Small boats and a big display of lights
Posted by Tall Ships America on August 15, 2010
By Ben Rogers
We’ve left Duluth and are racing. It’s a handicapped thing, so being a slick brig isn’t necessarily to our advantage, but whatever, we are going fast right now. Having done most of my sailing prior to this summer in tubbier sailers, I am still not altogether used to Niagara‘s quickness. It was a great show getting off at the start. Parades of Sail usually have the ships on display with some sails set, motoring into the wind full aback. But today the wind was fresh, and everyone was carrying all they could. Europa had all her stuns’ls up. Confession: stuns’ls make me a little giddy. I love them, the same way I love Niagara‘s flying royals.
In Niagara we set all 16 of her 15 sails, Cutter II’s mizzen lug sail drawing and hoisted on the windward flag halyard on the main mast. If the wind stays light, we will take the contest. We are built for it. Before I turned in, we were making 9 knots in about 15 knots of wind.
Last night I saw for the first time the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. It was one of those spectacles I’d wanted to see all my life, and seeing it while sailing a humming square rigger etched it in my memory as one of those lifetime treasures. It’s the same feeling I got the first time I saw wild Orcas, and every time I walk inside Arrowhead stadium.
We’re sailing well before the light breeze and making good time. Watch was idyllic. Captain Rybka and 3rd Mate Chris played the mad scientist sail trim game, and I sat in the sun and played rope work. A couple rolling swells, and a flying fish on deck, and I’d believe I was back in the trades.
After dinner some weather was forming and the winds were promising to build beyond Niagara‘s regular comfort, so Charlie watch hopped to and lent a hand tucking first reefs in the tops’ls. A couple hours later, when the mate saw it might be something to deal with, we sea stowed them to wait it out.
Watch last night was the best four hours of sailing this summer so far. Charlie watch took the deck for the midnight watch with single reefed fore and main tops’ls set. The spanker, fore t’gallant, fore topmast stays’l, main topmast stays’l, main stays’l, were on, and the fores’l was hanging in its gear. The wind was laying down, Europa and Denis Sullivan were gaining on us, and the eight of us were at it from the start, getting more canvas on her.
What we did:
– Set fores’l
– Took in fore t’gallant
– Took in fore tops’l
– Shook out first reef in fore tops’l
– Set fore tops’l
– Set fore t’gallant
– Took in main tops’l
– Shook out first reef in main tops’l
– Set main tops’l
– Loosed and set main t’gallant
– Loosed and set mains’l
– Took in the spanker
– Set the jib
Then, in the spirit of fun and fortitude, Captain called for the main royal. Dylan and Dave scurried aloft and the rest of us sent it up for them to sheet home and cross the yard. For the underinitiated, that is a hell of a lot of work for eight people, and a hell of a lot of fun for eight people worth anything. Thankfully Charlie watch was well stocked, and we enjoyed ourselves. At the end of the watch muster, Chris said, in his ten years at sea, it was the best watch he’s ever had.
We’ve departed Sault St. Marie locks, and snug away in a nice little anchorage just north of Lake Huron. We finished the race this afternoon, making it across Lake Superior in 49 hours. The sun is setting, and doing a nice job of it, and Paul and Jeff are playing music in the bow. Life has been perfect since we left Duluth a few days ago. That’s no slight on Duluth; not even Marilyn Monroe and her best efforts could compete.
Small boats! Finally we get to take some time and goof off in Niagara‘s small boats. She is equipped with fine traditional boats, good for rowing and sailing, but we haven’t had a chance yet to tackle them, something I’ve been eager to do since I arrived here in March. I am listed as coxs’n of Cutter III, but with today as my first day in her, Bosun Rob came with in the morning to give pointers and play along while we practiced rowing. In the afternoon Captain Rybka and I took her sailing. It’s a brilliant way to extend the perfection.
We’re in Green Bay and well into the festivities here. We arrived Thursday night, after a couple more days sailing our brig, and a quick stop in Manitowoc, WI, for a look around at their maritime museum, and a fresh water top up. They have an American WWII submarine there too. I am thrilled by submarines. I have found that submariners and tall ship sailors share a deep mutual respect for each other’s theatre of seamanship, though we also both think the other is crazy for doing it.
I have some old friends and former shipmates here in Green Bay paying a visit, so a competition is in the works to see which will come away hurting more: head or wallet.