One of my favorite things about my job is that I get to learn about the amazing work so many people do locally and globally. People who have made it their life passion to bring their cause to the world. Whether it’s rebuilding a 100+ yr. old boat, reading stories to kids dressed as a mermaid, or being a voice for women in sailing. When I was brainstorming speakers for this year’s Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival, Josh introduced me to Tres Hombres, a modern day sail cargo shipping company. WHAT. All I knew was that it was a tall ship, WITHOUT AN ENGINE that carries goods (including rum!) across the Atlantic Ocean between the Netherlands and the Caribbean. I was sold. Little did I know that I would be joining them on the first leg of their annual journey later this year.
Fast forward a few months, I was making plans for some time off (the only time of year I can take a real vacation) and I originally had hoped to take a month off in October to walk the Camino de Santiago, but couldn’t get away from work in time. I decided to go back to La Distesa, to spend some time with Corrado & Valeria and the vineyard. But as I mulled it over, I was curious to know what Tres Hombres’s sailing schedule was like. Since I was already going to be in Europe, I thought maybe by chance I could come volunteer on the boat in some short capacity. Turns out the shortest leg of their journey started from Baiona, Spain to La Palma, Spain was about 10-14 days (depending on winds). I inquired about availability and unfortunately that transit was full. However, a week before I was to fly out to Italy, I got an email saying there was a last minute cancellation for the leg departing Den Helder, Netherlands to Baiona, Spain which started two days after I would land in Italy. Naturally, I jumped at the last minute opportunity and I agreed!
I had no idea what I was getting into. I knew the journey would be rough (sailing the North Sea in winter is not what most people would choose to do in the first place), but that’s what excited me. I had very little interest in cruising in the sunshine. I wanted to go FAST. I suppose that was the racer side of me. Previously, the longest transit I’d done on a tall ship was 3 years ago on Hawaiian Chieftain from Ventura, CA to Oakland, CA (349 nautical miles). We motored most of the way, but it never really felt like we were in the OCEAN. Plus I experienced sea-sickness for the first time and the transit was only 3 days, which is about how long it takes to get over sea-sickness so I didn’t exactly ever get used to it. I wanted to know if I could handle the sea.
I barely had time to even be excited for my journey. Coming off of the wooden boat festival at the end of September (biggest event I’ve ever coordinated to date), spending October wrapping up invoices/budgets, re-grouping with staff and volunteers, writing a festival report, drafting events plans and to-do lists for while I was out of the office AND picking up the execution of our fall fundraiser…I was in go-mode. No time to get excited, I barely had time to get my bag together. Foul weather gear takes up a lot of space, and I wasn’t sure if we would be making any stops between ports so I was planning for 20-ish days at sea on an engineless/showerless boat. Hence..LOTS of extra underwear and moisture wipes.
My biggest fear wasn’t the weather or the unknown, I had a lot of anxiety about how I would perform as a deckhand. Technically I was signed up as a trainee, so no one would expect me to know everything, but the fact that I do have tall ship sailing experience, I felt the need to contribute more. I was determined to not be dead cargo. I was terrified to disappoint the crew. They say everyone has something to contribute to the boat, but I was pretty sure I was going to be the weakest link of all. Ego has an amazing way of getting in the way of what actually needs to happen doesn’t it? Understanding the rigging chart would be my hardest challenge. HC sails with 7 sails…Tres Hombres has 12…I had a lot to learn!
Life has a way to telling you to get over yourself quickly. I feel like if life was talking to me, it was saying, “Seriously Sandy get out of your head. It’s not about you.” On the train on the way to Den Helder a young german fellow interrupted the silence of the carriage to say to me, “You look like you are going to a boat.” I told him I was and he said he was too. Turns out, he was a fellow trainee heading to Tres Hombres. Who has never spent a single day sailing in his life and he was joining the crew for the entire Atlantic crossing for the next 3 months. I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine coming aboard, learning all the boat terminology, the sailing, and everything in between WHILE crossing the Atlantic. I was completely humbled by his bravery and commitment to fulfill a lifelong dream of his. Over the next few weeks, Karsten would continue to surprise me, inspire me, and be a part of some of my favorite and most challenging moments of my journey. He probably left the biggest footprint in my heart by just being him. Karsten is from Bavaria, and quite possibly the most german person I have ever met (in the best way possible). He hates it when I say that, but really…I don’t know how else to explain it. Watching him was like watching Octoberfest is come to life. Minus the lederhosen – insert sailing gear.
