On June 15th I boarded Tres Hombres in Copenhagen with no sailing experience beyond being a passenger a handful of times and having never stepped foot on a tall ship. Since my first time sailing, I have dreamed of travelling the world by sea this way but questioned where and how to start the undoubtedly challenging learning process from square one. The world of cargo tall ships was introduced to me when I met my partner last June, a sailor and wooden boat builder who shares my passion for travel and fostering a more sustainable future.
I was excited to learn about engineless Tres Hombres, Fairtransport Shipping, and their active mission centered around sustainability. I sometimes feel alternative methods to climate negative business practices are merely progressive ideas rather than current practices. It gave me some hope to see that this was not the case with Fairtransport. When propositioned by my partner to join him as a trainee with Tres I was thrilled by the concept but nervous given my lack of experience, understanding of tall ships, and sailing in general. My motivation to learn eventually overcame my fear of trying and we signed up for the summer trip from Copenhagen to France.
Upon arrival I was blown away by the beauty and intricacy of the ship itself and equally intimidated by all the lines and sails I knew nothing about but would need to learn to handle. We set sail the day after our arrival and despite feeling useless in the process of sailing her I felt welcomed and understood by the crew, especially the other trainees. They expressed their sympathy for my unknowing and assured me they too were once in the same position only weeks prior. My nerves w ere somewhat soothed as I watched them pull lines alongside the professional crew with the confidence I hoped to build as they had. The first leg to Bornholm was short but at that time I was convinced my decision to take on this adventure had been the right one. The environment on board was friendly and I was very grateful to the deckhands, the first mate and the trainees that patiently directed me where to pull during manoeuvres, explained the function of the many daunting lines, sails, terms, and sailing etiquette that was all like that of a new language to me.
Sailing into port for the first time in Gudjehm was a thrilling experience with the entrance to the harbour leaving less than 2m on either side of the ship. Upon successful docking, we were warmly welcomed by friends of the crew from previous trips as well as bystanders clearly impressed by the vessel and its tight fit into the quiet harbour. We celebrated at the bar we were shipping wine to and were treated to bottomless glasses of wine and a beautiful dinner. I realized that sailing is only a key part of this experience and the community making the mission possible is the beating heart.
Time in port and the shorter passages in between were relaxed. They gave me time to become familiar with living aboard the ship and getting to know my 12 new roommates but the real learning began when we set off on the leg to Ireland. The original schedule had given the crossing an estimate of a week to 10 days but as we set out with the wind fully against us we were told it would likely take longer. To move forward we had to travel in a zigzag fashion which meant tacking (moving the sails from one side of the ship to the other) every few hours. Although a lot more work than sailing with the wind, the need for so much sail handling in our watch of 5 meant hands-on contribution. This translated to a much better understanding of how the ship moves, what different manoeuvres mean, where all the lines are and their specific functions. With repeated explanations, patient ropey tours, and trust from deckhand Giulia and first mate Jules, my understanding along with my confidence in my knowledge of the ship grew tremendously.
The passage to Ireland took a total of 17 days which I’ve been told is about the same duration as an ocean crossing. There were many highs and lows of that leg. Massive swell washing over the deck, keeping us constantly wet and making laying in my bunk feel like riding a mechanical bull. Dreaded 12-4 am dogwatch wakeups while hearing the chilling heavy winds howling above the deck from a warm, mostly dry bed. In contrast, the beating hot sun but completely flat sea made for days of making little ground and often drifting off course. Lack of fresh produce towards the end of the journey as we hadn’t expected to be at sea for nearly as long as we were.
However, trying, the lows showed me I can endure levels of discomfort far beyond what I’d had to in the past and made the highs so much higher. Swimming in the calm sea and laying out to dry on the warm deck after days of cold wetness was a heavenly experience. Sun and moon set and rise over the water like those in paintings. Daily dolphin visitors coast along with us on the bowsprit and at night leaving magical glowing trails in the blue bioluminescence. Laughing to the point of tears at jokes that probably wouldn’t be nearly as funny if we weren’t all sleep-deprived and a little stir crazy. Last but certainly not least, finally arriving at our destination, stepping foot on land and enjoying the simple luxuries I’d taken for granted in everyday life. Hot showers, clean clothes, feasting on fresh fruit, and for the rest of the crew a cold pint of Guinness. Despite being one of, if not the most physically and mentally challenging thing I have ever done, it was also absolutely one of the most rewarding.
