A Kiwi Abroad – Sailing Gulden Leeuw in the Tall Ships Races

Gulden Leeuw

Written by Ludwig, Trainee and Bursary Recipient

This summer I was able to take part in the first race of the Tall Ship Races 2019, organized by Sail Training International. It was an amazing experience which would have not been possible without the support of the “Keith’s Crew” Bursary that I have received.

At the beginning of July this year I travelled to Aalborg by train and plane. All trainees had to board the Gulden Leeuw, a Dutch Tall Ship before 4 pm in the afternoon of the 5 July 2019. I had assumed we would leave the port on the same day but many things turned out to be quite different than I had previously imagined – having “only” sailed on the “Spirit of New Zealand” so far. All of them were very positive however!

The first thing I noticed when I made my way from the train station to the port were the masts of many Tall Ships that I was able to see from far away. It was like a festival, Tall Ship after Tall Ship moored behind one another. Having found the ship I was to spend the next eight days on I was warmly welcomed and assigned my bunk – just like on the Spirit. Shortly afterwards we all got the compulsory safety introduction and were told that we were off to do sports later. I had met some of my fellow trainees already but sports was definitely a great way to get to know them better. After our first session, trainees of other ships joined us in a big hall where we had the choice of bouldering, basketball, soccer and many more. It was great fun and I had made some good friends after my first day on the ship. As if this hadn’t been a start good enough already, the day was celebrated with an enormous firework in the evening, lighting up the ships in all imaginable colours.

The next morning, we departed at around midday as one of the leading ships. Together with other trainees, I climbed the mast and observed the spectacle from far aloft. On board with us were Vanessa, the widow of Keith, and her son. We had met on that morning; they came all the way from England in order to see the trainees they were supporting. I really appreciated their effort to come. After returning to the harbour to farewell them, we set out once again, hoisted the sails outside the channel and set course towards the starting line of the race.

Out on sea, we organized into watches of about ten trainees. Each of those watches was assigned to two watches a day. Either from 00 to 3 am/pm, 3 to 6 am/pm, 6-9 am/pm or 9-12 am/pm. If you were not on watch, you were relatively free in what you choose to do. Be it connecting with other trainees, climbing the mast or the bow, getting some rest or help out the engineer down in the engine room which is what I chose to do. He was a very nice guy with whom I’ve been able to connect quickly (at least in my opinion). I helped out with small jobs. One of them was to re attach the pipes venting the wastewater tanks. This was of course an odorous job but it was fun nonetheless.

Over the course of the voyage, each trainee spend his compulsory day down in the galley. Thus, helping prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, clean the dishes and the galley itself after a full day. As the trainees came from all parts of the world, we were asked to hand in the recipe of one’s national dish before the start of the voyage. During my galley day, I prepared the dish “Spätzle” together with the cook, who was fortunately from approximately the same area and therefore knew what I was talking about. “Spätzle” are a sort of pasta for which you need a very rough sieve in order to give them their typical shape. We did not have something like that on board so together with the cook and the engineer, I prepared a “purpose made kitchen appliance” consisting of an old plastic bucket which I perforated using a drill. At the end of the day, the whole ship ate the Spätzle which turned out to be the best you can get on any Tall Ship out on the ocean.

My watch and I were responsible for sailing during the shift from 3 to 6 am/pm. In that time, we would either work on the sails, drive the ship, or keep an eye on the instruments in the cockpit. We were also allowed to fill in the Logbook with the help of the captain or an officer. Driving the ship during the night was quite something – knowing that you were the one steering a ship of over 50 meters, solely pushed through the water by the wind. The sight looking over the illuminated compass out into the night, literally hearing the force of the wind and feeling the air in your face never gets old.

One night after my shift, I decided together with our watch’s mentor (the equivalent to a Leading Hand) to stay up. We thought to ourselves we couldn’t get off the ship without having witnessed the sunrise at least once. In order to get there, we enjoyed four coffees on the middle deck which might have left us a little too enthusiastic but assured we would not miss the spectacle. Towards 4:30 we dressed as warmly as possible, put on the harnesses and climbed out on the net left and right to the bowsprit. That morning, we sailed towards the sun into the at first dark red, gradually evolving into brighter shades of red and orange sky. Needless to say, this was a morning I will never forget, easily compensated by a little sleep in afterwards.