Turns out of all the trainees, I had the most experience. Which is really just very little tallship experience, but a good amount of general sailing experience…but general sailing experience hardly applies to tall ships…sails get weird…language gets weird…it all gets weird. This did not help the self-pressure to be useful on the boat. Most of the trainees were women, and most of them had never been sailing either! Dutch women are crazy brave, smart, and inspiring. There was even a man, Daniel, who…I am not sure what his age is…in his 60’s? aboard who is doing the ENTIRE roundtrip…which means he will cross the Atlantic twice. Crazy! And Klaas, who is partially blind, and he was still up in the rigging on training days and on deck during his watch, telling funny stories, keeping crew spirits up, and serenading everyone with his guitar. Everyone had such amazing personalities, I couldn’t get over how much I loved getting to know my fellow crew mates. Crew bonding consisted of breaking out into random song while sorting through the most mundane chores, hanging out at the ship bar (literally a rented bar space next door to the crew apartment…a bunch of sailors with their own bar? What could go wrong?), and trying to memorize all the rigging together. We played a game called “Ropey”, where someone names a line and everyone has to scramble to try to find the line. It’s fun when you’re not feeling miserable.
The paid crew were incredible. Enter – Laura. Laura reminded me of the dutch version of Josefine. Laura is dating Jeoron, the bosun, spoke 5 languages (down to getting slang in there), was a crazy skilled sailor and amazing teacher, beautiful, AND has one of the most beautiful singing voices. I wanna keep her FOREVER. Just a Laura in my pocket please! I will follow her into any storm.
The first few days were spent getting the boat ready to begin the journey. Every summer the ship gets hauled out for a refit and tons of volunteers come to help get back into shape. The whole Tres Hombres family comes out. Turns out, the master rigger this year was an American, Chad Lossing, and COMPLETELY badass. You could tell by the way he carried himself, that he was all about getting shit done. We only crossed paths the first couple days, but everyone wouldn’t stop singing his praises. Getting the boat into shape was one thing…provisioning the boat was another. We spent our days organizing, seastowing, and helping our cook Soraia get her galley and dry storage situated!
Soraia is another one of those miraculous souls. She had never been sailing either, and yet here she was…for the entire journey. And she has the hardest job on the boat. Being a cook for a boat is seriously the hardest job. Your hands are constantly busy, you are trying to keep things tidy in a work space that’s inhabited by hungry messy sailors, constantly cleaning up after people, and you are responsible for keeping crew bellies full of warm nourishing food! All while underway in less than often terrible conditions…Her heart and warmth didn’t just come from her food, it came from her presence. Whenever she had a moment to spare away from the galley she was on deck learning as much as she could about the wind, the lines, and sails.
The day finally came to depart Den Helder and grand old fashion of chaos and excitement filled the docks. Since the boat doesn’t have an engine, we were towed out through the locks and into the harbor. Pierre Fromentin got these beautiful photos of us leaving the harbor, and he made everyone look so amazing. I hardly felt as badass as I looked, we were all running around trying to figure out what was going on. Haha. The crew only had one chance to test the rigging before leaving the harbor, so you can imagine the scramble to make things work. A few dozen people came to send us off and there were many hugs, tears, and smiles all around. Former trainees and crew spread throughout. It made my heart so warm and fuzzy seeing this close knit community support each other.
Gallery photos below by Pierre Fromentin.
As I climbed the rigging to cast gaskets, everything felt like a movie. The sail was ready as we left the entrance of the harbor and Martin and I even had a moment to enjoy the view before climbing down. I fought the instinct to try to take a photo to capture it. I wanted to savor the moment. One of the reasons why I chose to come to Tres Hombres (tall ships in general), is because I think it is the one way I’ve found to truly practice being present. When you are on this boat, the only thing that matters is the boat and the crew. Life ceases to exist outside of the boat, and it feels like a whole new world. It’s already hard enough to find ways to unplug in the city and especially given my job duties, capturing and documenting my work is just a natural instinct. Fighting that instinct to practice being present was one of my goals of how I wanted to spend my time on Tres Hombres.
