to high standards of seamanship. For me off course, being the one new on board, I had to familiarize myself with the capabilities of the crew. Because really, on a sailing vessel like this, it is not entirely the ship which defines her seaworthiness but it is more the crew itself which brings safety, continuity and comfortable sailing. To do this, I had a personal interview with each crewmember, to understand their previous experiences on board, find out about their capabilities and discuss ideas and wishes for the coming trip. Apart from that I had a lot of conversations with Fabian to discuss the management on board and learn about the things, he found out, which worked or did not work.

The ship has proved herself throughout the past ten years under the flag of Fairtransport, and many decades in all different roles under previous owners. This does not mean there is nothing to prepare on her. You can compare a traditional wooden square rigged sailing vessel, with her millions of parts, who are all subject to change, because of weather conditions, wear and tear and maintenance, almost to a living creature. Like any living being, she needs to breath (ventilation), drink (paint, linseed oil, tar) and eat (wood, steel, oakum, pitch, rope and wire) to survive. To make this possible every year she gets a thorough refit, mostly during a period of about a month, this past year it was three months. And also her crew is constantly supporting the life of their vessel with maintenance. Some things are more obvious than others. The standing rigging needs tarring, greasing and tuning. The running rigging, attention to protection for wear and tear, and constant replacing of her parts. The hull needs pumping, re caulking and painting. Here was one of the reasons to be anchored the previous weeks. Because on the voyage from Columbia, back to the Dominican republic, her hull had received quite a beating, which made her more leaky than considered wanted to continue. So repairs where carried out, with the final filling up of seams with a special putty I had taken along from Europe.

Then the gear, which is usually looked upon as the main focus to prepare a ship. All spares, tools, charts, nautical books, stores, drinking water and fuel needs to be on board or brought on board. Gear, like machinery, instruments and safety gear needs to be in working order. And everything, including cargo, needs to be stowed and lashed properly and in a seamanlike fashion. For all of this, on Tres Hombres, we make use of a pre-departure checklist. So again, before proceeding, our fine vessel was deemed healthy again to go to sea.

Ahoy,
Capt. Jorne Langelaan

Tres Hombres blog: Hands heave in the last meters of chain

Hands to the anchorwinch! The deckhands move to the foredeck while the mate is giving orders. The claw on the chain is taken off, and on both sides of the pump windlass two sailors take their places. Somebody keeps the chain under tension to the aft and, another deckhand is sitting next to the galley to feed the chain down to the chain locker were again, one of our hands is stationed to flake the chain. The anchorwinch starts moving by the age old energy form, of Norwegian (elbow) steam. The monotone sound of the pawls is the only sound you can hear. The power; the anchor, anchorchain and winch is putting upon the ship is felt everywhere in the form of a silent vibration.

There are 2 and a half from our 4 schackles ( a shackle is 27 meter) of chain out. The ship has been anchored  here for two weeks, in 10 meter deep water. Not the best holding ground, fine sand, she has dragged around a little but lately, assisted by this sufficient amount of chain she has been holding well. Now each time a shackle comes up the mate communicates  it aft. When the chain is almost up and down, the order is given to set the foretopmast staysail. The sheet and sail is held aback over portside to push the bow, gently, to starboard, while the hands heave in the last meters of chain. Now the mainstaysail is set. While the bow falls off further we start moving in a forward direction. We are sailing now!

While the anchor is still hanging partly below the waterline, the command is given: hands to the braces, brace to port tack. This means the yards, who where braced over portside, called starboard tack, will now be braced to the other side. So the wind can actually catch the sails. Now the sail configuration of our good ship changes rapidly. The topsail is set, followed by the topgallant and royal. Now the starboard watch is setting the other main staysails, and the portside watch hoists the jibs. To complement the picture the course and mainsail are set with the whole crew.

While the sun is setting on our starboard bow, we are leaving Cabo Rojo, bound for Boca Chica. A gentle swell and beautifull starry night accompanies us out to sea…

Ahoy,
Capt. Jorne Langelaan

Sailing out of Caribbean sea by Francois

First night at sea after our goods’ tour in 3 tropical islands
24 hours full&by, dealing with many wind shift
Against the wind, Tres Hombres is bonding to Mona pass
between Dominican republic and Puerto Rico

Locking forward to face th Ocean again

Greetings from the sea

francois

DATE: 6-02-16 GMT:1900  POS: 17º49’N, 68º59’W COG:55º  SOG:4kts
GENERAL SYNOPSIS: ON BOARD THE TRES HOMBRES
WIND DIR:east-south-east
WIND SPD:1 to 2 Beaufort
CURRENT DIR:west
CLOUDS:none
SEA STATE:calm
SEA TEMP:25ºC
AIR TEMP:28ºC
AIR PRES:1016hPa

Leaving Boca Chica by Wiebe Radstake

Yesterday our cargo was finally lashed well. We loaded Coffee, Cacao butter, Molasses and the last barrels of rum the last days. It’s not the loading what takes the most time but the papers, sea stowing and give everything a place in our cargo hold. The hold is full, so we were ready to take of, going back to Europe. We saw enough of Boca Chica, the street dogs, the scooters, the dirt and the sound of the shipyard next to us, we wanted to go back to sea.

