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Blue Clipper Q&A

Overdue following up on my last posting, but the first 10 days back were consumed with preparation for and attendance at a full-day Board Meeting, my other life, as well as a host of long-neglected and overdue tasks that needed attention.

As I return to day-to-day reality I have finally started reading newspapers again, retreat over, but I have no sense that I actually missed anything, all too predictable. However, on a more cheerful note, in my last post I promised that I’d answer some the questions that I’ve received about the ship and the voyage so,

1. Can you tell me about your fellow sailors?

Interesting question as there were three distinct groups on the voyage, 8 permanent crew including Captain Chris, 10 trainees and the 6 of us voyage crew. The permanent crew, and permanent only in the sense that they were attached to the ship and on its payroll, but not with respect to their tenure, since they sign on for a voyage and may be replaced at the start of the next voyage. Blue Clipper is a UK owned vessel and all the crew were from the UK, interestingly, virtually all were from Yorkshire and Scotland. They were, for the most part, young men and women who have chosen the sea as their career and all were, without exception, well-educated, cheerful and enormously helpful.

The 10 trainees were even younger than the permanent crew and were much more international, 1 Canadian young man from the Okanagan who was the youngest person aboard at 18 and since I was the oldest, we two Canadians bracketed the age spectrum from 18 to 75. In addition, one young American woman, a Norwegian girl, a young man from Spain and the rest from various places in the UK. Their shared characteristic was that they were all on a gap year or had just graduated from university and all were taking the trip for the adventure and to explore whether they wanted to work in a marine industry. They were also the most fun and all seemed to be having a great time, undaunted, even during our first 8 days sailing in rough weather when, berthing in the forepeak, they claimed that they spent half their sleeping time flying through the air when the ship pitched and the other half scrambling for hand and footholds to stay in their bunks on the rolls.

Dressing up for Easter

Dressing up for Easter

The final group was the voyage crew, me, an Australian man from Melbourne, on the trip of a lifetime, a German engineer who now lives in the US, a married couple from the UK and an English academic living in Scotland, who plays the Celtic harp and did so daily, claiming the distinction of being the first person since St Brendan to have sailed across the Atlantic to the accompaniment of harp music. Everyone on board was good company, interesting to talk to and good-humoured in spite of the occasional rebellions of the body in the rougher conditions.

2. What was the food like, no grocery stores in mid-ocean?

As you would expect, heavily reliant on rice, couscous and pasta and the vegetable kingdom’s longer lasting members, root veggies and cabbage as well as eggs and chicken which lasted quite well in the fridge, powered by a generator which ran for virtually the whole passage. Breakfast was oatmeal and fresh bread baked every day by Ruth, our chef, who I believe was the bravest member of our crew. Why, you ask? Ruth and her partner Jennie who looked after hospitality and food service, made the decision to sign on for the trip to try it out and see if they enjoyed it enough to make a career in sea-going hospitality. They were both charming young Scottish women but neither Ruth who had worked in a number of higher-end restaurants in London nor Jennie had ever sailed before. Additionally, the galley was in a deckhouse separate from the saloon where we dined and to reach it from the galley required a walk along the deck and up a couple of steps to a higher level of deck where the saloon was located. During the first part of the voyage when the winds were high and the seas were running, Ruth was up at 5am to make bread and prepare meals for 24 people while the ship was rolling 20 or 25 degrees and she was fighting her own battle with seasickness. She would gamely run to the leeward rail, be sick over the side and then run back to the galley to finish preparing meals, while large soup pots whose contents of very hot soup or stew splashed and tilted with every roll of the ship. This she did 3 times a day during the whole of that rough patch and we never missed a meal. And even when the meal was ready to serve the difficulties continued, as these large hot pots had to be carried from the galley along the deck to the saloon. Amazingly, even during the worst of the rolling and pitching, every pot arrived safely in spite of the fact that during the journey from the galley to the saloon there was no opportunity to reach out a hand to help keep balance as both hands were occupied with a very hot pot!

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3. What are the stars like when you’re sailing at night?

They are, as you would imagine, awe-inspiring…when you can look at them! On my first passage on Tecla last fall, the weather was overcast and rainy for most of our time aboard, and we did not ever have a clear sky to see the stars, so on this trip I had great expectations of a brilliantly lit night sky and lying on deck and just looking up at the candles in the sky. Initially, because of the weather this was not possible, but when the weather improved and the sky cleared I had great hopes. I had not reckoned with the motion of the ship however, so it was a real surprise when I looked up and saw the stars swinging in great irregular circles in the sky as the ship rolled. Even in the quieter weather, there are still swells and waves, small though they might be, so the ship is never still but moves from side to side and up and down and as it does, so do the stars. You do feel as if you are stationary and the heavens are swinging from side to side around your head. I never quite got past it but I’m sure with practice you would have both your sea and your sky legs.

