Waaaay back in June….
Posted by Tall Ships America on July 16, 2009
Written by Nelly Turley
Way back in June, when I arrived in Hamilton, Bermuda on the Bounty, Captain Walbridge briefed us on some port etiquette, from bringing friends on board to letting other ship’s crew members climb Bounty‘s rigging. I didn’t really know anyone else that would want to come climb the rig so I didn’t think too much about it until I visited the Cisne Branco. The Cisne Branco (or White Swan) is the Brazilian navy ship and was docked in front of the Kruzenshtern at the Bermuda tall ships event, where I had just had tea and cookies (baked on board) while they filled out a vessel survey. I decided to tour Cisne Branco and chatted with the radio operator, Mario. As I was walking away he said “If you have any questions please, don’t hesitate to ask.” There was only one question that came to mind, “Can I climb your rig?” And so my quest to climb to go aloft on as many ships as I could began with that one simple question.
Being up in the rig, or over the side, still hasn’t lost its luster for me. I know some seasoned sailors might shrug it off but I still consider it my favorite place on board (just ahead of my bunk and wherever the food is).
It took some time to find the officer on watch, and then for the next officer to change from his dress whites into climbing gear. I was given gloves, a harness and up we went! Once I got to the coarse yardarm of the Cisne Branco they have safety lines that follow the shrouds so you are clipped in at every moment. There were knots in the line so if you fell you didn’t slip down the whole thing, while I appreciated the safety of it all I wasn’t used to being clipped in whilst climbing so I would get stuck while climbing and have to climb down, clip in above the knot then unclip again. Before I knew it, I was climbing the last few feet to the very top of the mast. Bruno, my guide, was right behind me and, after I touched the mast head lights, we climbed out onto the royal yard and chatted. Every cadet that joins the Cisne Branco has to climb to the top of the main mast with a certain degree of confidence as part of the application process to join the ship. Bruno was surprised at how well I had done and said I would have passed easily. After I climbed down, they invited me to the state room for a drink while they printed out a certificate that said I had made it to the top, which I will be sure to save in case I want to join the Brazilian Navy someday.
Mircea, the Romanian Naval ship, is home to the fastest climbing cadets in the TALL SHIPS ATLANTIC CHALLENGE® 2009. During every Parade of Sail, they run up the rig making it look as if the ship is being taken over by ants. At the Captains’ Reception in Charleston, I met a crew member of Mircea, named Mircea. I told him how I was admiring the yellow rig and how I would like to climb it. He was a bit busy escorting small children up and down the steep gangway but said he would inquire for me.
Sure enough, the next morning I was outfitted with the most comfortable harness I have used and escorted up the rig! She’s the biggest ship I have ever climbed on and her rig was fantastic and a breeze to climb. The lower shrouds weren’t steep at all so up I went, over the tops and past the cross trees until Mircea told me that was high enough because of the wind. So we climbed out on one of the bright yellow yard arms and took in the view. Her sails were hanging in their gear and billowing in the wind and her dress flags, which are color coordinated, were hanging just above us. Up there on the sunshine yellow yard arm, I was reminded of something I had overheard one of the cadets giving a tour the day before say: “It’s a happy color and we are a happy people.” That is definitely the vibe I was getting.
When I climbed back to the deck, Mircea noticed that the wedding that had been on board (a Romanian couple who lived in America) had just gotten out. They were just leaving as I was taking off my harness. The father of the bride was coming by to thank the crew and offered us the Romanian food and drink that they had left. “Give them the Romanian wine,” he said. “The wine is Italian, but the mineral water is Romanian” His wife corrected him. So we ate Romanian sausage, salami and cheese with Mircea explaining what everything was, on board the beautiful ship Mircea on a sunny Sunday in Boston, it was quite a treat.
I can’t decide what has been the most amazing part of the summer. It might be that I got to climb all over these gorgeous tall ships, meet people from all over the world (many of whom I plan on seeing again) or that I got to sail to Bermuda and up the East Coast on some of the most gorgeous ships I have ever laid eyes on. All of those things blow me out of the water but the most amazing thing has to be the fact that the experience was exactly what it had been cracked up to be. Sail training, racing and the festivals were everything I had expected and more. I had been looking forward to this internship since January, I took a week off my school work to perfect draft after draft of my application until the counselor at the career center said it was perfect because I wanted this position so bad. I tried to talk some sense into myself because there was no way that it could be everything I was imagining, there was no way it could be that good. But it was. Every ship I sailed on was different and gave me new experiences and outlooks on tall ship sailing. At the festivals, I could hardly find time to write my blogs because I was doing too many blog worthy things. Being an ASTA intern and a tall ship crew member in port magnified the experience because we had our crewmates and interning gave us face time with the cadets and officers of all the other ships, so there were even more people to run into in Charleston and Boston, both cities I had never been too but soon had friends I could explore with.
I am leaving to sail to Belfast in a few days and I’m not buying a plane ticket home. Some of my shipmates have returned home to Europe and have extended invitations to visit and I intend take them up on their offers. There’s also ten times as many ships over in Europe and who knows which one will need a extra pair of hands. I also know that the experience isn’t unique to me; Amelia is going and intends to visit people she met on her first Atlantic crossing onboard the Prince William in 2007. This has been the time of my life and the best part is that it’s not over yet.