Review


Raise the Throat, you dogs
Standby the Protector
Set the Mizzen and Head'sls
Man the Course Braces, Starboard easing, Port Hauling palm down to 1 turn
Ungasket the T'Gallon
Belay the ropes
Number 7's to the Galley
All hands on deck ready to tack
240 on
Let go port 5 shackles


If the above sounds double Dutch to you, and it did to me at first you may want to go for a trip on a true square-rigger sailing ship.

In November 2004 I (along with 39 other volunteers and 10 crew) sailed aboard the STS Leeuwin (Sail Training Ship), which is the tallest "tall ship" in Australia (small by other standards) on a whale-watching weekend. I wasn't interested in the whales, I wanted to learn and sail the ship…

Be warned, " There be no passengers aboard the Leeuwin" which is exactly why you join, to learn to handle and sail a true square rigger, from galley duties to going aloft, standing the helm or boring anchor watch.

At the Helm - spent almost 3 hrs here over 2 days
STS Leeuwin
The sails fill, and we depart on our trip (adventure)

I had a fantastic time, a true adventure if you are considering doing a trip as a working crewmember GO FOR IT, but remember there are no room service buttons in your cabins, no deckchairs on deck. You are expected (but not forced) to participate in everything, going aloft is optional…thankgod….. I will explain in day 2…..

I will now give a day-to-day running of my trip, which I think you will find interesting.

Day 1 Friday 12th November 2004

As we approached Fremantle my excitement rose as I saw the Leeuwin's 3 masts proudly standing higher than the sheds. Upon arriving at the gangplank we were checked in and the purser advised me that I was in cabin 2, bunk 3 lower, and was to be given white watch. My life raft number 2 was my point of survival if the need rose.

Going below I was amazed at really how much room there was below, going down the staircase into the main saloon, and following the corridor to the 8 cabins actually surprised me. Entering my cabin I found my bunk, there was no changing bunks you took what was assigned for safety reasons and for the fact, as we were all mixed watches, in the same cabin, if we swapped, we would be waking up wrong people.

After dropping our bags on our bunks we returned topside where a deep Scottish accent came from the starboard beam "white watch to life raft 2, on the double" there we met our watch leader "digger" a true Scotsman, complete with a sailors style cap and red neckerchief tied around his neck " this 'll be ya mustering point next to this wee life raft ere" Digger turned out to be a great watch leader and a fun guy to be around. I was given number 7 (there was 10 of us and we were given a number - when we were called to muster the leader would scream " white watch number off - it was a way of seeing that everyone was there)

White Watch Leader "Digger" what a crack up this guy was :)
My Good friend and work mate Liz was also booked on the same trip

Using her twin Detroit Diesels we motored out of the Port of Fremantle at 1800hrs and travelled into the sheltered area of port beach and dropped the anchor in 7.5 meters of water. Playing out 5 shackle lengths we made sure the ship was anchored safely. The bell had to be rang as each shackle length was eased out over the windlass pre painted chain links indicated a shackle length (1 shackle length is 27.4m so we had 137m of chain out in about 8m of water - a bit of an over kill maybe, but this was what the Captain ordered)

Feeling a little disappointed that we had stopped so suddenly - I wanted to get out on the seas and sail at night, I asked the captain why and his answer made perfect sense. "I don't like sailing at night there are too many things to bump into around here other boats etc and Cray pots are now been put down so they can foul the propellers, doesn't look good coming back into port with a trail of pots and floats been dragged in, plus the crew haven't been trained yet"…fair enough …. We hadn't either

Dinner was served shortly after anchoring and we did it in 2 shifts first and second sitting, this made sure there was enough watches on deck to run the ship and the other 2 watches ate, and then we swapped over. Our first meal was baked fish, gourmet style salads and vegetables along with fresh bread. Jules our cook was going to definitely spoil us if this was the standard she was setting, as the dinner was really nice. After dinner we sat on deck and just relaxed while the galley and the mess area were cleaned up then a whale expert invited us down to listen to a very informative talk. After the talk volunteers were needed for anchor watch, Digger asked for volunteers for this task as White watches anchor watch was 0200 - 0400 and he wanted 4 volunteers 2 to do 2-3am and the other 2 to do 3am - 4am. Wanting to feel like I was doing something I volunteered and was told I would be woken at 2.45am to get a coffee and report o the chart house at 0300.