A big cargo ship was moored at the same harbor as we were and the captain told us that his father was one of the last sailing cargo ship captains of the Caribbean. He asked if his son, Aneudi could sail with us to Europe. This idea was fantastic: Only one generation ago sailing cargo was a common thing and now the new generation decides that sailing cargo comes back. Not only in Europe but also over here in the Caribbean. We asked Aneudi to come on board and help us. Although he was not speaking a lot of English he gives a positive vibe to the crew and he worked really hard to get the ship ready for the ocean crossing.
This morning we had to organize the last papers before departure and then the people in the office said it was not allowed for Aneudi to come with us because of the visa and the Europe immigration rules. 5 minutes before we had to make loose our mooring lines he had to pack his luggage and had to stay in Boca Chica. And why? Why only people from rich country’s are allowed to travel where they want? Why can’t we all go over the world? A sad goodbye but we said to Aneudi he could come maybe the next time with us.
We made loose our mooring lines, set the jib’s to turn, hoisting the topsail and gallant and where out of the Dominican Republic. With 10 people on board we are not with to much but the atmosphere is good. Now all sails are up and we are sailing slowly East with a northern wind. This wind will next night change to south: Perfect to leave the Caribbean sea through the Mona Passage: back to the Ocean and on the way to Horta.

DATE:05/02/2016  GMT:13:45  POS: 18,22.137N, 69,28.773W COG:70  SOG:2.4
GENERAL SYNOPSIS: ON BOARD THE TRES HOMBRES
WIND DIR: NNE
WIND SPD: 2BFT
CURRENT DIR: E
CLOUDS: Cumulus 2/8
SEA STATE:1
SEA TEMP:27
AIR TEMP:26
AIR PRES:1018

Sunday at sea, leisure time by Annette

During our night watch a big cargo ship was about to cross our course right before us – perhaps in a distance of only 0.2 nm. Wiebe called it via VHF and asked if they could pass around our stern – and perhaps a little bit surprised they consented to do so. At seven o’clock we were on the watch again, but because it was Sunday we didn’t have to do any maintenance work. So while one person was at the helm, the others were laying lazily on deck, using thick ropes as the proper seaman’s pillow and sleeping or reading or writing or listening to music. The portside watch played cards when I got up after a siesta in a rather hot cabin. On the starbord side of the galley luckily there was shade and fresh air circulating and till sunset I could sit there, sipping a wake-up coffee, just watching the sea and talking to people I really hadn’t talked before.

Annette

DATE:  18-01-16 GMT: 1400 POS: 17º19’N, 66º40’W SOG:5.5kts  COG:290º
GENERAL SYNOPSIS: ON BOARD THE TRES HOMBRES
WIND DIR:north-east
WIND SPD:10kts
CURRENT DIR:west
CLOUDS:strato cumulus 3/8
SEA STATE:calm
SEA TEMP:27ºC
AIR TEMP:32ºC
AIR PRES:1018hPa

My first day at sea by Annette

Life on board is peaceful: the wind slowed down yesterday and the whole crew did a lot of maintenance work: tarring, painting and Soizic repaired the fresh water pump. It was quite hot at noon, but we had shade at the helm and in the afternoon the sun lost strength and it was ok. The last ship we saw was yesterday morning a big cruise ship heading for Guadeloupe, but since then there was nothing else than the sea and us. Instead of lots of ‘Ti Punches’ – rum with a slice of lemon and brown sugar – we are drinking now water, tea and coffee and it’s ok. Guiseppe prepared delicious pasta dishes and one day after our departure from Marie Galante I managed finally to get all the sand out of my bed. I’m enjoying the company of good sailors, philosophical talks in the galley and seeing lots of stars at night.

Annette.

DATE: 17-01-16 GMT:1300  POS: 16º42.5’N, 64º52’W COG: 290º SOG:6.5kts
GENERAL SYNOPSIS: ON BOARD THE TRES HOMBRES
WIND DIR:east
WIND SPD:15kts
CURRENT DIR:west
CLOUDS:cumulus, total overcast
SEA STATE:calm
SEA TEMP:28ºC
AIR TEMP:30ºC
AIR PRES:1018hPa