As soon as we were through, and the remaining sails were ready, we cast off the bow and stern lines keeping us attached to the tugboat and hoisted away! The sails took up the steady winds and we were finally sailing! Cheers were heard from the crew and we waved goodbye to Den Helder and the tugboat. Andreas, our captain cranked the antique wooden fog horn to blast a final goodbye. I had never seen a boxed horn like that before, it was glorious to see it in action. He then announced, in his lovely Austrian accent, “We have officially left the harbor of Den Helder. Welcome to the North Sea!”
The North Sea – The English CHannel
When I learned we would be making a short stop in France before arriving to Spain, I was pleasantly surprised. I’d never been to France before and my mouth salivated thinking about the cheese, croissants, and baguettes that awaited. Unfortunately for me – that thought was quickly forgotten as we spent the next 4 days battling it out with mother nature making our way from The North Sea through the English Channel.
We were divided into two watches. I was on the starboard watch with Karsten, Anna, Laura, Daniel, Klausse, and Paul (2nd mate). We split the day into 6 hour shifts and the night was split into 4 hour shifts. So as the days progressed, our shifts moved during the day as well. When one watch was up, the others slept. We left Den Helder mid-day and our watch was up first. Steady winds from the North Sea kept our boat moving at a steady and speedy 10 knots. I actually felt pretty good that first day. My body felt a little uneasy, but nothing that would keep me from working. Splicing became a bit difficult to concentrate on, but there are many other tasks to be done. As twilight faded away towards the end of my first watch, I was feeling pretty good about everything (not great, but reasonable). Trying to comfort other crew members with their first sea sickness, but as soon as I saw one throw up, it was all over for me. I was right there with them. I remember throwing up over the side of the boat and despite the misery, remember seeing the bio-luminescence in the waves and thinking it was so beautiful. But throwing up was a violent impulse that I would unfortunately become all too familiar with in the coming days. There is this brief period after your throw up where you actually feel better. And it is within that window that you must go below and get to your bunk before the seasickness returns. Because when you’re lying down, you may not feel great, but you won’t throw up. At least that’s what everyone says.
When I woke in the middle of the night for my next watch…things were starting to turn. The north-westerly winds pushed us hard, our leeward rail constantly in the water…there was even hail, which made it near impossible to look up at the sails without what felt like a million stinging needles stabbing your face. Standing in the head (toilet), trying to brace myself against the walls with my forehead as I tried to unzip my foulies to relieve myself. It felt like it took ages. I thought I wouldn’t make it because it was so difficult to stand up. The winds had picked up and were blowing steadily at 35-40knots. I’ve been in some gnarly weather, but nothing like this. I’ve never been on a boat that could handle it. And handle it she did. Tres Hombres sailed beautifully through the magnificent storms. I loved the feeling of us sailing fast, and I wish I could’ve enjoyed it more. Seasickness has a way of zapping any way you can physically express yourself other than sick. While I stood there freezing, the crew dropping like flies, she sailed on, thanks to the incredible skills of some key crew members. Setting sails, handling lines, navigating, all while the remaining crew tried to find their sea legs. Of the 19 of us on board, only 5 were fully functioning the first couple days at sea.
The amount of skill and experience of the all-star crew was astonishing. I will never forget that first night. I had spent most of my second watch huddled up on a steel hatch because I felt immobile. I showed up because I wanted to do my part, but I was barely useful. I would reserve my energy for bursts of hauling and coiling lines, but I would immediately throw up again after the activity. Slanted rain and winds kept my face buried in my foulies, counting down till my watch was over so I could have some reprieve. That night, as 4am approached, I remember Nordly’s captain, Francois, running across deck, arms in the air, yelling in his french accent, “Ze bread, ze bread!” before disappearing into the galley. It was one of the most comical and impressive things I’d seen. With Soraia being seasick, Francois made sure there was still fresh bread for the crew. It was absolutely amazing. We are chasing gale storms with a feeble able crew, and he is worried about the bread! But that’s just how amazing he was. He had just returned from an Atlantic crossing with Nordly’s just weeks prior, and here he was again. So amazing.