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4. How about raising the sails, no winches?

Nope, gaff-rigged tall ship and to qualify as a tall ship it needs to maintain a traditional rig, so blocks and lines on the masts and all the sails need to be raised by hand. As an aside, because it was a training ship, the trainee crew had a morning lecture on various technical aspects of sailing, sail handling and navigation. We, the voyage crew had a lecture at 1600 on similar topics. I loved this, since I had really wanted to learn more about navigation on the voyage, but we covered a variety of topics. As an example here are the 27 steps that are required to raise a sail on Blue Clipper. We worked our way through the steps in our lecture and then were given the 27 steps in jumbled order, our assignment for the next day was to put them in the proper sequence. Take a look and see what you think, all in the correct order?

  • 1. Sail Ties off

  • 2. Sheet eased

  • 3. Boom topped Up

  • 4. Leeward Running Backstay cast off

  • 5. Windward Running Backstay set

  • 6. Throat Downhaul cast off

  • 7. Ease leeward Lazy-jack & trice forward

  • 8. Reefing Line free to run

  • 9. Topsail Sheet free to run

  • 10. Throat and Peak Halyards ready to haul, Capsized on deck

  • 11. Throat and Peak Purchases ready to haul

  • 12. Trim Gaff Vangs

  • 13. Throat and Peak Halyards haul away, Gaff horizontal

  • 14. Throat Halyard, haul to “Well” and make fast

  • 15. Peak Halyard, haul to “Well” and make fast

  • 16. Throat Purchase, haul to “Well” and make fast

  • 17. Peak Purchase, haul to “Well” and make fast

  • 18. Top Down

  • 19. Set Course

  • 20. Trim Sheet to course

  • 21. Make fast Throat Downhaul

  • 22. Trim Lazy-jacks

  • 23. Trim Vangs to sail setting

  • 24. Trim Reefing Line

  • 25. Trim Topsail Sheet

  • 26. Set up Boom Preventer

  • 27. Tidy Lines

5. What were the safety procedures like and how seriously were they taken?

My trip on Tecla was very different compared to Blue Clipper with respect to the way safety procedures were handled. Tecla certainly took things seriously, but were much more relaxed than Blue Clipper on board which there were pretty rigourous safety procedures that were adopted depending on conditions. For example, no one was allowed on deck after dark without a life jacket being worn, and if the seas were running a notice would be posted in the saloon requiring life jackets for all crew while on deck. Additionally, when the seas were really running in our Force 7/8 winds in the first 8 days or so, then it was strongly suggested that if moving about on deck, then safety lines needed to be clipped on. Certainly when climbing the mast or going out on the bowsprit, safety lines were required and when on the helm in rough seas the helmsman was required to clip on. In fact, life raft drills and fire drills in full firefighting kit were carried out on a couple of occasions and in one instance a female crew member jumped surreptitiously overboard and a full man overboard drill was carried out, which included a crew member being lowered in after her, raising her on a sling to the deck, strapping her into a body brace and carrying her into the saloon for treatment. We were instructed on which side of the ship to jump from in the event of fire, the windward, and which side to jump from if the boat was sinking, the leeward, think abut it. Chris and the crew took safety extremely seriously, and it really did give me a sense that if anything went wrong, everyone knew what to do and would do the right thing quickly.

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6. Did you enjoy the trip?

Enjoy is not a word that I think I would use in this context, but maybe better, were there highs as well as the lows. And yes, there were some pretty amazing highs. Climbing the mast at sunset and looking around the vast sweep of the ocean, with the sinking sun tinting the sea and the sails crimson; helming the ship into the harbour at the end of 18 days sailing and seeing V waiting at the dock; seeing flying fish soaring across the waves; being able to helm the ship and keep her on course in the conditions that we sailed through in the first half of the passage; watching dolphins gamboling along the side of the ship; but my biggest thrill and high was simply to have done it. I still get a little bubble of pride when I think about having helped sail the Atlantic in a sailing ship. The lows I have documented, praying for a quick deliverance during the first day and night in the rough seas but this too passed and there was a real high when I was able to get my sea legs and concentrate on the pleasures of the trip.

7. Would I do it again?

Absolutely!

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Reflections and random thoughts...

Reflections and random thoughts...