Departure from La Palma: it’s time to leave now

Yesterday the 16th of December we departed from Santa Cruz de la Palma. After loading 11 barrels of rum Aldea, 8 days of work, making the ship ocean ready, enjoying the beautiful island, visiting the Aldea rum distillery (thanks for the nice meal together!), organizing organic food for the crossing and changing trainees it was time to leave.

We had to say goodbye to the trainees Chris, Julien, Raw who joined us from Baiona and to Mea, and Nici who where already sailing with us from the Netherlands. We had to say goodbye to Marco who really helped us out with training the new crew in square rigged sailing and for me the hardest, it was time to say goodbye to my wife Suzan who’s got to go back to our home in the Netherlands.

The life of Suzan and me is really much connected with Fairtransport (sailing around the Atlantic on the Tres Hombres together, married on the Nordlys, planning our life around the voyages on the ocean. I’m really happy Suzan joined me the first part of sailing as a captain on the Tres Hombres), but we also have a life on land: living in a bus and building up an Eco community in Zeeland.

It’s always a strange moment to say goodbye to the ones you sailed with, lived together on this small boat and sharing all these intense moments. The sound of the Norwegian horn and see you in Amsterdam! What makes this moment better are the new interesting people joining the Tres Hombres. We welcomed Jaap, Lars and Lense, who joining us for the ocean crossing.

In the harbor the first thing to do every morning is checking the weather: when is the good moment for departure? First look up into the mast, what is the flag telling you? What are other flags telling you? The smoke from the factories? Then look at the online weather forecast.
Is the ship ready? The cargo sea stowed? When is the provisioning coming? And then again check the weather. Yesterday was the perfect moment: a depression was coming over north of the Canary islands so with the North East winds we could sail out of the harbor of Santa Cruz, using the 24 hours of North East wind to get at least south of El Hiero and wait there till we could pick up the trades and sail further south to the hight of Cape Verde and when we are there: find the good moment to go west.

La Palma is a high mountain island we have to be careful with the winds around the island, even coming from the opposite direction as the weather forecast tells you. Also think about land wind and sea the wind is changing every morning and evening. Don’t only look at the weather forecast on the screens but ask the locals too (fisherman, harbourmaster etc): what do they think?

At 15:30 local time the wind dropped down a moment and this was the moment, with a little push from the dinghy we could come to the East Pier of the harbor, set sails and sail out, sail east, away from the rocks, away from the island away from the waving Marco and Suzan.

Within an hour all sails were set and we were making 9 knots. After a night with a lot of wind shifts around La Palma, La Gomera and
El Hiero (bracing around, bracing around, making in between 4 and 11 knots) and an old swell from the depression up north we are now, in the morning of the 17th, free from the islands: there are no mooring line watches, cruise ships, xmas shops, smell from generators and sounds of cars anymore: for 3 weeks it’s the ocean and us!

All the best from the Tres Hombres, at the moment we are making only 2 knots but we are going south!

Wiebe Radstake

Paradise and hell

Yo. Finally, I am going to write an actual Blogpost! Surely the first under my Real Name. Probably shorter than I want. I might write a second one… This is not a post about specific events of this trip but more about the general feeling of being on the Tres Hombres. I have never read the Fair Transport Blog *hrmhumpf* so I might repeat things. And I will steal some inside jokes of the current crew without mentioning the details. To anybody whose English is not fluent enough (like my parents and grandma) I refer to online translation services.

After deciding to take this trip — traveling across the Open Ocean for more than half a year without an engine — I got asked a lot to tell the stories, tell what it is like. What a great adventure! Bateau de Pirates! Save the planet! Palmtrees and Avocados! As everyone who was stupid enough to do this in the last years knows: It is hard, if not impossible to explain this in more words to the People of the Land. It is Paradise and Hell. Both at the same time. And its Sum is even greater than its Parts.