After a few blissful days in Ireland, saying goodbye to some crew and welcoming new faces, we loaded our cargo while at anchor with the help of a fisherman’s boat and set off to France. My partner and I are now some of the most experienced trainees on board. This means that we are now the trainees explaining things and reassuring the ones who just stepped on. It is because of this that I can now truly see my learning curve and realize that I’ve accomplished my goal of being confident in my ability to help sail this ship. Beyond no longer feeling daunted by the task of learning to sail on smaller ships, I also have a newfound sense of empowerment in my ability to learn any skill I commit myself to try. Although maybe not entirely true I feel that if I can do this, I can do anything.
Yes, there is a lot to tell about our adventures in the Baltic Sea, Kattegat, Skagerrak and the
but let’s start with an impression of the alternative route from Holland to Ireland, over the
top of Scotland.Cargo ships have schedules, which always have two sides. Or you are lucky and sail ahead of it, then
you can hang out on pretty islands or sightsee-sail around them, or you have to take the fastest route
to get there in time.
Last weekend, while our short stop in Den Helder we had the choice: wait until
the south-west storm passes and then tack for 10 days against variable winds (the shorter route) or
take the chance and go around the British Isles, 500 miles more.
Checking the weather forecasts did not give a clear picture while the wind was picking up from the
south and above all, there was constantly a saying from our first voyages ghosting along my head: Gy
zult geen goede wind verleggen!! Now, let’s go then! Dirk, Louise, Marco, and Miranda brought us out
into the Schulpengat, where we started tacking just as the current turned and soon made our way
around the shoals and up north.
At first, legislation and economy kept us in their grip, traffic scheme
after oil rig after windmill park…it is amazing out there! War on nature and sailing ships is going on, as
usual, there is absolutely no change recognizable on the North Sea. New oil and gas fields are
exploited, trying to keep up against Russia and the Middle East, new windmill parks drilled and
cemented into the seabed, trying to color our energy-wasting green, and those pretty purple stripes
on our chart, the TSS (traffic separation scheme). 3 separate ones just off Den Helder!
As a sailing ship you have to alter course and do everything possible to cross those imaginary but still ruling lines
at a right angle, and if you do not totally succeed in crossing at 90 degrees because of wind and
currents, they see you with their eye of justice, call you up and prosecute you, even if there is not a
single ship around you could impede of its course of justice!
But finally, you get up to the Pentland Firth, where the world changes into a beautiful and exciting
challenge with nature. Changing winds and strong currents with magic eddies, many new birds, white
striped dolphins, seals, and even a Minky on the road. The wind was kind and kept us minimal
steerage through the dangerous passage and even turned with us after passing Cape Wrath. Now
heading to the Hebrides, closely passing rock after rock and discovering a new seabird every hour,
the crew is content that we choose this route instead of our good known old friend, the canal de la
So far we had a great voyage this summer with several cargoes, still, the voyage is becoming a long
one now for some of the crew, which have been onboard since mid-December, but also coming to an
end, as we have to deliver a functional and ready-to-load ship back in France. The wine delivery was
not the only one this summer, as the people in Copenhagen are unbelievably thirsty and only seem
to drink natural wine there! Our friend Sune Rosforth has introduced a whole new wine drinking
culture there in Denmark, with his charm, knowledge, and unstoppable perseverance. Since him,
Copenhagen is, next to Tokyo, the capital of natural wine worldwide. Copenhagen still has the
advantage of the transport 😉
We had a wonderful time in our Danish offloading ports Copenhagen (Under the bridge at Sune’s)
and in Gudhjem, the ancient natural port on Bornholm, where we lay in front of Provianten, the Havn
Bar of our great friends and clients Maria and Thomas. As the winds were kind to us on the way up there,
we had some time to spare and used it in all kinds of ways, painting the ship, exploring and
feasting over the island, getting to know many friendly locals, and sharing a taste of rum with even
Due to the wind, we decided to pay a visit to Christianso where we anchored overnight and were
woken by howling seals on the easternmost rocks of Denmark.
Back to Copenhagen, we discharged a load of Svaneke beer, which was accompanied by master
brewer Jan Paul, who made even some beer on the voyage in our galley. Some precious boatbuilding
oak from Bornholms sawmill Koefoed was loaded for Den Helder, where it will be used in one of the
local sail cargo projects.