Retiring to my bunk which incidentally as on the port side and nestled in the bow, my bunk was against the hull of the ship, and what I thought was nice kept me awake all night. There was sloshing noises up against the hull, and an occasional clunking squeaking sound that I put down to the anchor chain against the hawser. I don't feel I slept at all, maybe 10mins here and there, I think excitement, the noises, the swaying, that's swaaaayyyyiiing of the ship kept me awake. I remember looking at my watch at around 2.20am thinking I will be going on watch soon, and I was exhausted. I must have drifted off becomes some inconsiderate person came and shook my shoulder "your watch mate, grab a coffee and report to the chart house" bloody hell I thought I've just managed to doze off.

Day 2 Saturday 13th November 2004

Reporting to the chart house I was quickly shown what was needed of our watch, far from my thoughts of sitting in the chart house drinking coffee. We had to do 3 walks through the ship, one at 3am by the off going watch to show you what to do. One at 3.30 and one at 4.00am to show the relief watch. Our findings had to be logged with orders to contact the captain if anything changed past his prescribed margins.

In the chart house we used the onboard electric barometer to obtain a reading, we needed to use the range finder on the radar scope to fix the ship against 2 points of land to see if we were drifting, check the electronic displays for wind speed, current depth. Then grabbing a torch we needed to go to the helm for wind direction, then check the bilge areas, and anchor chain locker for water then look over the side at the anchor chain to make sure it was still there - if it looked nice and taught it was fine if it was shaking it meant the anchor was dragging, but you would have picked this up easily by using the range finder.

After I was relieved of duty, I tried to grab some sleep but it just wouldn't happen, and around 6.00am the smell of cooking bacon drifting through the ship made me get up and have a hot shower. Up on deck at about 6.30am and there was not a breath of wind, the seas was so calm we even had people coming out to sea in canoes to see the ship parked off the beach.

Suddenly one of the crew shouted out "all hands to the poop deck", so we gathered around and he said "follow me" so we all followed him to the bow and back to the stern CONNED CONNED CONNED we were excersising………. we were walking around the ship in circles, in fact we weren't walking more staggering I think I was not the only one that didn't sleep that night.

Breakfast was called, and down we went for a feast of cereals and yoghurt, bacon, baked beans (maybe so if the wind didn't pick up we could create our own) fried tomatoes toast and orange juice, the food was definitely looking promising. After b'fast we started our training. Now before we go any further, ropes ropes ropes, there are approximately 180 different ropes on that ship, why cant they have signs next to them, or be colour coded or something. However, after a weekend sail, it sort of all makes sense, and I was getting the hang of it and knew were the main ropes were and what they would do

Our watch rotated with the others to learn the basics of what was required of us at each station.

Helm:

At the helm we were advised by the captain what he expected of us and what to say. For example we needed permission form him or the officer of the watch to change helmsmen. We were not to change course unless instructed and for example if we were heading 270 deg and he wanted 310 degs we were to repeat the heading and turn the ship once we had come about to 310, we would have to shout in a nice load voice " 310 on" so he knew we had changed course and were now heading the way he ordered. Before changing helmsman we had to confirm with the new person the heading etc.