Seasickness, the word not to be mentioned, is a real bane. It eats your brain from the inside, consumes all your energy, hopes and motivations. In the beginning, it makes you wish to not die, in the end, it makes you wish to die. After not eating and drinking properly for one, three or seven days your body loses the strength to keep warm or even put on clothes. It is spiraling down from the bottom. I admit: I get it, every leg so far. Some times worse than others, but reliably for a few days after leaving the harbor. My best way to cope with it: Keep moving! Talking, sweating, joking, steering or just puking. Whatever it takes to not fall into the depression of suffering: Get out of bunk every watch, face your inner shoulder devil. Because: It will pass, it will get better! The sun is always shining above the clouds. For me, it is an essential part of being out there. The price to pay to the ferryman. And it’s worth it!

There probably is no way to get closer to Mother Nature. With all her force, might and mercy. Witnessing a simple sunrise after a gale, on deck together with all crew during watch change, will make the hardiest sailor feel tears of happiness and relief — no words are spoken in such a moment. Wildlife at sea is so unpredictable and rare, thereby so valuable to observe. Pointing out a whale blow to the blind guy… priceless! There are not enough wishes to account for all the shooting stars in a cloudless, moonless sky. And seeing the Bay of Destination from ashore during final sunrise at sea is like admiring a bracelet of diamonds on the horizon. The moonbow I missed — I would actually die for that one! Seeing the mighty ship crashing through waves from the tip of the bowsprit (the pointy end of the boat) gives you Leonardo-di-Caprio moments. And while observing the pattern of swell in a moonlit night from up in the Royal (cannot go higher) you are practicably invincible. Listening to the soft gurgling of waves in your bunk (slightly under the waterline) during a smooth 10-knot cruise is like being back in the womb of your mother. Sushi from a fish caught 10 minutes ago (thank you little fishy), there is no way to get it fresher. These moments feel like pure paradise and I missed to mention a lot of them…

Living on the ship with all those people — strangers at the beginning and siblings at the end — feels at moments similar to beeing in “war”. At least what my generation luckily only knows from the movies: A band of brothers and sisters preparing for and celebrating after the battle. The salt on our boots unites us in the face of the boat-shoes at the local McDonalds. Going through shit together and covering our backs in face of the mate. You catching my lunch from sliding off the table in the galley. Sharing stories of the unimaginable, writing songs about our feats and enjoying basic bodily functions. After being reduced to the minimum everybody is equal: No matter the rank, status or inheritance. It only takes days on board to see through the facades that our modern civilization burdens on us individuals. You cannot wear a mask for long on a boat that small, you can only be you. It is fitting that the most private place (the head) is directly behind the only place that is always occupied at sea (the helm).

The Captain and the Cook are naturally the most important persons on board. The first to offer the general structure and demand the necessary discipline in a place where such need to exist, the latter to offer luxury and homeliness in a place where none such would exist. As a deckhand (that is Me, technically just muscle), the craftmanship and bodily strength needed to work and function on a vessel like this is nothing but trivial: Working up in the rigging, pulling the right ropes at the right time, maintaining the ship, teaching and caring for trainees, keeping an eye on the weather, the social dynamics of forming/norming/performing… There are a lot of skills to be learned. Not only for sailing but also to cope with the life that You live out there, in the normal world.

All this is strongly addictive. I will not be able to return to a life in an office cubicle. Never Ever.

Martin Zenzes. Santa Cruz de La Palma. 2019.

Denk toch aan hen die varen!

Denk toch aan hen die varen! Zegt mijn vader altijd als hij de wind en regen om zijn tweedehandsboekwinkel in Zierikzee hoort jagen. Ja, denk toch aan hen die varen,  de afgelopen tien dagen hebben we hard gevaren met de Tres Hombres. Het lijkt alweer lang geleden dat ik  besloot te vertrekken vanuit de baai van Baiona Spanje. In romantische buien antwoord ik op de vraag wat ik doe voor de kost: Ik leef van de wind, maar eigenlijk moet dat zijn: ik leef naar de wind. Want de wind bepaalt onze planning aan boord van de Tres Hombres.  Vorige week werd er een westelijke wind aangekondigd voor twee dagen en daarna een aanhoudende stormachtige wind vanuit de Noord langs de hele kust van Spanje en Portugal. Wachten of gaan? Kijken of het schip klaar is, vracht zeevast, zeemanskisten zeevast, genoeg proviand en water, tuigage in orde en dan de keuze: gaan.