We also visited the Danish sail cargo project Hawila in Holbek, where the international crew worked
hard to get this beautiful Baltic Trader back in sailing shape again, renewing structural parts as well as
constructing a substantial hold for future cargo and art-ventures! We wish them very well and hope
more enthusiast and talented craftswo-men to join their team.
Now all sails are set, bound for Cork in Ireland, where we receive a cargo of beer for France, we hope
that corona rules will allow us a shore leave, as for many of us it would be the first pint in Ireland
In respect of wind, current, and rocks,
For the past few weeks I have felt like the luckiest woman in Ireland…
or more precisely, the luckiest woman out of Ireland, as I managed to escape both the northern hemisphere winter and the global Covid pandemic in one fell swoop, by jumping on board the Tres Hombres when it pulled into Cork harbour in early November and running away to the sea. This had been a long held dream of mine, and while I had done a lot of recreational sailing and some off-shore cruising around the Irish coast, nothing could have prepared me for work and life on board one of the few commercial sail cargo vessels currently in operation, and a square rigger at that.
With a cargo of craft Irish beer safely stowed, we sailed out of Cork harbour on Friday 13th, out past the familiar landmark of Roche’s Point lighthouse and into the heavy swell of the North Atlantic. The activity of the first days on that leg to Douarnenez in France are largely a blur, as I tried to become familiar with the boat, the crew and the watch system, which alternated between three four-hour night watches and two six-hour day watches. The weather was very heavy with huge sea swells and winds up to 45 knots. I spent all of my time either trying to sleep or on watch. On deck standing aft, clipped to the safety line, often in the pitch dark, in bad weather conditions with sideways rain and howling winds. The ship was extremely impressive, handling everything the weather and the sea could throw at it with aplomb. It was with some relief when we anchored just off Douarnenez in the wee small hours of Tuesday 17th before being towed into the harbour the following day and tied up alongside. I thought what I have I let myself in for.
However, as eaten bread is soon forgotten, so too were the hardships of the first leg and after a good night’s sleep, a hot shower and a few days rest in this pretty harbour town, the boat and crew, myself included, were eager to take to the sea again. A jib which had blown out on the leg from Cork was repaired at the local sailmakers, the cargo of craft beer was unloaded and replaced in the hold with empty barrels, destined to be filled at ports along the way, and less than a week after arriving, on November 23rd, we were only delighted to be towed back through the tidal gates and out to sea, for the next leg down the Bay of Biscay to Baiona in Gallica, Northern Spain.
The winds were favourable and fresh, and the ship flew along to such an extent that we traversed the Bay of Biscay in only 4 days and arrived in Baiona on the evening of the 27th. We arrived in darkness and I will never forget repeatedly and almost silently tacking this tall ship towards the harbour. The winds were light, and the mate steadily and quietly issued the commands for the jibs on the foredeck, the staysail and bobs amidships and the braces for the square sails aft while the crew responded with whispered affirmations as we slowly made the harbour. Once in the shelter of the harbour, we dropped anchor and tied up for the night before being towed onto a pontoon early the next afternoon.
The Tres Hombres stayed in Baiona for four days during which time the cargo hold was loaded with 39 empty barrels, to be filled later and returned to Europe. The covid lockdown in this part of Spain was not as severe as in either France or Ireland and it was possible for the crew to get a meal in a restaurant or a beer in a bar, once the rules regarding group size, social distancing and the curfews were respected. There was also a free day to explore the coast along the old fort or hike among the eucalyptus trees in the hills above the town, or simply have an ice-cream or a coffee in a local café and watch the world go by before the lines were cast, and the ship departed on 01st December.
The next leg of the journey was 1,000 miles south west to the island of Las Palmas in the Canaries. The Tres Hombres sailed due west from Baiona before picking up a strong northerly wind which took us quickly south. We had fine sunny days with huge blue sea swells topped with white horses. There was almost a full moon and the night watches were brightly lit with moonlight and starscapes. There were squalls, and rainbows, one pair of minke whales sighted, the occasional dolphin, one Mahe mahe caught which was eagerly consumed for dinner and pronounced to be delicious. We hoisted sails and trimmed sails and doused sails and hoisted them again. We tore the gallant one morning and the main ripped along the seam one night, both repaired immediately in-situ. We made great progress and now, less than one week later on the morning of the 7th, our destination is in sight.
