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Barque or bite

Posted by Tall Ships America on July 30, 2010

By Becca

“Two-six, HEAVE.”

“Two-six, HEAVE.”

                The yards swing to starboard as we haul in the braces, five sailors along a line. I notice our shadows on deck, silhouettes falling into an easy rhythm. We don’t haul with our arms so much as with our entire bodies: we lean back holding the line and sort of bounce, putting our weight into each jerk.

                “Two-six, HEAVE!”

It is my third day aboard the Barque Europa, and this is my first experience of a square rigger. After sailing aboard much smaller boats for the past year, I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of lines! I feel like I’ve fallen into a bowl of spaghetti, and I have to know the names of all the noodles.  And all the sails… staysails, courses, topsails, t’gallants, royals, skysails… Europa has at least 20 sails, and I haven’t learned the names of all of them yet.

There are also structural differences that I suppose are cultural. Europa’s crew move about their days in a very relaxed manner. At the changing of the watch on an American boat (or the ones I’ve worked on) the entire process takes about ten minutes. It culminates with the off-going watch officer saying, “Watch below!” On the Europa, however, both watches meander up to the poop deck to chat and catch up with each other for a bit. Eventually the off going watch will go down below to sleep… or they might stay up to do maintenance.

The new watch will work for about three hours and then stop for a coffee break before returning to work for another three hours. The six-on, six-off watch rotation can be hard to get used to, because it means that you can only catch about five hours of sleep at a time. I never feel sleep deprived though… the naps add up and the coffee keeps everyone perky.

We have not had very much good sailing, but we have passed and visited some beautiful places. The hills here are covered with pine and fir trees.  Last night I came on deck to fog and the last bit of sunlight. The water was almost completely smooth, with a pale shimmer marking the line between lake and land. Shades of gray and blue faded into each other, and the hills were smoky with mist. One thing that has struck me is how the coast here seems almost un-touched in between towns. It’s wonderful to see land that seems a little bit wild. We went ashore this morning and saw moose tracks on the beach. 

We have a few more days until we reach the festival, and we plan to stop each night either to anchor or moor in some small town.  I’m enjoying my time in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I’ll see y’all in Duluth!

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