Vrijdag avond voeren we met een lichte zuider wind de baai uit, naar het westen, in de nacht zou de wind naar het westen ruimen en dan wilde ik zo ver mogelijk uit de kust zijn, weg van de lage wal, weg van het land! En inderdaad rond vier uur ‘s nachts ruimde de wind: tweede stuurman Paul voer nu naar het Noorden aan de wind en maakte mij hierom wakker: tijd om overstag te gaan. Met beide wachten maakte we onze eerste overstag en koersten hierna mooi vijftig mijl uit de kust naar het zuiden. De wind ruimde nog meer toen we op de hoogte Lissabon zaten zodat we met een mooie bakstag wind richting naar de Canarische eilanden konden varen.

Buiten het de zeeziekte van het merendeel van de bemanning om een prachtige race, wat vaart de Tres Hombres toch prachtig  door die oceaan deining! Golven van vier/vijf meter neemt ze met gemak: een feest om mee te maken. Na vier dagen kalmeerde de oceaan wat, de swell nam af en we konden zelfs voor het eerst  genieten van de zon, natte sokken werden aan de safety netten gehangen zodat we voor de omgeving een vrolijk voorbij trekkende waslijn moeten hebben geleken. Maar er was daar niemand om het zien. Daar waren we onze eigen omgeving. Ons eigen kleine dorp op zee. We begonnen gewend te raken aan het wachten ritme, het ritme van de oceaan, er werd steeds meer gelachen tijdens de wachten.

Een paar dagen later kwam de volgende opgave: een goede wind en golvenhoogte vinden om La Palma binnen te varen. De haven pier ligt Zuid Noord en je wil dus niet totaal noorderwind hebben zodat je er dan niet in kan zeilen. Ook wil je niet te hoge golven hebben omdat je voordat je aankomt de bijboot overboord wil zetten om twee mensen aan de kant te brengen om de lijnen op te vangen. Eigenlijk hadden we donderdag middag al binnen kunnen varen maar een opnieuw opgestoken Noorderwind belette ons van aankomst. Ik besloot honderd mijl ten noorden van de Canarische eilanden te wachten.

Afkruisen, met de wind mee overstag gaan/gijpen: pretslagen maken noem je dat in de chartervaart. En daar nam de wind weer toe en daarmee de golfhoogte. Dit maal niet een steady wind maar erg buiig. Dit gaf dat als we onder een wolk met regen zaten we snelheden van 12 knopen maakten en daarna weer vier knopen. Hulde aan Soraia die met deze verschillende bewegingen toch goede maaltijden wist te maken.

Met Andreas had ik contact over wanneer een goede tijd zou zijn om Santa Cruz de La Palma binnen te lopen en we zagen een mogelijkheid zaterdag ochtend. Zaterdagochtend voordat de zon op kwam voeren we dan eindelijk richting het eiland La Palma. Hoe vaak je het ook doet: altijd weer een bijzondere ervaring om na dagen lang alleen maar zee te hebben gezien ineens een eiland te zien opdoemen vanuit de wolken aan de horizon. In de nacht al die lichtjes als een enorme mierenhoop in het midden van de oceaan.

Een plan maken, dat doorspreken met de stuurmannen en bootsman en dan het voorbereiden. Ankerkettingen op dek (hoeveel shackles? Hoe diep is de haven?) Mooringlines aan dek, bijboot motor getest en de eerste communicatie met de havenmeester.  Een muster om alles met de gehele bemanning door te spreken en dan het goede moment uit kiezen en naar binnen varen.