The second night at sea created an amazing moment of clarity that you just couldn’t get any other way. I had just come up on the deck waiting to use the head before my watch started around 8pm. It was dark, storming, and all I could think about was how to keep myself from getting sick. Suddenly, the door to the head swings wide open, and my fellow crew member is sitting on the toilet, pants down yelling in a sort of tired disbelief, “I need some help!” And my other crew member who was closest yells back without question, “What’s going on?” And the one on the toilet yells, “I shit my pants! I need a bucket of water!” And so then the other one stumbles over to the bucket we use to gather sea water when the toilet needs a little extra flushing…and in that moment in the middle of the rain storm, for a brief moment I laughed at myself. “I can’t believe I fucking paid for this experience,” is the thought that crossed my mind. Absolutely unbelievable and telling of a privileged first world citizen, I chose to come and work on a boat without an engine, sail through the North Sea in the middle of winter, put my body through hell, and all for..the love of adventure? I wouldn’t change anything about it, but you have to admit, it was hilarious to choose to put yourself through this. You see, it turns out on top of the regular sea sickness you would experience, most of the crew also got food poisoning. NOT from Soraia for the record. We didn’t have time to prepare lunch before leaving the harbor so some soup was brought in from the the main house…who knows where it came from…it probably never got properly refrigerated, but either way, the bean soup was the cause of everyone’s digestive problems as well. I still laugh retelling the story. You really can’t imagine what it’s like to be in that situation until you are in the middle of it all.
And so we sail on. Being below is the absolute worst place to be on a boat in rough weather. Especially for those of us with bunks in the fo’c’sle (forecastle)…it’s the area at the front of the boat. You don’t have to know much about boats to understand the motion of a relatively small boat being pushed by waves and currents from every direction, is least pleasant when you are in the part of it that takes the most impact. Of everything I endured, I think the hardest part of the journey was just getting dressed and undressed before and after watches. Being tossed around while you are trying to get wet foulies off with frozen fingers and you’ve been trying to keep whatever food you’ve managed to eat…sometimes you just don’t make it. There was a moment when I went below after a watch, struggling to get my foulies off and within one lurch of the boat I instantly threw up (luckily into my nalgene and not all over the floor or my bunk or anyone else). It was after that moment, my body started giving up on me. I missed watches because I just couldn’t bring myself to come up. Even if I did, I hardly ate or drank which is also not the best thing to do.
Luckily for me, Nici knew just what to do. She cleaned out my nalgene (THANK YOU!), filled it with water and fresh lemon juice. And when I drank it, it was like heaven. It was the only thing that tasted good, that I could take more then 2 sips out of, and it kept my hydrated. I lived off the lemon water, dried pears, and mandarins and I more or less started coming back to life as the weather eased up as well. By the last day before we arrived to Dieppe, I made it up for sunrise and the starboard watch celebrated that we were actually all together for a watch for once. With the seasickness, there was always one or two of us missing at a time, so we were happy to finally all be with each other and in good spirits and health.
Needless to say, I did not take many photos during that first transit. I so badly wanted to get a video…but there was no way my hands were coming out of my pockets unless it was to hold a hot drink or haul on lines.
First Stop: Dieppe, France
Our first stop, Dieppe, France was roughly over 300 nautical miles later (if you were actually going in straight lines)…who knows how many extra miles we did with the winds shifts. Had I been in better health I would’ve actually paid attention to the navigation.
We arrived sometime after 10pm…towed into the harbor by a little tugboat. I’d never been to France before so I was pretty excited! The buildings were so quaint and beautiful as we moved through bridge after bridge. After a mile or so, we found ourselves in the industrial shipping area. Less romantic.
We were greeted by Francois’s brother, Raphael, who brought us gifts of french cheese, wine, beer…and of course the Tres Hombres rum made an appearance. It was time for the crew to celebrate. While I was able to stomach regular food again, I wasn’t ready for the alcohol. The crew partied well into the night while I enjoy a gentle rocking to put me to sleep.
The next couple of days were spent exploring Dieppe, loading cargo, eating and drinking all the food and wine, and getting ourselves ready for the next transit. Debaucherous and fun memories were created, from escaping the marina we were locked in, to closing down bars, stuffing our faces with baguettes and croissants.
