Our very first guest article but really this is no guest. Captain Michael has sailed with us on a number of occasions and most recently on the most “adventurous” voyage to date from Sydney, Canada to Santa Cruz de la Palma, Spain. A true professional and a strong voice for our mission to protect our oceans by putting Cargo Under Sail. We look forward to again welcoming him onboard in the future. Captain Michael offers unedited account of what it means to sail.
“The way of a wanderer of the seas” by Capt Michael
There is something special about a ship, any kind really. It is almost as if she knows which way she has to go, anticipating every move of those who work her. And why wouldn’t she? Every particle is loaded with some kind of energy coming together in a joint effort to do just one thing: to bring her precious cargo across the seas. That’s including every hand that sails her. And even the most hardheaded man, refusing when setting out for the first time to do what he may call madness, would join in at some point, no matter what weather, no matter what workload. Up into the rigging we go in storm force winds, or work the deck when all is awash. Tired, wet through and through, and still there is no regret. So, why do all this? Perhaps it is this oneness that makes us do the most incredible things. It sure ain’t the romance some youngsters seek when they set out for the first time. That includes me by the way. What on earth did I think when I first thought about going to sea?
I was 17, clueless, restless. Just the thought of a 9 to 5 job ashore only to pay the taxes for a lifetime while trying to make what the general consent said was a decent living, made me feel dizzy. We all search, one way or another, so it might as well be interesting, adventurous, demanding, and hopefully touching every culture out there. I got that romance thing out of my system pretty fast though. Yet, 38 years later I am still here, sailing the finest ships with even finer crew. It does not take much to find a smile in just about every face. A full sail maybe, a gentle swell lifting us generously, dolphins playing at the bow, whales accompanying the ship, the incredible bio-luminescence at night, the stars in the sky so clear like nowhere else. Except for the seasick maybe. And unless one is a passenger and can disappear at leisure, lay down and sleep it through, no one of the fellow crew feels pity. Not doing your job means one less on deck and all others having to do yours. I remember my seasickness. Steering while eating backwards. It was force 11 on a fishing vessel. She had to be steered by hand, outside. After a short while it seemed I was about to get to know every wave by its first name, and being doused properly it did not matter that I could not leave the wheel when emptying myself.
Sixteen hours later it was as if someone had just switched it off. My seasickness was gone. Now I knew the world was mine. And after all these years sailing had lost nothing of its grace, despite all the hardship. It’s about the people I think, how we meet, knowing that we have to make things work, always. Making an effort to do things together, learning how to communicate with one another, and with all that surrounds us. Arriving becomes secondary, being is all there is, now.
I run two ships as captain at present, in a rotation. Primarily the Brigg “Eye of the Wind”, a beautiful square rigged sailing ship, for passengers who wish to experience some hands-on sailing. And then there is the schooner “Avontuur”, a cargo carrying sailing ship that connects all those who wish to make a difference. She is all about sustainability, low carbon footprint, organically produced cargo. A proper working ship for all those who don’t mind to get their hands dirty. For the second time now I came on board in a rush, sailing the trip seemingly no one else wanted to command. The community following us ashore on a blog knew about the weather we were about to encounter, and our followers grew daily.
It is the 19th of November that we set sail, and knowing our fans are anxious to get some news I make a mid-voyage report:
Why do such a voyage? Anyone sane would choose palm trees, beaches, Trade Winds and pleasant temperatures, or not? That’s where I came from. But to travel the Winter North Atlantic from Sydney (Canada) to Horta (Azores)? We’ll come to that again at the end of this report.
In view of the winter setting in with snow blizzards underway there was no time to loose. Right on the first day the crew gets it all: setting all sails, then reefing and dousing some again. And not to forget the seasickness. I feel for everyone, I do remember mine. It’s force 7-8, and it’s one of the slow days. Yet all are brave enough to stick it through, sick or not. Our trip avoids passing over the banks, and we carefully avoid being trapped by Lows. Lots of sail handling keeps all busy and slowly the seasickness disappears. Turns out our bosun Klaus gets everyone wanting to be eagerly involved in every maneuver. The excitement is clearly part of our routine now. Taking in sail quickly in an onset of a blow? Furling sail in a torrentious downpour? Bring it on, and we even want to furl nice!
The 22nd gives us a bit of a break. No wind, a bit of sunshine. Good time to wash, meditate, sunbath, chit chat. As it turns out we shall have such days every now and then, to recuperate, to refuel with energy. And each time the North Atlantic makes sure we won’t forget what he is made of, in a crescendo that is. Gradually we work ourselves up to a proper force 9 to 10 with waves so high one can only have the mightiest respect for any wave breaking on deck. We are harnessed, clipped in, and only ever move about deck in pairs. Bulkheads closed, watertight integrity secured. Oh, I didn’t mention the great food yet, did I? Imagine a ship heavily rolling at times and yet without fail we have delicious meals on the table every day.
All are cooking, and cleaning, and keep watch. And all that with a smile! It appears we have the worst behind us. We got pooped twice (poop-deck awash), we saw a force 10 (that’s enough, trust me), and when a crew tells me it feels like no wind at all in a force 7 after all this, then I am happy and I know I have the right bunch around me. With less than 800 miles to go Horta is almost there. We can almost taste the beer from Peter’s Sportsbar already. And it gets warmer, gradually.
So, why do we do this again? Because, if one gets lucky, I mean really lucky, one gets to terms with oneself on such a trip. Rarely do we get the opportunity to get to know what we are made of. Here it does not get closer to nature, and with it the sincere feeling that comradeship means something.
Happy days, and see you soon in Horta,
No worries, I’m not nuts. I am all for palm trees, beaches and fair weather. In fact I love it when all I need is a T-shirt, shorts and sandals, and my hat of course. And I belong to those who believe things happen for a reason. Maybe we instinctively seek to find those challenges in life that give us the opportunities to prove our courage, or find it in the first place. We like our comfi chairs way too much, don’t we? The getting used to the ins and outs of our daily chores and putting them on autopilot seems to be the common thing to do. Even at sea if one is not careful. And so it happens that there is something else that I got out of the last trip I made with the “Avontuur”. It is that reminder that there is a purpose for ones existence. The everyday work-a-day-purpose to earn a just profit is just a facet of that. Beyond that we want to improve in some way the quality of the community to which we are committed, or not? Well, I do, and I am also aware that by way of my efforts I reveal a message of the quality standard at which my life’s work is conducted.
Fast forward to the “Eye of the Wind”, we are sailing the last end of the 2018 Caribbean season and enjoy some awesome sailing days. I prepare mentally to cross the Atlantic soon. And I see that seed growing the “Avontuur” planted in me once again, my long forgotten wish to do something meaningful while sailing far flung destinies and meeting welcoming people. Good company is essential, a fine companion to share that all with. It’s time to go on the hunt.
Fair winds to all,