View from Bow Spit
At the helm again :)
On the Main mast

Aloft:

The chance was there if wanting to go aloft, kitted out in proper safety harness's we were instructed and let up the forward mast to get the hang of the climbing and how not to disconnect your harness's from any safety hook unless your second 'back' up hook was attached to something else. Before going aloft we had to do a 15 sec hang test that is by hanging your full weight on your arms for 15 secs, if you passed you could climb the masts. The reason for this Is before each landing stage there is like a ladder leaning backwards at say 45deg to get on to the crows nest landing thingamabob (see I learnt a lot huh) Although I did go up, I felt a little uncomfortable and preferred to stay on deck. After doing the 15 second hang test and then climbing the almost vertical shrouds and rat lines, then hanging backwards to get over the 45 deg bit, I reached the landing and my arms were shaking, I was unsure if this was nerves or if it was my under muscular body protesting at the exercise. Having said that I do intend going on another trip and going higher.

 

Ready to go aloft
view from platform towards bow (half way up mast)
View to stern - doesn't look high, I had the blinking zoom on so it zoomed in - trust me it was high

Main and Mizzen masts,

Been a barque we had 3 masts, the centre mast was the main mast with the back mast (stern) was the Mizzenmast; these 2 masts carried a large rectangle sail like a traditional sailing boat. We had to learn how to raise the booms and the throat, which took the main boom aloft thus hauling the sail up.

Braces

There are a number of ropes, which will alter the yardarms to angle into the wind at the correct angle, these are called braces and whilst hauling on one side to say bring them around to the port side the starboard side needed to play out slack.

So after learning all the above and more the wind had picked up, and we were ready to go for a sail. Some haul ropes needed a whole watch to heave them up, so whilst doing the main mast it was not uncommon to have 1 watch hauling the main boom and another hauling the peak, once we were ordered to ready the ship all four watches went about their duties, and soon the chorus of " 2, 6, HEAVE, 2, 6, HEAVE was heard all around the ship as the ropes were hauled upon to raise sails etc, our watch leader Digger even broke out to a sea shanty whilst we were heaving the main peak into place.

Once the ship was ready to go, the order to raise anchor was given, and the windlass groaned into life bringing the anchor home. With the light breezes we were having STS Leeuwin screamed along at around 2kts so it was time to relax, spend time up in the bow net (like a huge hammock with a view) and just relax. It was quite a hot morning, with the temperature around 30 deg C

Lunch was called and we went down for a bite to eat, hauling them sails is hard work you know……Raviolli, freshly baked bread, cold meats and salad were the go and was devoured rapidly by all.

In the afternoon we saw whales jumping out of the sea (Breaching) flapping their tails and sailing with their flippers in the air. All proudly supporting their calves. The weather picked up and soon we had the typical 25kt S/W breeze and the swells picked up.

I was asked to stand the helm and spent a good 2hrs all up that afternoon in 2 separate shifts steering the ship. I was surprised how light she was to steer, the wonderful world of hydraulics took the strain and I was happily steering the ship but got a little carried away and started oversteering, sometimes yanking the rudder through to around 30deg, the officer on the watch had a big grin on his face and asked that I looked at my wake " you have a slow motion speed wobble going here" best you don't bring the rudder past say 10degs unless doing a course change. Soon after the captain told everyone to ready the ship for a tack, after around 10 mins all watches were ready, I was then told "Hard a starboard" you beauty…. I replied " Hard a starboard" and swung the wheel around and around until she was hard on her stops and the rudder indicator showed 40degs starboard rudder " Hard a Starboard on" I screamed into the wind the captain thanked me and then screamed at the crew " Wheel is down" slowly the 155 ft ship began her turn to starboard, once we were pointing roughly the right way. I was given the order to bring the wheel amidships and then given a new course heading. The other watch members angled the sails and we picked up our speed again.

By this time the wind had picked up as well as the swell and the ship came to life, she was beginning to buck and sway and the sails were filling nicely. Relieved from the helm I stood the rest of my watch and then went off duty.

Afternoon tea was called and we were offered home baked muffins, shortly after I headed up deck to relax and then below for a shower. There was always hot coffee, milo, and tea in the saloon so occasional trips below to bring a coffee up on deck was the go during the whole trip.