Rond acht uur hadden we het sein dat we naar binnen konden van de havenautoriteit. De swell was nog wel hoog (tot drie meter) maar we besloten er voor te gaan. Jeroen de bootsman voer met de bijboot door de hoge golven naar de kant om te kijken hoe de golven en wind binnen de muur was. Over de radio klonk dat het er binnen goed uit zag. Ik zou liegen als ik zou zeggen dat zoiets niet spannend is, zonder motor een haven in zeilen. Maar de Tres Hombres heeft perfecte stuureigenschappen en de bemanning deed precies wat ze moest doen. Na een spannend half uur lagen we met vast aan de kant. Land onder de voeten!

Na het schip haven klaar te hebben gemaakt, alle zeilen goed opgedoekt, de trossen juist verdeeld, een dekwash en een mooringwacht voor de eerst vierentwintig uur te hebben verdeelt kon een van de ‘lege’ vaten Port aan dek getild worden om daar ‘het restje’ uit te halen. We konden proosten op een hevig maar mooi stuk oceaan zeilen.

Aankomende week gaan we het schip klaar maken voor het volgende stuk varen: de oceaan oversteek. We zullen de eerste rum laden van Aldea en er komen veel nieuwe trainees. Ook moeten we gedag zeggen tegen een aantal trainees  die we nu oprecht vrienden kunnen noemen. We hopen hen te zien bij het uitlaadfeest in Amsterdam, de Fairtransport familie groeit altijd weer door. En dan is het weer tijd om het weerbericht te bestuderen. Altijd maar kijken naar de wind. Het is zoals mijn collega Harry (van de Morgenster) mij eens zei: Het weer: je kunt er eeuwig naar kijken of over praten, maar je veranderd er niks aan.

En daarmee wil ik deze weblog vanuit Santa Cruz de La Palma eindigen: Ahoy vanuit een zonnig maar door cruisetoeristen overspoeld La Palma!

Tres Hombres blog: let go and haul!

How do we get back home? Tacking!
Down the flying jib and the gaff tops’l, ease the topping lift, cast off tricing lines, staysailboom midships, coils of braces and headsail sheets on deck. Ready on the foredeck? READY! Ready about! About ship, helms a-lee! Mainsheet tight, ease the headsail sheets….there she comes, helm back midships, ease mainsheet, tack the jibs and… Let Go and Haul! Cast off tack and sheet of course, haul away lee course brace as you might, change boom lift, ease mainstays’l boom, tack the bob’s, all hands (or the windlass) on the tack and pull it down together with the lee-topping lift. Tack down! Course sheet home! Trim the yards, set the gaff tops’l, set the flying jib and then coil up and clear the deck!
15 minutes of the mariners full concentration is vital for the ship to make her way up against wind and current, not to loose ground against the ever blowing Northeasterlies in the Channel.
3 weeks ago all those lines were mere mystery to the most hands aboard Tres Hombres, now, at the command of prepare for tacking, everyone is whizzling over the deck, finding the right line to cast off, haul tight or stand by! No more discussions, commands are understood and taken out with pleasure and power. At force 5, instead of life lines the flying jib is put up and the helmsman is smiling pleasantly, feeling the acceleration of the ship and her leaning over in comfort!
Good food and good company as a power ressource, one common mission: living live in a natural way!One tool: the most beautiful sailing vessel on the seas, currently hunting after De Gallant, where early sailing memories with Captain Hendrik make me think of the old days as a deckhand without any concerns, without any limits.
Now we are passing on those good times, the tools and the experience to find a way in your life, it’s your choice.
Andreas
P.S. : with some unexpected SW wind we are right now passing Dover, gybing the stunsails with boom and all to use the last heap of this rare wind, pushing us into the North Sea, where the next blow of NE will await us…see you soon in Amsterdam

Captain Andreas Lackner

Is your mind filled with the glorious majesty of the white winged masts of the Age of Sail? Or are you longing to master the arts of the traditional seaman? Then sign on, sailing on a cargo vessel is a unique way to discover the world and learn the art of real square rig seamansship. Price varies by voyage. The longer you sign on for, the less you pay per day. Visit http://fairtransport.eu/sail-along/ for the latest schedule and pricing or email booking@fairtransport.nl
[pdf-embedder url=”http://fairtransport.eu/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Tres-Hombres-Winter-2018-2019-new.odt.pdf” title=”Tres Hombres Winter 2018-2019 new.odt”]

