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Gulden Leeuw at St Helena With Class Afloat

Dutch Tall Ship Gulden Leeuw (Golden Lion). Built 1937, length 70.10m, beam, 8.6m, sail area 1400m2. Here she is anchored in James Bay, St Helena with the distinctive landmark of Sugar Loaf in the background.

Dutch Tall Ship Gulden Leeuw (Golden Lion). Built 1937, length 70.10m, beam, 8.6m, sail area 1400m2. Here she is anchored in James Bay, St Helena with the distinctive landmark of Sugar Loaf in the background.

School With A Difference | Sharon Henry

Climbing a 43m mast on sailing ship ‘Gulden Leeuw’ crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a gale blowing 40 knots is what 18 year old Marcus, from Montreal, Canada, recalls as a memorable experience.

It was “the scariest moment” said the student. “Me, another student and an able seaman went up the mast to stow away a ripped sail, but the wind was gusting 40 knots and the boat was rocking like crazy. I got seasick for the first time in months.”

Class Afloat, Exploring The World

Marcus is one of about 40 students on board the tall ship, Gulden Leeuw (Golden Lion), a floating school that teaches Maths and English and many more things besides.

This is a school with a difference, focussing on students’ personal development in becoming ‘global citizens’ through world exploration.

Getting the Class Afloat inside story from Marcus and learning all about his scary encounter in the 40 knot gale.

Getting the Class Afloat inside story from Marcus and learning all about his scary encounter in the 40 knot gale.

Experimental Education on Gulden Leeuw

Built in 1937 the Dutch-owned Gulden Leeuw is one of a few tall ships delivering the Canadian ‘Class Afloat‘ programme. The scheme has been operating for 30 years by West Island College International, who pronounce themselves as, ‘one of the world’s leading providers for experimental education.’

Class Afloat heading off for a day of hiking and touring St Helena.

Some of the Class Afloat students heading off for a day of hiking and touring St Helena.

A very tidy foredeck on Gulden Leeuw (Golden Lion) with ropes from the mast well coiled.

A very tidy foredeck on Gulden Leeuw (Golden Lion) with ropes from the mast well coiled.

One of the ship's crew, Becca, sorting out sails on the upper decks of Gulden Leeuw. A rainy St Helena can be seen in the distance. It did get better during the day!

One of the ship’s crew, Becca, sorting out sails on the upper decks of Gulden Leeuw. A rainy St Helena can be seen in the distance. It did get better during the day!

The “Gulden Leeuw” (Golden Lion) has been designed and built as an ocean-going, ice class vessel, complete with versatile rigging that combines the advantages of a square-sailed ship and a fore-and-aft rigged ship. She was originally named, Dana. Here she is anchored off Jamestown, at St Helena Island.

The “Gulden Leeuw” (Golden Lion) has been designed and built as an ocean-going, ice class vessel, complete with versatile rigging that combines the advantages of a square-sailed ship and a fore-and-aft rigged ship. She was originally named, Dana. Here she is anchored off Jamestown, at St Helena Island.

Alongside academic studies students are also taught to sail.

Marcus and his schoolmates aged 15 to 20, embarked last September in Amsterdam, Holland on this nine month journey around the world.

Five months later the Gulden Leeuw is here in Jamestown, St Helena.

Swimming with Whale Sharks in St Helena

Students Marcus, Oman (16 from New York City) and Alec (18 from Toronto) are our assigned tour guides on Gulden Leeuw.

Here I am climbing the rope ladder onto Gulden Leeuw to begin our tour, being met by Alec (left), Oman and Marcus (right).

Here I am climbing the rope ladder onto Gulden Leeuw to begin our tour, being met by Alec (left), Oman and Marcus (right).

The stern lounge on Gulden Leeuw.

The stern lounge on Gulden Leeuw.

The “Gulden Leeuw” (Golden Lion) was built on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1937 and during its period it was frequently used for marine biological research.

The “Gulden Leeuw” (Golden Lion) was built on behalf of the Danish Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in 1937 and during its period it was frequently used for marine biological research.

Yesterday they swam with St Helena’s whale sharks, a first time experience for the boys, and saw an aggregation of seven. “They were surprisingly chilled,” says Oman. “It was great, I’m going again.”

Today’s itinerary includes a hike to Diana’s Peak and more exploring of St Helena. We’re conscious not to encroach too much on their shore leave so keep our visit snappy.