As the island of Las Palmas looms large on the horizon, we will soon be tied up in the shelter of its harbour, where cargo will be loaded and unloaded, the stocks replenished, and the crew rested. Some of the officers and volunteers on board will depart here as their part on this voyage comes to its end. I will be sad to see them go, as even though our acquaintance has been short it is quite an intense experience. I cannot thank them enough for the many enjoyable hours spent on watch, shooting the breeze, or saying nothing at all. They will be replaced, and a new adventures and friend ships will be made with those arriving on board. I am lucky enough to stay for one more leg, and travel west, across the Atlantic, and while I know the voyages will not be easy, it is a working commercial cargo vessel after all, I do feel very privileged to be part of this enterprise of emission free trading on the only engine-less cargo sailing ship currently operating.
They never towed and moored a sailing ship before.
With a bit of ferm organization, we went up and down with the tide moored to the wall for 3 days.
The cargo is on board, about 8000 bottles. The truck drivers never had to deliver 7 pallets to a boat, they couldn’t believe it.
No samples. We are looking forward hearing more about this beer. The beers have interesting names like Ulster black, Stony grey, or the Red right hand or Whiskey aged.
The harbor of Cobh is colorful, each house seems to be painted in a different color. It has been a while since the locals did see a sailing ship loading some cargo and the kids keep being amazed to see a real pirate boat. They were hectic.
Only some time for little maintenance and here we go to sea again. Yesterday evening a wet strong breeze was blowing. When we woke up, the sky had enough to make choppy water in the channel, squeezing our new fenders from the garage between the hull and the wall. At 7:00 it was flat and clear.
It was the best morning to go along the ebb stream.
One tug to get away, turn around, set some sails, jumping on the big swell at the entrance, set more sails, try to be on the windward side of the channel, feed more tow line, do not break it, get rid of the pilot before the swell passes over the 2m, ask the tug to beer away to draw our sails properly and make sure to make the corner of the entrance, and go quietly without noisy engines around anymore.
The tow line is off and we have to haul on like hell to bring it back on deck. All the gears are spread all over the place, it’s not chaos only useful precious lines attached to wing propellers.
Sorry Royal, you won’t fly high this time. I prefer to keep you furled and the crew, down here.
It is epic, it is windy, it is the best moment to go if we don’t want to be stuck in southern Ireland for the winter. Only 270 miles.
Tonight we jibed to replace the ship into the west when it was still possible. Tomorrow morning we’ll jibe again when the wind shifts. We adopt the jibe when the sea is too heavy because the foredeck gets super wet in a tack when we are facing the swell and bracing gets hard to haul on. Hopefully we can make it to Douarnenez in one tack after that, even if the wind will be stronger.
We are all happy to do it as we will be happy to arrive and find ice cream! Don’t ask me why there is always someone onboard looking for ice cream everywhere in the world at any season!!!
We can all feel that this day is a special one!
After 3 months in the harbor, the water is moving under the hull again and the sails are de-dusted.
The super refit crew Charly, Mikael (who became 2nd mate), Hanjo, Virgile, Clement, and Baloo are not in the vicinity of big tools. Their tools now while sailing, are their bodies, hands, and minds. Watching at day and at night, listening to the wind and your colleagues. It needs some time to figure out what is what on deck and how the rigging works.
Here, there aren’t three buildings to go for an assigned job: metal and wood workshop, sailmaker loft, and storing place.
Onboard, we are trying to be a team, living very close to each other.
Thanks to the bad weather which kept us in Den Helder for a bit longer to be safe and better prepared.
The cook Sabine, who experienced the cooking during the refit, is proposing colors and flavors, different every day. The dry store and the cargo hold are filled with a lot of veggies and given apples. Wonderful!
Frank, Jessica, and Samuel are following the flow of information successfully. Lenno, the first mate, is back on his duty to explain safety procedures and sail training until the sun dries out our bones …
The ship is happy too, jumping on the waves, rolling a little, giving a spot, a chance to everyone…
Despite the cold 10 degrees, I’m super glad to be part of THE circumnavigation of THE Tres Hombres for another time.
All sails are up on the way to South Ireland … some nice products are waiting for us to be loaded.