Tres Hombres blog: Goods from foreign lands

The most important destination to pick up cargo for the Tres Hombres, has been since the beginning, the Dominican Republic. This is the place where the Amsterdam Chocolate makers source their organic cacao. This is the place where the first editions 2010, 2011 and 2012 Tres Hombres rum came from. Later off course Andreas also found an excelent rum distilery on La Palma. The distilery with the ancient copper distilling aparatus… Year after year, Andreas added other Atlantic and Caribbean islands, to load as much as a variety as possible, for our fine rum.

But untill these days, the Domincan Republic, always has been the origin of the main cargo. Sometimes there where different other products added. There has been a long standing relationship with Belarmino from Caribbean labs, as a source for coffee, honey, cacao and the famous mamajuana. Year after year we have been taking big barrels of molasses for a rum distillery in Germany. On a small and experimental scale we have been taking cigars from Hispaniola, what the combined name is for the island which the Dominican Republic and Haiti share as their landbase. The cigars proved a tricky cargo to comply with the customs, so we did not continue this.

As for the ports, in this Caribbean jewel, our fine vessel has been, there are: the open roadstead of Cabo Rojo, the metropole of Santo Domingo, and the commercial port of Boca Chica. Cabo Rojo, is a place of tropical athmosphere, with white beaches. Where even the footage of an “commercial” for the rum, starring Capt. Andreas Lackner himself as the sea (movie) star, was shot. This was also the first place where the ship was anchored for three weeks in 2010, to repair the rigging after the topgallant mast was broken. Santo Domingo, is the biggest city in the Caribbean with three million inhabitants. Here the ship moored in 2010 as well, just after visiting Cabo Rojo, and this is where Capt. Andreas met Mr Forrest who introduced us to the fine port of Boca Chica.

Since that day Boca Chica has been our most important loading port in the entire Caribbean. It is a place one will never forget about, when entered or left by a ship under sail power only. Sailing in between the reefs and breakers through a narrow buoyed channel. Dealing with the officers on the gate of the comercial port. And drinking rum with the local “shipping magnates”. A port of extremes, a port where the crew of our brigantine, loads the barrels and bags by hand into the cargo hold, while a few hunderd meters away the most high tech container cranes are discharging the biggest container ships. A port with a fishing harbor where the most tiny fishing boats fish from. A port where every weekend the sound of merengue, salsa and bachata, mixed with the tropical heat and smell of fried fish and fresh ocean breeze are competing. This is the Caribbean…

Hasta luego,

Capt. Jorne Langelaan

 

 

 

Meet the crew: Elisabeth, deckhand

Always wanted to know the wonderful people sailing our cargo? From now on we will regularly post short interviews with our crew on the site. Today we will start with Elisabeth.

Name: Elisabeth Wenger
Age: 29
Nationality: USA
Position: Deckhand

When did you hear the first time of Fairtransport?
​I heard about Fairtransport on a farming blog, Greenhorns, in connection with their Maine Sail Freight project.

Why did you want to join Tres Hombres?
Learning how to sail a working ship has been a dream of me since I was a kid reading adventure novels. I thought there were no more ships doing what Tres Hombres (and others) do.

When I found out that sail cargo still existed, it was as though someone told me dinosaurs weren’t extinct anymore. I had to go experience it for myself!

I sailed last year on the full round trip as a trainee, and this year I got the opportunity to sail again as deckhand, which I am so grateful and happy for!!

What do you expect from this journey?
I’m so excited to be sailing this time as Deckhand. I anticipate I will learn so much more, from practical sailing knowledge to helping to teach the trainees and creating a sense of community on board the ship. Fairtransport so far has been a wonderful company to work with, and I anticipate more of the same for the journey ahead!