Our tour starts on the foredeck where the square sails are controlled (those perpendicular to the boat.) There is lattice of ropes arrowing down off the mast, ending in orderly coils tied at the base. “We have to memorise all this, which rope is for what,” Oman tells us.

That’s literally called, ‘learning the ropes.’

Laundry Day

The ship’s masts tops at a heady 43 metres from water level (Marcus’ scary moment). Students are harnessed and “go aloft” to set the sails or do maintenance. “It doesn’t sound that high until you go up there,” smiles Alec. “It’s a bit nerve-racking but then you get distracted by the work.”

Along both sides of the ship, laundry flutters in the breeze. From afar it looks like mix-matched bunting. Laundry gets done once every seven days depending on the water supply made via desalination.

It's laundry day on Gulden Leeuw.

It’s laundry day on Gulden Leeuw.

On the bridge of Gulden Leeuw.

On the bridge of Gulden Leeuw.

Inside the Gulden Leeuw engine room. 'J' the ship's engineer from West London controls the power and water supply. He's an experienced sailor of 20 years and prefers living a quiet, ocean going lifestyle away from crowds. The ship produces 200 litres of fresh water an hour. Although, as the students told us, there have been times when the water makers broke and all onboard went two weeks at a time without a fresh water shower. Salt water showers is the other option.

Inside the Gulden Leeuw engine room. ‘J’ the ship’s engineer from West London controls the power and water supply. He’s an experienced sailor of 20 years and prefers living a quiet, ocean going lifestyle away from crowds. The ship produces 200 litres of fresh water an hour. Although, as the students told us, there have been times when the water makers broke and all onboard went two weeks at a time without a fresh water shower. Salt water showers is the other option.

Two decks below, down a steep ladder, is the ship’s 1,000 horse power engine, which as expected is noisy. Heat emanates up the stairway to meet us. On average the Gulden Leeuw uses engine power 10% of the time; otherwise it is raw wind power that propels this 500 tonne ship across the ocean.

Zombie Watch on the Gulden Leeuw

At sea on a typical day students have three classes, mixed in with ship chores. “It’s hard because we also do a night watch,” says Oman. Students are allocated two hour shifts throughout the night, ‘affectionately’ called ‘zombie watch.’ “We steer or do maintenance. You might find yourself stitching or doing baggywrinkles (rope coverings to reduce chaffing) in the middle of the night.”

Sailing into St Helena the sails on Gulden Leeuw were taken down a few miles out because under sail power is not as controllable for small manoeuvring. It's also a safety measure when pulling into port.

Sailing into St Helena the sails on Gulden Leeuw were taken down a few miles out because under sail power is not as controllable for small manoeuvring. It’s also a safety measure when pulling into port.

Learning the ropes on he Gulden Leeuw. Students, or trainees as they are called, are required to sail the ship alongside daily, traditional classes.

Learning the ropes on he Gulden Leeuw. Students, or trainees as they are called, are required to sail the ship alongside daily, traditional classes.

At the helm of Gulden Leeuw with two of our tour guides, Oman and Alec. Both boys are part of the Class Afloat programme which was formed in 1984. Since then over 1,600 Class Afloat students have sailed more than 700,000 nautical miles to over 250 ports of call worldwide.

At the helm of Gulden Leeuw with two of our tour guides, Oman and Alec. Both boys are part of the Class Afloat programme which was formed in 1984. Since then over 1,600 Class Afloat students have sailed more than 700,000 nautical miles to over 250 ports of call worldwide.

Tracking storms and other vessels on radar is also their responsibility as well as monitoring the VHF link.

I get excited when I spot the ship’s classic steering wheel. “We do helm,” says Alec, “but it’s considered more of a chore as it’s quite boring!”

“It’s also quite difficult,” adds Oman, “because even if the rudder is centre-lined the ship won’t go straight because winds are blowing in different ways. So we have to adjust the rudder and figure out at what angle. It’s nothing like driving a car.”

Someone’s Always Making Tea

Marcus then takes over the tour so the boys can get ready for shore. He leads us into the student mess (their eating area, not an actual mess). It is chaotic, however, as shore leave is about to start and everyone is buzzing. The mess is a fair sized room where students eat, study and play. The kettle’s boiling and a tower of laptops are on charge. There’s a service shaft connected to the galley and a staircase leads down into dorm accommodation below, split between a maximum 30 boys and 30 girls. The accommodation is off limits for our tour.