While getting carried on everyone’s shoulders all the way home from the bar while playing my uke was a definite highlight memory from Dieppe…perhaps the one I will remember most is the day we were loading cargo onto the boat and Francois and Raphael were singing songs. We loaded cargo manually onto the boat by building human chains. The only thing that is never carried by hand onto the boat is perhaps the barrels, which are hooked into some lines and hoisted onto the ship. I took a moment to step out of the chain and capture the precious moment of Francois and Raphael. If it weren’t for the clothes and the loading truck, you would think we had stepped back in time. Because this is something you just can’t quite describe with words. It must be seen and heard.
There is something that I really love about taking care of a boat. It’s what made me fall in love with wooden boats and how I came to start volunteering in the boat shop at CWB. I love the time, practice, energy, and peace of tinkering around and climbing aloft. I love working with my hands, the tar in my hair…maybe not my favorite. Rough waters and a newly refitted boat meant the crew is constantly making repairs along the way. It’s nice though, standing around and doing nothing can drive you mad.
Klaas playing some music our first morning in Dieppe. Is there anything better than a sailor serenading you while you feel the sun warm your face for the first time in weeks?
The English Channel continues – The Bay of Biscay
By the time we departed Dieppe, we were all ready to be back on the water. The diesel fumes of neighboring fishing vessels and concrete surroundings had began to bore all of us. We were ready to be back in open water again. Leaving the harbors are timed with the winds and tides. When we departed Dieppe, after casting gaskets, I took a moment to enjoy the view from the platform. It truly is so breathtaking to be aloft while under sail. The feel of the wind, the air void of the sound of machinery, and the slight adrenaline you get from being so high. Remembering that it is just you and mother nature out there.
The transit to Baiona, Spain took about a week…and it was during this journey I found the most challenging, rewarding, and humbling experience of all. The first couple days after we left France, I actually felt ok. I didn’t feel great, but I wasn’t throwing up. I was only living on pears and mandarins and the occasional bread slice, but still I wasn’t throwing up and that’s all I was trying to avoid. I was extremely cold however. When you don’t have enough food in your stomach, your body doesn’t stay warm, and somehow I earned the nickname Ice Cube. I’m not proud it. Afterall, back home, everyone calls me a polar bear because I’m constantly swimming in icey alpine lakes and what not. But here I was, standing on this boat, freezing, with my first boat nickname so I rolled with it. Maybe the positive spin would be it could also translate to Ice Cube the rapper…because I’m hardcore? HAHAHA. I’ll just keep telling myself that.
Being uncomfortable seemed to be so normal, I hardly took note or tried to fix it. One day Marco realized that my bunk was completely wet, it was the only one where a leak from the deck was coming in, and when the hatch was open, water seemed to only come on my side since we were mostly always on a port tack. One night even when the hatch was closed, the waves coming over the deck were so big it still created a waterfall at the foot of my bunk. I didn’t even react when that happened, just had given up at that point. When Marco asked me if I noticed it at all and I looked at him and with a very defeated and exasperated effort I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I’m wet when I go to bed, I’m wet above deck, I’m wet all the time, my feet are clammy, my hands are freezing, I can’t tell the difference.” Turns out after the discovery, Marco replaced my bedding with his own dry blankets and sleeping bag since he didn’t need it as we were on separate watches.
When I climbed into my bunk that morning, I felt like I walked into a sauna. The dry blankets and warmth were a complete 180 compared to what I had gotten used to. I felt like I just curled up into a cocoon, buried my head in the blankets, and slept for the next 16 hours. I did NOT move. Despite how much the boat was moving. My body was clearly telling me to rest.
It was in this moment I truly surrendered to being taken care of by my fellow crew mates. Rymka gave me a hot water pad to keep me warm, Marco filled it up and made sure to check up on me. These guys weren’t even on my watch and were still taking care of me. At one point Karsten was feeding me slices of mandarin through the opening between my hat and my jacket collar. One piece at a time. I felt like a little bird. Haha. I allowed myself to be held, cared for, and loved. Something I’m not usually very good at (my independent ego likes that get in the way of that). And it just felt so good to just let someone care for me. It’s something I haven’t really experienced in that way for years, and it was like letting out a big exhale. Like everything I had been holding onto to keep myself together, I just let it all go.
