We are here in Norway for two reasons: to pack up some things from the house, and sail the Statsraad Lemhkuhl in the Tall Ships Regatta from Kristiansand to Aalborg, Denmark. Our father was a cadet on this same ship in the late 1930s. When we discovered we could sign on as crew members, it didn’t take long to pick a few dates and make a deposit.
We met up with the crew at 10 am on Tues July 28th in the Kristiansand harbor. After swapping our passports for locker keys, we were assigned hammocks and watch duties.
On this leg there were 93 “trainees”, as we are called, split evenly between men and women. (During the regatta at least 50% of the crew must be between the ages of 15 and 25. They are trying to promote maritime careers with young people). We got the Red Watch (also called the “dog watch”), noon to 1600 and again midnight to 0400. Surprisingly it turned out to be a very nice time to be on deck. Most everyone else is sleeping and it is quiet. The last of the sunset is just visible when we go on duty at midnight, and at 0230 the first of the sunrise starts to lighten the skies to the east. Watch duties include; lookout (on the bow) buoy watch (aft deck), helm, and fire watch. But mostly during watch we are manual labor for pulling on lines to either furl or unfurl the sails or trim the sails. That part of the watch was a lot more work than I anticipated.
Our first four hour watch began at midnight Tues. It was the most difficult watch period of the entire sail due to continual rain and windy conditions. For the first two hours of the watch we trimmed sails continually. That meant two hours of racing between lines in rain and total darkness on an unfamiliar deck, as the crew yelled instructions in a mixture of Norwegian and Danish. It was a bit confusing to say the least. We were told that the regatta legs are more intense than a regular cruise, but there is a reason. The continual trimming of the sails is to gain the maximum speed possible. After two hours of trimming sails, my sister and I took the lookout watch on the prow. In that hour up front we learned it is the coldest and windiest spot on the ship. At the end of our four hour watch the hammocks were starting to look pretty good, but the night wasn’t over. Soaked and shivering at 0400 our watch leader told us that we had to stay on duty because we were approaching a waypoint and they needed at least two full watches (62 people) on deck to complete the coming about maneuver. So in the wind and rain we hauled on the lines as instructed and at 0600 we fell into our hammocks, sleeping right through breakfast. It was the most challenging watch of the sail, but also the most memorable.
From the Captain’s log the night of our first watch:
We rounded the first waypoint during an exciting night in variable winds and rain and are now on an easterly in light following winds. Most of the vessels in our class are still tightly grouped and it is a wonderful sight with all the sails around us here in the Skagerak. The wind is expected to increase and we are all looking forward to that.
The afternoon shift was much calmer, and afterwards the entire group of trainees gathered on the main deck to learn sailing shanties from the ship’s “shanty man” Haakon Vatle from Storm Weather Shanty Choir. After our watch we also got to climb into the rigging.
Our second dog watch was heaven compared to the night before. We enjoyed calm winds and a moon so full it cast shadows on the deck. It was peaceful up on the bow where we started our shift; not good for sailing, but very good for contemplation.
From the second day we had much calmer winds and no more rain. Due to the calm winds, the race ended early, at 1400 on Thursday, with the results to be determined from the ships’ positions that day. All the ships needed time to reach Aalborg by Saturday.
From the Captain’s log:
After the official termination of the race was announced at 2 pm yesterday, we decided to continue sailing along the race route and are now on the last leg southwards towards the finishing line off Skagen. We have a nice sailing wind and as the pictures from our visiting photographer from the Danish Fyns Amts newspaper illustrate, the trainees are kept busy on their watch posts and learning seamanship while they enjoy life at sea. Yesterday we were visited by the commander of the Norwegian Coastguard vessel SVALBARD and the Race Director for the Tall Ships Races, who we had invited over for coffee at sea and a shanty session on deck under full sails and sunny skies. We will continue to sail towards The Tall Ships Races Aalborg as long as the wind allows and plan to arrive at 10:00 tomorrow morning.
The stress level diminished and the shanty singing enthusiastically increased with the termination of the race. Our duties were much easier and we indulged in some lolling on deck in the sun. We had lessons in knot tying, rope splicing, rope coiling, and sailing techniques.
On Thursday at about 3 pm, a Norwegian Coast Guard ship came close and launched a runabout. Three of the officers, friends of the captain, came aboard for a visit with coffee and sweet rolls. They stayed for some shanty singing and then we sang them off.
Although the race was over, the captain decided to sail the route, so we continued with our sail training, all the watches, and our duties. My favorite duty was the helm.
We also continued to learn more shanties. The plan was to load up the yard arms with the cadets and sing our way into port in Aalborg. The sails came down around midnight Friday night and between 8 am and 10 am on Saturday all the trainees were put to work polishing brass and perfectly coiling all ropes.
Saturday morning we motored into Aalborg with the yardarms lined with kids. We all sang shanties as we found our moorage. The harbor was full of Tall Ships and the party was already under way. It was a great sail and quite an experience. We marched in the crew parade on Sunday and cheered the crews who won awards at the ending ceremony. Unfortunately our ship the Statsraad Lehmkuhl did not win any prizes. We came in 9th in the Class A ranking.