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: Bye bye Boca Chica

Exactly one week we stayed in the port of Boca Chica, to load our main cargo: 200 bags of cacao for the Amsterdam Chocolatemakers, 5 bags of cacao for Chokolade from Denmark, 2 barrels of rum for a customer in Zwitserland, a barrel of rum for Paula Luiz on the Azores and a mix of many barrels of rum, cacao, coco oil and melasse for Fairtransport itself. To distribute further to a variety of partners within Europe. All loaded by hand or block and tackle, by our own crew, under the skilled supervision of our Chief officer. Combined with the coffee and other products, we had already in the hold, it is a very nice diverse and high quality cargo. A cargo well worth sailing for.

Organizing the entry, the loading, the storing, the daily life on board, and the departure out of Boca Chica is always a bit of a challenge. The bureaucracy, the rithm of the Caribbean beat (full volume), the heat, the loading operations, the waiting, the gate of the commercial port, and the overwhelming complexity of Dominican Republic life, have gained a legendary reputation amongst the Tres Hombres crew. Fortunately the ship has visited this port many times, meaning there is a wide network of people who are helping out crew and ship. Amongst them there is Forrest, the very friendly owner of the Nautical store with the same name. Victor, our agent who helped us every day, with a smile, smoothing out the relationship with the port and customs officials, arranging drinking water, helping us with getting stores, talking with the office of the commercial port and keeping the relationship with the pilots in good order. Than there was Chris, a dutchman, sourcing a quantity of cacao plants, and helping us with storing parts. Apart from them, there was a wide range of different people making our visit possible again: the producers and traders of our cargo: Belarmino, Jasser and Yamir, the nice ladies and gentlemen from the harbor office, the gatekeepers, the drivers of the motorbike taxi’s, the stevedores and many more. Off course there was also a lot of help from our headoffice in Den Helder: Hans, Sabine, Andreas, Daan, and also here without doubt many more. Thank you very much!

And now, back at sea we are. After a nice maneuver of sailing out of the harbor, in between the reefs through the buoyed fairway, while setting our entire complement of sails, including royal and course. We are loaded on design draft, hatches are battened down and all cargo and gear lashed and stowed. An hour after departure, we where logging already more than 7.5 knots, and currently we are hugging the coast to try to keep some North in the wind, caused by the land effect. Anchors and chains have been ocean stowed, safety lines and nets rigged. It is still all hands, but after lunch, we will have a muster and the watches will be divided. We are ready for the ocean crossing, the weather forecast looks promising, so Azores here we come.

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Tres Hombres blog: Prepairing to take command on a brigantine

Part of the story behind the screens of; blue seas and fair winds…

A few weeks ago the descission was made that I would take command again on Brigantine Tres Hombres. Our current Master had to leave the ship, because of earlier arrangements. At that moment I was the Fairtransport Captain with the least fixed obligations, and well rested, due to my lifestyle on a smallholding in the rural West of Ireland.

Original plans where that the good ship Tres Hombres would sail for Charleston, USA, however when cargo deals fell through, the Fairtransport management decided to cancel this trip. This was too late for my preparations, because I had allready enrolled at the USA embasy to acquire a VISA. A lenghty process which was even longer because the couriers where held up by a spell of crazy winter weather, bringing the Irish public life to a standstill. Being snowed in, I had to wait paciently for my VISA, and by then more importantly my Passport.

While waiting, I got in contact with the Master on Tres Hombres, who was off course, with crew and ship, waiting and working, as well. At anchor off the coast of Cabo Rojo, Domincan Republic. Although I had never met him before, and still have not, the communication went pleasant, and was aimed on handing over the ship, from Master to Master in the most effective way. Things enrolled following an age old rythm, now instead of over a glass of rum in the seaside bar, through a screen via email. But the subjects where identical as the Masters of former Packet ships, handing over command, would have talked about. We discussed: state of the ship, maintenance, experience of the crew, training, cargo, gear, rigging and many more details. A great start, to make things easier, for when we would meet for real.