Gulden Leeuw
The three-masted topsail schooner Gulden Leeuw (Golden Lion) at Sea

As the days passed, we got closer and closer to the finish line and had a little celebration once we officially crossed the finish line. The results had to be awaited as they were only announced at the award ceremony. We were all really happy with our sailing. The conditions had been amazing, only the wind could have been a little stronger at times. The finish line was located just outside the channel leading into the city of Oslo and of course Fredrikstad, the final destination of our journey.

The way leading to Fredrikstad was quite narrow for a Tall Ship like the Gulden Leeuw. We required a pilot driving the ship. Originally, we had planned to anchor inside a bay for the night, enjoying a Barbeque on board and maybe even a little swim because we were told that the pilot was only able to come the next morning. Those plans “unfortunately” changed. The pilot had still been able to come and after he transferred ship we were on our way to Fredrikstad. On one hand this meant that the prospect of going for a little swim had faded quite strongly. On the other hand, together with a couple of other trainees I was able to experience another “once in a lifetime” moment.

As we got closer to Fredrikstad, it was already late in the day and the sun had started to set. This made for an incredible light, driving between the small islands that are typical for Norway’s coast. About halfway in, a group of trainees including me decided to climb the mast. At a height of about 40 meters we witnessed an absolutely amazing view.

Discovering Fredrikstad little by little on top of a Tall Ship that had come all the way from Denmark, loaded with about 50 trainees from all over the world and an amazing crew was simply amazing! In addition to all that the sun was setting and you could see lots of other Tall Ships in the background. What an arrival!

The remaining two days in Fredrikstad were the perfect end to our journey. We had lots of free time which we could spend exploring Fredrikstad but there were also activities offered by the Tall Ship Races. The one I took part in was a beach clean up with a swim afterwards. What I also really enjoyed was visiting other ships like for example the “Morgenstern” or the “Wylde Swan”, two other Dutch Tall Ship that were really beautiful, having kept their original interior in absolute shipshape. While those visits were about seeing the respective ship of course, they were at least in the same amount about getting to know their crew and trainees. I got to meet some super cool people during the Tall Ship Race and hope to stay in contact with at least some of them!

On the last day of this incredible journey, the parade took place. All crews took part in this, mostly dressed up. We marched through the city chanting our chants as loud as we could with lots of spectators left and right. In the end, we all gathered for the final ceremony. The winners of each category were announced. Our Ship’s name was unfortunately not mentioned as the winner, 2nd or 3rd place but we were awarded the price for the most international crew which was really cool and showed how special this journey was. In the evening, we all went to the closing party which was a worthy event to wrap up the last eight days and sadly farewell some of the people one meets during a Tall Ship race.

I was again completely overwhelmed by this journey. I saw a big personal progress compared to my first journey aboard the Spirit of New Zealand. I handled situations differently and could again learn about myself and the way how I interact with others. I could also look at this journey from a different perspective by comparing it to what I had experienced before. I must say, the Spirit of New Zealand is more focused on really providing a “Youth Development Program”. There are almost always activities going on which really immerses the trainees in the whole experience. The time onboard the Gulden Leeuw gave the participants much more freedom. We were free to do whatever we felt like as long as we were not on watch, galley duty or “Happy Hour” (cleaning the ship). Considering that the trainees were aged between 15 and 23, had different backgrounds not only in terms of sailing skills and that we sailed during the night, I think this was a suitable approach which allowed us to pursue different interests on board. May those be helping the engineer, the captain on the bridge deck or pulling the ropes outside of one’s watch. We were always welcomed and supported to help wherever we wanted.

Conclusively, this was a wonderful experience which I would never want to miss. I am highly grateful of the support I received by the “Keith’s Crew Grant” and also by “The Spirit of Adventure” and “Sail Training International”. It would have not been possible without their support. Sailing on board Tall Ships is very, very high on the list of things I love doing most. Thank you again for making this possible!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *