Preserving Traditional Sailing | Sharon Henry
Bark Europa offers tall ship holidays to the Antarctic with a special brand of adventure sailing for about 40 passengers at a time.
As part of the tall ship sailing experience, paying customers are required to help operate this elegant square rigger vessel, including being a part of the 24-hour watch rota.
Tall ship Bark Europa is one of the niche windjammer cruises available in the world today. The cruises to the Antarctic are popular and help to preserve the romantic age of the square rigged ship.
A Tour of Tall Ship Bark Europa
Sadly, Darrin and I are not going to be sailing the Antarctic, but we’re still pretty excited as we’re being given a tour of Bark Europa as she sits in the Jamestown anchorage.
First there is a rope ladder climb with choppy seas added to the mix. Once on board this Antarctic ship we get a lick of approval from the ship’s pet dog, Sirius.
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 the island’s quarantine laws, he is not allowed ashore even though he’s giving the full ‘puppy-dog-eyes’ treatment looking forlornly at the departing tenders.
The Tall Ship’s Schedule
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 of the sailing cruise ship, which blends beautifully with the red and yellow painted bulkheads.
Bark Europa has just finished a season of dodging icebergs, and organising penguin and whale watching excursions. Antarctic expedition over, the tall ship is now harnessing the trade winds and is 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 trips to the Antarctic and sail training adventures on the open ocean.
Everyone Must Speak The Same Language
Today the SS Bark Europa is under the command of Captain Klaas Gaastra, who has been with the company since 1994. His friendly, easy manner seems to filter through the whole ship.
“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.
One person still here, 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 the vessel 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.”
Square Rigger Holidays In The Antarctic
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 we 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.
Bark Europa And The Sailing Ships At St Helena
Captain Klaas Gaastra is making his seventh trip to St Helena since working for the tall ship company.
The island 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. St Helena’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 here annually to replenish stocks, and sailing ships in the harbour were a permanent fixture.
Centuries later whenever a tall ship drops anchor in James Bay it still looks ‘right.’ Like this Dutch ship, Bark Europa, her presence ‘fits.’
Standing here on the wooden deck, surrounded by the ropes and rigging we gaze inland at the cliffs of St Helena. For a moment we have a little glimpse of what it must have been like for the of sailors of old who have dropped anchor in this very spot.
Bark Europa Square Rigger Trivia – Did You Know?
- The Europa’s trips to Antarctic 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.
- A total of 225 ocean going vessels called at St Helena during 2015. Bark Europa is the 150th vessel to call in 2016, so far. (It’s May)