Sign up as a trainee! We can guarantee one thing… this is an experience you will never forget http://fairtransport.eu/sail-along/

Tres Hombres blog: The crew wishes a Happy Christmas to all theirs families and friends

After 8 tacks in the Antigua Channel to go to the East , it s seams finally possible to reach windward side of Guadeloupe to go down south to Martinique.

Not easy for everybody to sleep well on this choppy wavy sea, anyhow we keep on going. Further more sail handling moments are perfect times to work together and built a team. Few days ago we had an accidental tack because the wind direction is changing under shower. Time to realize on which apprentice step are sitting the crew. The fact is that after a month of running downwind, our movements on deck were slower, manoeuvers communication was gone, rigging tricks were forgotten. Now, happy and proud of my watch, we are tacking within 10 min (Preparation, passing 8 sails and trimming) with fun.

We are enjoying the sun, the morning pineapples,  Lis the technical full&by steering, watching birds diving for fish, britany butter, Frederieke likes when the flying fish hit me at steering! Thibaut likes swinging by the waves on the yard, Ilja observating the evolution of his out of control moustache and likes the sails handling action, Jan the sea and sailing…

Judith wants to make a special dish for Christmas, we will be at sea that is why we gonna wait til the 26 for having a nice meal together at anchor to avoid any sliding pans or wounds! She’s exciting and prepared already almonds paste made by hands and the crew will participating as well.

All the crew wish Happy Christmas to all theirs families and friends around the world and all others. Special warm word for Icee who left us in St Martin, sea you back in Barbados !

Anne-Flore, first mate

Tres Hombres blog: And the case of the missing olive

A weblog every other day is the assignment they give us. That seems to be a lot for a place with so little external factors that can influence what happens on board. And yet there is enough to write about. Because the ship is a little village where we have to live together.
I like to see all those people, coming from so many different places and lives, bringing their own story. The one might be on board, only for the crossing. Being astonished by the ships life, not used to the lack of comfort and privacy. But still they come here with a personal challenge to get to know themselves better. The other might be a born sailor, not even noticing we’re already at sea for so long. But in a way I think everyone can smell the land coming closer now (and the land can smell us coming closer I suppose…). And in all the different states of mind we pass, punchyness (meligheid) is one of them.
By running out of trainees to teach the ropes to, Alan is doing a pinrail tour with a wirebrush. Thibaut and Conor keep shaking up flexseeds in water to look at them spinning around. The desperate smokers start roling pipe tabacco in sigarette papers. Well, you see it’s a small world wherein little things can become a big problem or a great pleasure.
Almost four weeks now we are out here at sea. Steady in a routine, but also busy in our minds. Because as wide as the ocean around us is, the ship is only a couple of steps long and we can not leave it. I came to the discovery that this can drive me a bit crazy. As far ‘of the ship’ and away from the people I can get for now is sitting on the little chair on the bowsprit. Which comes with a nice bath if we’re dipping far enough into the waves.

This morning only 250 NM to go! So I think it’s finally time to say we’re almost there. Bets are being made about our estimated time of arrival. We dream about all the things we want to consume we don’t have on board. Although I’m also curious about Sint Maarten: How destroid will it still be? What has happened in the month that we didn’t receive any news from the world? It must be a strange realisation to expend our world again to the scale of the world that has been around us all the time.
So are we actually ready to go on land? I think so, but it will be as much as an adaptation as it was to be at sea.

In small things on board I find my joy. Taking a shower in the dark evening when it’s finally cool enough to stay cool. And to curl up in my camping spot underneath the stairs like Harry Potter, instead of in my stuffy bunk. Most of the time I also enjoy the people and I’m glad I can still make them happy with food.
Showers visit us also by the way. After a day of steaming hot, we could dance in the rain and wash our hair in saltless water from the sky.
Even though they won’t admit it, the boys-watch is getting better and better in making the bread. And even though an unvoluntarily sourdough slaughter took place this morning, a real catastrophy could be prevented. And for everyone who thinks we’re not dealing with any serious problems in this little world of ours, I can confirm that from the 24 olives on the focaccia, 23 could have been saved, and only one went missing.

