PRESERVING TRADITIONAL SAILING | Sharon Henry
St Helena and old sailing ships are a natural fit, they share a nostalgic throwback to days of old when the oceans were the new frontier and swashbuckling adventure was to be had. The island’s location smack-bang in the middle of the Atlantic was a hot spot for vessels venturing to and from the East. In her heyday up to 1,000 ships called annually to replenish stocks, and sailing ships in the harbour was a permanent fixture.
Not Everyone Was Allowed Ashore
Centuries later whenever a tall ship drops anchor in James Bay it still looks ‘right.’ Like the Dutch ship, Bark Europa that came in under sail on a return voyage from Antarctica, her presence ‘fits.’ We were itching to get on board for a look around.
First there is a rope ladder climb with choppy seas to negotiate and once on board we get a lick of approval from the ship’s pet. According to storybook tales, parrots or monkeys used to be the captain’s choice of animal, but on the Europa it’s a dog, aptly named Sirius after the Dog-Star constellation. Because of quarantine laws he is not allowed ashore even though he’s giving the full ‘puppy-dog-eyes’ treatment looking forlornly at the departing tenders.
Why Europa Goes To Antarctica
Towering overhead is a dizzying network of ropes rigged to control each of the ship’s 30 canvas sails attached to 33 metre masts. Despite this it looks orderly, clean and tidy on the wooden deck which blends beautifully with the red and yellow painted bulkheads.
Having finished a season of dodging icebergs, and doing penguin and whale watching excursions in Antarctica the ship is now harnessing the trade winds and homeward bound to Norway with 40+ passengers and 14 crew.
Originally built in 1911 in Germany as a light ship the Europa underwent a major renovation in 1986 and was re-rigged into a three-masted bark. Now Dutch registered she offers sailing holidays and ocean adventures.
Everyone Must Speak The Same Language
Today Europa is under the command of Captain Klaas Gaastra whose friendly, easy manner seems to filter through the whole ship. Having been with the company since 1994 this is his seventh trip to St Helena. “For a ship like this we have to keep sailing all year otherwise it’s not possible to keep,” he tells us. “The owners don’t get any money. They bought the ship because they like it, but all the earnings go back into the ship. They do it for the love of preserving traditional sailing.”
The passengers on board have a mixture of sailing experience, some novices and some who even own yachts. All are required to answer ‘hands on deck’ and help with sailing. This includes watch duty of four hours on, eight hours off. “We have all nationalities and all ages,” smiles the captain, “Singapore, Romania, Russia, mostly from Europe, Canada and the States. We’re for everybody, as long as you speak English then you’re welcome.”
The Biggest Fun
There is a skeleton crew on board, everyone else has scarpered ashore to squeeze in some sightseeing before setting sail again after a day and half stay.
Left behind is Laura the bartender/crew member from Argentina who adds to the ship’s multicultural count. Darrin immediately assumes she’s a football fan. “When I’m at home I don’t watch all the time but when I’m away I become more passionate,” she laughs. “The last World Cup I was in Croatia and was the ONLY Argentinean in that part. It was the biggest fun.” Argentina made the final (2014) losing to Germany, 0-1. As always we’ve found football to be an international language that creates instant connections.
Laura first set eyes on the Europa when it used to dock at her home town. She had met and made friends with the crew, “I came for a visit and just loved her and decided that I had to join. I tried for a job and was very lucky to get on.
“The hardest thing being on here for me is missing some people a lot. But then when you’re at home, you miss the people from the ship! It really feels like home here. It’s a very, very nice working atmosphere.”
A Square Rigger Adventure
A trip on the Bark Europa could set you back a few thousand Euros and is aimed at a niche market of adventurous seafarers. A round voyage traverses the Atlantic from Europe to South America, Antarctica (for the summer), South Africa and back to Europe.
In case you need any arm twisting Laura tells us South Georgia is her favourite leg of the trip. “It’s beautiful, so full of wildlife and they are not scared of people, they just come to you so you can see them close up.” Enticing stuff.
As is watching a tall sailing ship underway and fading into the horizon.
Did You Know?
225 ocean going vessels called at St Helena during 2015. The Bark Europa is the 150th vessel to call in 2016 so far.
International regulations require a lookout on every vessel. No less than half of the collisions at sea are due to a lack of proper lookout!
The Europa’s Antarctic expeditions for 2016/17 are fully booked.
Her maximum speed under sail is 12.5 knots.
It takes about 45 minutes to hoist all sails.
It takes about 5 minutes to take all sails down.
Including all sheets, halyards, clew and buntlines, brasses and mooring lines there is 5,5 kilometres of rope on board.