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.
Capt. Jorne Langelaan
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.
Capt. Jorne Langelaan
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
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.
Capt. Jorne Langelaan
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…
Capt. Jorne Langelaan
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!
Capt. Jorne Langelaan