Inside the mess room. The Gulden Leeuw offers space for up to 200 passengers on day sails and for 60 trainees on longer voyages. Class Afloat - West Island College International offers internationally acclaimed academic programmes for Grade 11, 12, University and Gap year students.

Inside the mess room. The Gulden Leeuw offers space for up to 200 passengers on day sails and for 60 trainees on longer voyages. Class Afloat – West Island College International offers internationally acclaimed academic programmes for Grade 11, 12, University and Gap year students.

A quiet mess room on Gulden Leeuw as the students take advantage of shore leave to explore St Helena.

A quiet mess room on Gulden Leeuw as the students take advantage of shore leave to explore St Helena.

“You definitely get cabin fever,” Marcus tells us, “but you learn to adjust, otherwise it would be difficult! Having to adapt to a personal space which is a lot smaller than most are used to is hard. Our bunks kind of become our bubbles.”

That said, relationships developed on board are the highlight for Marcus. “These people become like your tight-knit family.” Another highlight is seeing stars on a clear night in the middle of the ocean.

Camels and Camping in the Sahara

Unlike the ship’s crew and teachers, students do not have internet access onboard. Instead they find WiFi at port calls. Although, other than a quick phone call home this practice has slowed since the start of the journey. “This far ahead we’ve learned that it’s not worth it,” says Marcus. “We find a lot more worth in going to discover and enjoy places, if you happen to find internet down the line, then good.”

When the Gulden Leeuw was converted by current owners, P&T Charters, they restored many of the original features to retain the tall ship's 1930's character.

When the Gulden Leeuw was converted by current owners, P&T Charters, they restored many of the original features to retain the tall ship’s 1930’s character.

Some of the Class Afloat students on Gulden Leeuw have already declared St Helena as the best of all their stops on the voyage so far. High praise indeed. Here some of them jump into the harbour to snorkel the wreck of the Papanui which sank in 1911.

Some of the Class Afloat students on Gulden Leeuw have already declared St Helena as the best of all their stops on the voyage so far. High praise indeed. Here some of them jump into the harbour to snorkel the wreck of the Papanui which sank in 1911.

The Gulden Leeuw has sailed thousands of nautical miles since September, leaving Portugal, Morocco, the Canaries, Senegal, Brazil, Argentina, Tristan Da Cunha, Cape Town and Namibia in her wake. Each port offered unique life experiences.

Marcus is a little hard pushed to pick a favourite. “Morocco. We took a camel ride to the Sahara Desert and camped under the stars.” For him it was a pivotal moment, “It was the beginning of our year and that night we all felt we were about to be doing something amazing.”

Our tour on Gulden Leeuw is over and we hitch a ride to shore with a boatload of excited students, eager to start another day of swimming, hiking and general cultural immersion.

What an incredible opportunity. I’m proud St Helena is playing a part in this global lesson.

The ship is now owned by P&T Charters who converted the ship into a fast three-masted topsail schooner and renamed her as The Gulden Leeuw. This is early morning, anchored off Jamestown in St Helena.

The ship is now owned by P&T Charters who converted the ship into a fast three-masted topsail schooner and renamed her as The Gulden Leeuw. This is early morning, anchored off Jamestown in St Helena.

COMMENTS

  • March 2, 2016

    Sorry to hear that the fresh water supply is not always there but for the rest a great ship that with some maintenance can be sail for many years to come.
    Crew and “sailors” will get used to the sea and hopefully turn back to serve as merchant crew on other vessels but that is a different matter, no time for visiting port, diving or other social luxury, you just hope that they will not be disappointed after that as over the whole merchant fleet needed crew with motivation and experience in all qualifications, also under decks.
    Anyway seeing those ships as we notice here still are sailing is a great view and hope this can be done many years to come.

    • April 4, 2016

      Yes what a beautiful ship and what an unforgettable experience for the young sailors. Hopefully some of them will continue sailing once the school trip is done.

  • February 24, 2016

    Nice pictures,nice ship. We suggest maintenance free blocks from Lazyblock. I saw at least one block ready for replacement or severe sanding.
    Regards

    • February 25, 2016

      A little over our heads this, but glad you liked the pictures 🙂

  • Baz Williams

    February 13, 2016

    The Breeze mags is always interesting in keeping up with the happenings on the island, great photography as always and the synopsis to go with it.

    • February 13, 2016

      Hi Baz The Breeze magazine does make an interesting read – if we may say so ourselves! Sharing stories, photographs and the love for St Helena is the best part.

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