While the landscape, outside of my window in the Slieve Aughty Mountains, turned an idylic white, I tried to remember my voyages around the steaming tropics of the Dominican Republic. I looked up weather maps and thought about seawinds, landwinds, tradewinds and currents. Remembered the days in Boca Chica, waiting for a month, to see the cargo turn up. And dreamt about the manouvre to enter and leave this sheltered port, by power of sails only. After discussing matters with my colleque and predecessor it became apparent that more crew was needed, so I came in contact with old shipmates from all over the world. To “Shanghai” them, into signing on, to our good ship. A couple of trainees where allready bound for the Dominican Republic, and also two professional sailors, I knew well, agreed to the ships articles.

In the meantime, discussions where held with the “headoffice” in Den Helder. Mainly about the planning, the cargo and the crew. Sometimes, I could hear our shipbroker in the background talking about cargoes, fixed, or just not fixed… And the pile of gear to bring to the ship, next to my telephone, grew steadily.

Now, I said my loved ones goodbye again, and I am on my way to the Dominican Republic, by way of the cursed airplanes, I am not strong enough to avoid. I am looking forward to see the ship, the crew and the Master, I will relief. The coming months I will take command, really I will be there to serve the ship, trainees, crew, cargo and above all an ideal. One thing is sure, sailing and working this ship, there will be never a dull moment!

Yours,

Capt. Jorne Langelaan

Tres Hombres blog: In the port of life

After five months of voyage together, a few dear friends have left us, continued their way home. We stay behind as a small crew. But the voyage isn’t over yet. I wrote a song for those who left and for us who can appreciate what has been and can look forward to what is yet to come. In this blog I’ll share it with you. You can sing it on the melody of ‘Amsterdam’ from Jaque Brel (My sister should definitely try this! I missed you while writing it!).

”From the port of Den Helder did we leave months before
Waving farewell to friends we don’t see now no more
Adventures ahead and a ship full of food
Our minds alive for the best and the good
We sailed over seas heading south and then east
Through the waves and the wind from our fears now released
So far from home all the way that we came
In the end we’ll return to love and to fame

Not all that was easy, no we challenged each other
But living together makes us sisters and brothers
Day after day we shall work together
In sun, cold, storms, squalls, all conditions of weather
Our morning moods, our evening moods
An early wake up call might not do much good
Yes after months at sea, we know everything now
From joy to sadness from the aft to the bow

We are stretching our boundaries we reach out to each other
We seek comfort on shoulders if we miss our mother
From time to time we don’t know what we do
We get wet, we dry up, and who knows for who
When we finally reach land, oh we sight with relief
We have rest we drink rum it is hard to believe
But nothing so needed as time together
Surviving this trip is the most important matter

Many crew came along, people joined people left
We expended, decreased and now we’re bereft
From the whole trip around only three months ahead
But not 15 will join we are 9 now instead…
Our brave 2nd mate is gonna wave us farewell
After service of seatime and an easterly swell
For him the time came now to leave this big ship
To home he continues his personal trip

No more rice, no more beans no more fried platanos
Is this really the route you voluntarily chose?
Enjoy your last breakfast, your last drink your last piss
Remember all this that you’re about to miss
Your last pulling on lines, your last dinghy ride
Your last galley tank water, your last dreams at night
Your last shanty with us, your last mandoline tune
And then we all hope you’ll find your fortune

Besides Conor is also our Jack leaving us
Will it be by train, airplane, boat or the bus?
He fits so perfect to our current crew
We hope next year he has the chance to re-do
And then last but not least captain Fabian takes off
He is leaving us hear and his office aloft
No more playing with dinghies and no bossing around
No ‘I don’t like sweets’ – it’s not true we found out

What means this for us at this beautiful place
So many bunks empty, so much surplus space
This is not the end of our trip together
We’ve still to sail back in all types of heavy weather
Let just not forget, what has brought us here
For the ones who leave we can shed a tear
But what’s left is a group and a beautiful crew
Let’s point out our beauty that we already knew

I am sure that the hardships that are saved for the last
Can only mean that we’ll be at our best
We collect our strength and collectiveness
we hoist the sails and try not to make a mess
After living together so many months in a row
Don’t we know the pearls in our oysters now?
We shouldn’t forget how special we are
That, my friends, will bring us so far

From the port of Den Helder did we leave months before
Waving farewell to friends we don’t see now no more
Adventures ahead and a ship full of food
Our minds alive for the best and the good
We sailed over seas heading south and then east
Through the waves and the wind from our fears now released
So far from home all the way that we came
In the end we’ll return to love and to fame.”

Judith
Ships cook

Photo by Chelsea Pyne