Captain's Log

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North Sea

It’s coming up on late August here in the southern North Sea and we are beginning to feel it. Frequency of lows rambling across hereabouts is picking up ever so slightly but enough, enough. These European Tall Ships festivals have been pretty good for the gang but it is hard to see how having gone to seven would have been an improvement over attending three; three may be just right. As I type here we are heading for the entrance to the Die Weser River and up same to Bremerhaven. It gets pretty skinny up that creek but we do have a paddle. Overcast, cloudy too, small spitting rain, force 5-6 SWly, seas not built up yet.

Our crew are all jiggy over the prospects of maybe sailing in Sorlandet or Lehmkuhl some day, many of our gang were encouraged to apply to these fine ships, some were even given outright job offers. They did not conceive it possible before meeting the crew of these ships. Also Stad Amsterdam, a new and stunning full-rigged ship of about 700 tons. She is very much a clipper-like ship, which totally makes a lie out of the assumption that with today’s regulations one can not build a beautiful ship. She is exquisite and, like all the rest of us, needs good crew badly. But, unlike us, these ships pay well, so get your training here and then get a job there and get more experience.

Me? Well, this has all been fine. Challenging at times and very good in fact, but my attention is turning towards warmer climes and trade-winds. And also look forward to being at anchor in ports instead of alongside all the time, I like that better. Things start to shape up off the coast of Spain and Portugal for dependable fair winds. Fewer nasty gales and lows, a bit more dependable sunshine, that sort of thing. And to get back to the business of sailing ship seafaring and less steaming around to ports embayed in the oil rig studded North Sea. Can’t hardly heave-to in that sea anymore, what with oil rigs and traffic EVERYWHERE. Oil rig supply boats have been popping steroids lately too, it appears. They are much bigger and more sophisticated these days than they used to be, even ten or fifteen years ago. Fishing boats are smaller and focused on the business of fishing as always, cute little trawlers some of them.

After Bremerhaven we sail for Ipswich for a Tall Ship Event of One. We spent about six months in Ipswich in the winter of ’93-’94 while working our way across the Atlantic. The gang became pretty well known in Ipswich. The two lads made famous in Alan Villiers “Cruise of the Conrad”, known as Hard-Case and Storm-Along, boys of twelve upon joining the Fullrigger Joseph Conrad, still lived here then and we became well acquainted. They did not even snicker at the concept of rigging and sailing this ship. Stan Goodchild and Jim Fuller, fine gents they were, have passed away now, glad to have known them. The Admiral Nelson was our designated pub. We had to go there in the evenings as the ship was so cold and no one could figure out how to make the furnace work. The 450 year old Butt and Oyster at Pin Mill was popular too.

Coincidentally, Captain Alan Villiers home-ported the Conrad in Ipswich for his world voyage in the mid 1930’s (this exquisite ship is now laying preserved at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut) and Captain Irving and Exy Johnson bought their first Dutch wooden pilot schooner Yankee here as well and fitted out at Pin Mill on the River Orwell before beginning their career which included seven world voyages. Small world. We only stuck in there 15 years ago due to gales in the Channel. There is still a wooden shipyard of sorts at Pin Mill catering to various sailing barges and rebuilds, not as rich and redolent as Ring Andersen in Svendborg, but with its charm none the less. The Butt and Oyster is a pretty fine place to linger on a rainy afternoon. Exy referred to this yard and pub in their first book, I just noticed in a quick scan. A good read, “Westward Bound in the Schooner Yankee.” I knew Villiers had been in Ipswich, but not the Johnsons. At the mouth, Felixstowe and Harwich are major container and cross-sea ferry ports but the River Orwell remains a bucolic country stream leading up to the old city of Ipswich, or so I hope…then out the English Channel to Wales and then France, Spain and so forth. Just passed in this channel by a monster MAERSK-Line container ship – no worries, Mate has the con.

Just now we are sailing from Den Helder, Holland for Bremerhaven, Germany, steering north around the very low coast of Holland – that’s what Netherlands means, low-lands – conditions SW force 6, seas 2-3 metres, overcast and a little rain. Under easy canvas, upper topsails and fore course. Nice overnight sail with moderate fair winds. Lynsey and Nadja are with Sorlandet for the 5 day but 165 mile trip to Bremerhaven and what will be our last Tall Ships fest for a while, I hope and expect that they are having a good time. We got crew in exchange for the passage.

We are just sailing east along the north coast of Netherlands getting close to the German border. Wrecks in the water everywhere, just everywhere, WWII not so long ago or that far away hereabouts. Going to anchor soon, have to go up 20 miles of skinny river and locks and lifting bridges to Bremerhaven tomorrow. You can drop the hook anywhere as long as you don’t mind anchoring in the middle of the sea. We sailed up to the hook, dropped it and couple shots of chain and furled sail for the night. Tomorrow, up the Weser to Bremerhaven.

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