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Den Helder, The Netherlands

We raised the anchor at Terschilling and headed off past these low lands of Holland. Of course that’s what Netherlands means, “low lands.” They are sure enough low, can barely see them they are so low. We had a good push to get to Den Helder in time to join the fleet there assembling, but the tide was on our side and it went slack conveniently as we turned up the long channel towards the port. We never motor as much as we do around Tall Ships festivals…maybe we should call them Festivals of Dee-Sails (diesel).

We motored past the high moles into the inner Naval harbour that had been turned over to the festival for the weekend and found that we were to berth across from the huge and magnificent Russian four-masted Bark Sedov. This we took as a quite a distinction. The Sedov was built as the German Magdelan Vinnen, one of the last cargo carrying Cape Horn sailing ships in the early part of the 20th century. She is altered very little from her original layout. But if you ever want to put the Picton Castle next to a ship that will make her appear very small, the Sedov will do quite nicely. She is the largest sailing ship in the world. There was, naturally, newspaper coverage of this event and in one aerial photograph there is the little Barque Picton Castle next to the massive Sedov. We thought it was pretty fine anyway. Small but tough.

We must compliment and commend Sail Training International (STI) and the host ports for the phenomenal job of putting complicated, crowd pleasing events together. We were glad to be part of them here in Europe this year. It is an enormous undertaking consisting of endless planning and coordinating, taking three years to prepare. There are always little hitches, but nothing in comparison to how much complicated stuff goes correctly and on schedule.

Holland is pretty special. Certainly a lot cheaper than Norway for us poor sailors. We all sort of liked the happy Dutch do-your-own-thing freedom attitude. Although in the maritime realm this seems to border on eye-popping nautical anarchy. Returning to port after the obligatory Parade of Tall Ships we had some pretty amazing experiences resulting in a variety of conclusions regarding local marine operating traditions, none of them particularly printable. I have since consulted with those in the know and I was told that what follows is all too typical…

Coming back in to port we were crowded like crazy, not just by random private spectator craft – no, no, that’s expected – but by big Navy vessels either side of us and some big schooners all racing to be back into harbour. First, at the none-too-big entrance of the none-too-big harbour, we get passed at high speed on the inside of the sharp turn by a Navy Minesweeper; this, of course, with a zillion small craft making up on us, as well as a couple of larger vessels. Then, once inside the harbour there was a collision in broad daylight in perfect conditions in the turning basin, about a ship-length away from us, between a 120′ topsail schooner and big 200 ton fishing trawler that had been out to watch the parade (all dressed in signal flag, coolers and lawn chairs about the decks) more or less head-on, right by our port side. Steaming slowly right at each other! We could not stop, turn around or get out of the way – it was madness.

Then, just to make sure heartbeats don’t slow down too much, as we were manoeuvring to approach the dock, following the orders and instructions of the dock-master, these two large vessels, two 100 foot steel passenger ketches (names deleted to protect the guilty) kept motoring right in front of us or dashing in front and taking our designated spot – the dock master is yelling at them to back off – but they do not care. They wanted to discharge passengers and dock master be stuffed. They would not give us any room to manoeuvre. We asked them to hold back on the radio as we were not that easy to manoeuvre, they responded saying that manoeuvring was hard for them too. As if that somehow made it all better! I said to the dock-master to just dock them first, then we will come in once they STOP moving and motoring around directly under our jib-boom. The Picton Castle is not the biggest Class A ship by far, but she is not all that tiny once you get her in a small harbour basin with the wind blowing fresh. Absolute crazy behaviour. All of that above in only 30 minutes. But a good time had by all…

I spent a lot of time here with my old shipmate, Captain Jarle Flatebo, now skipper of the 1700 ton bark Statsraad Lehmkuhl. Anyway, one last Tall Ships festival and then back to sea.

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