Judith, cook.

Tres Hombres blog: Four weeks already at sea….

For the first time since La Palma there is music from a speaker on deck. He’s spreading in the atmospher a taste of romantic country music where we can see O brothers running in the wheat fields under a burning sun and Jack Kerouac jumping on board this ship as a slow merchant train crossing the blue country full of ideas to built or rebuilt this world weared of a bag pack & unapropriate Espadrille. Clamour of poetry in the radio to throw a new look on details.

Well, despite a few worried members aboard about being somewhere ( on land) for Christmas, everything is going sweet here. “Not so much things to complain” said captain. And then cuban music blows her cosy voices flow on deck, gold sunset sky becomes darker and stars are taking over the space. It’s not blues  but your feeling is on the border. Yes four weeks already at sea far away without news from your lovers, parents, children. Is that feeling of missing brings you more in reality, more alive, more true ? blablabla but yes ours bodies are talking to us and that is a lovely great creation.

Since a week, instead of the swedish, the captain decided to set a new watches readim system: 4 hours each watches, 3 watches of 4 or 5 peoples. That brings more peoples on deck during daylight, the maintenance goes forward faster because those 8 hours of rest at night and we are meeting eachothers.( So , sorry for the tres hombres tradition but it works well for the crossing. If the loyals of the company has any request about this, feel free to explain your opinion, I wouldn’t bring the bad luck here like to move the giraff outdoor with a full cargo !!). Can you beleave, we were sailing full and by for a day , trade winds are not strong but the lady keeps on going half of the wind speed.

Shower on deck, 1 hour of rain today (11/12/2017). Soap & shampoo !

ps: we got rid of 2 hammocks of bananas.

Anne-Flore, first mate

Tres Hombres blog: I am trying to dance with the wind

I am trying to dance with the wind. At the helm, it is the middle of the night, and though I have the light of a moon just past the full, it is getting dark. Clouds are rolling in. They might mean a shift in the wind, backing or veering, and an increase in speed, and I am standing with my neck craned all the way back, peering up at the barely-visible flag, trying to judge if the wind is changing, and where I should steer to keep the sails full.

There’s one way of looking at sailing, the way I too often fall into, which is that the ship is a series of clever mechanisms for turning wind into propulsion–purchase blocks, ropes, sails trimmed with exactitude to airplane-wing shape. And that there is one right heading and trimming of sails which will produce the best results, given any defined set of wind and swell conditions. This is treating sailing like a math problem.

But sailing is not math, not regular or predictable, no more than life is. Like astronavigation, there is math involved, but the basis, the foundation is all guesswork, pretending the earth is flat, and having a good feeling about the sextant reading you just took. The first mate, Anne-Flore, talks to me about trying to find the rhythm of each maneuver, the flow of how people move about the deck, meshing with the movement of the wind as we bring the ship through the wind on a tack, for example. It’s a dance, I can see. Each of us moves like the wind, unpredictably but with a certain grace, and the trick to being a good leader, as the trick to being a good sailor, is to work with that energy, and catch it at the most graceful moment. This is sailing–the ship is a thing of muscles and breath and wings. To pay attention to the maneuver in this way is to be where I am, to live where I find myself.

How wonderful, to feel that the world is real, and that I belong to it! I am a part of the place where I am, just as much as the wind and the waves, the stars and the clouds. I too often block the world around me, filter it through a screen which sits on a desk and, in the words of Wendell Berry, “obscures the place where it is.” I place barriers between myself and the real world, of computer screen or even book page, instead of living where I am, in my surroundings. I am trying to learn to dance with the wind instead, to feel it on my face and lean into it, to watch the swell and feel it move me as I sway with it. To listen to the ship, how she reacts to the wind, rudder, or waves. I will not truly learn sailing from a book or a screen, no matter how much they can teach me, for all they do is obscure the place they are in, this place, the place where I am, out here smack in the middle of the Atlantic with my sailwings and rainclouds and moonlight. Dancing.

Liz, deckhand