We pulled into Thompson Bay at Rottnest Island late Sat afternoon and found a nice little sheltered spot off Bathurst lighthouse. Using the diesels we manoeuvred to a nice little spot in 10m of water and again the captain shouted, "let go Port…5 Shackles" and rang the bell 5 times. The anchor windlass brake was released and the anchor left the hawser with a mighty splash and accompanied by the clatter of chain the anchor was set.

Dinner was served and on tonight's menu were lamb chops, vegetables and Broccoli in cheese sauce, along with the gourmet salads and fresh bread. Then came dessert, a wonderfully baked apple crumble with ice cream. After dinner we again had a whale talk from our guide and that was very interesting. Afterwards we watched a movie (actual footage) of the clipper "Peking" whose masts stood 17 stories high. This was taken in 1929 with a very early movie camera and they went through a storm coming around the Cape, the actual footage of these guys up the masts and the sea coming over the ship side had all in awe. It was titled "around the Cape" and I will try to get myself a copy from somewhere.

Me entering the pool
Life Jacket Drill
Another perfect sunset anchored off Rottnest Island

 

After I ventured up deck to have a look at our anchorage but it was a little windy and quite cold up on deck and most people were going to their bunks to catch up on their sleep and rest after a heavy day of sailing. Around 9.00pm the decks and saloon were empty so I followed suit and went to my bunk hoping for some sleep. Sleep came very quickly and other than a brief waking around 3am when they came into our cabin to get one of the watch guys I slept through to 6.30am when I was rudely awoken by the sounds of whales mating which was on a cd and played through the ships pa system. The reason we slept better was the captain had left the Mizzen sail up and this acted as a giant fin to stabilise the ship.

Day 3 Sunday 14th November 2004

I had a shower and was just in time for my breakfast shift, cereals, yoghurts, sausages, scrambled eggs, toast and orange juice and then up on deck to see the wonderful island of Rottnest of our Starboard side. The seas were calm and after a small wait they declared that they were opening the swimming pool - huh what !!!! where's the pool there is no pool, is this another joke?

Ah hah… The pool .. yes… " over the side ye wee dogs" roared digger with a huge laugh on his face. The rescue boat was launched from the stern, and the boarding ladder was dropped put over the port side, a volunteer climbed the mast as a look out……….just in case…after all we do get sharks off the Western Australian coast, always best to be safe.

Then came the fun a huge Tarzan swing was roped the lower yard and by standing on the deck railing you could swing out and drop into the ocean. The decks are some 3.5m above Sea level so with the swing you could get around 4 - 5m under you before you dropped, I couldn't wait and spent a good half hour on the swing and climbing onto the handrails and "abandoning ship" by just jumping off the side.

"Pools closed" roared the officer of the watch, with a chorus of "2 , 6 HEAVE" the sails were raised, the rescue boat and its 2 occupants were retrieved and manually heaved a board, the anchor came home and we were on our way. We rotated the watches the same as yesterday all taking it in turns to do something, however the swell was up today as well as the wind and we were moving quite quickly now, powering along nicely the occasional spray coming over the side. To fast thought the Captain, we will arrive back at Fremantle too soon "lower the t'gallant" the upper most square sail, you could feel the speed dropping as soon as the sail was retrieved.

Arriving off port beach we tidied the ship just 15 mins per watch to clean a part of the ship after our weekend at sea, scrubbing decks, polishing brass work etc. We dropped the sails and came through the heads on diesels, to a chorus of diggers sea shanties. He had brought along his stick thingy with beer bottle lids on it - sounded bloody great and the shanties and atmosphere really finished the trip nicely.


Review brief:

Food - could not complain once, a good variety of fresh food and a cook with a good sense of humour.

Value for money - yes

Hard work - yes

Satisfaction - absolutely

Would and will do it again, but a longer and rougher trip, I aint happy unless there is white water ankle deep on them thar decks me heartys har har


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