I was just starting to feel pretty normal, actually ate two normal meals in a day, but that night we caught up with a CRAZY storm. The boat was getting knocked about so badly I was actually flying out of my bunk. I layed there with feet propped up on the stairs to keep myself in my bunk. My stomach was wrecked. It felt like someone was physically squeezing my organs. The pain and misery was very real. By the time I got up for my watch, I was wrecked. When I came above deck, I threw up for the first time since we left the harbor..somehow still proud of myself for making it 4 days before that moment. I remember having a dream that night where everything was normal, I was on a walk with a friend and trying to have a normal conversation except in the dream, my body kept bouncing up and down like I was on a trampoline. My friend was getting really frustrated talking to me and I was trying every which way trying to stay still but also not alarmed that I was bouncing up and down. trying to grab onto tree limbs and whatever to keep myself from flying up again but it didn’t work. When I woke up, I realized, I was likely dreaming that because of the rocking motion of the boat. That made me chuckle.
This video captured by Klaas was while we were somewhere in the Bay of Biscay I think. A brief look at the sailing conditions. At the very end you can see the weathered face of Andreas in the corner.
Transits are not all doom and gloom though. It was just a very real learning experience for me. We saw whales, dolphins, a night rainbow (rainbows created by moonlight), epic orange full moon rises, and some pretty epic waves (6 meters/20ft). We were by far the smallest thing out in these waters among GIANT shipping container ships and oil stations.
The morning after a storm is one of the best moments and reasons that make being on a boat like this so special. For a few minutes to the next hour, both watches stand on deck in silence. We watch the sunrise together. I wonder what everyone is thinking in that moment. For me, I just took the moments to appreciate my breath and my health. My ability to savor the sunrise, feel the waves, and hold on. It’s in those quietest moments I feel the crew is bonded. We bond in small ways and acts of kindness to make our lives work on the boat, but I feel that those moments after a storm, we are all silently celebrating our small achievements and the fact that we are all still there together. Nobody needs to talk about what just happened. We are all just so appreciative of it all.
The last couple days to Baiona seemed to last forever. We drifted during the day, chased storms at night. One day of drifting is a light reprieve…everyone on deck together, drying laundry, playing music, it almost felt like a cruise. But two days of drifting and you start to go a little mad.
One of my favorite memories after a drifter day was watching the sunset from the roof of the galley cuddled up in blankets with Andreas, Laura, and Marco drinking tea. I don’t know what it is about that moment, but to me, it meant something. All of these amazing people I admired so much and I was just so so grateful to be with them.
The last couple days before Spain, I started dreaming of the airbnb I would find so I could enjoy the stillness of land, any bed larger than a bunk, and a HOT shower. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was ready to leave the Bay of Biscay far behind. It was such a tease to see land and drift around it…we even sailed past the harbor we needed to go to because there was no one to operate the bridges to let us in when we arrived in the middle of the night.
The final morning of our arrival was a slow one. I bet it was hilarious for anyone on land watching us come in. With shifty light winds, we were tacking every which way back and forth TRYING to get into the harbor. It took us hours to make it the last mile or so. But everyone had smiles on their faces knowing we would reach our destination soon. Both watches were up. People were excited. We even had time for some cheese and bread snacks!
Eventually, we dropped the dinghy to try to help push the boat to a place where we could anchor. The excitement takes over everyone’s tired bodies and lack of sleep.
Our anchor, like most everything on the boat, is done manually by pumping winches. It’s quite the ordeal to raise or lower the anchor but the crew still sings while they are doing it.
As soon as we anchored, Andreas called out, “Welcome to Spain!” We cheered and laughed, everyone happy to be in warm weather (probably in the upper 60’s…compared to the 40’s of France and 30’s of the Netherlands).
As we waited for our shore team to find out where we should dock, the remaining crew checked their phones, made their phone calls. I wasn’t interested in checking my phone though. For me, checking my phone would mean checking in to see if I was still furloughed and starting to make plans for my next part of my journey. I didn’t want my time on the boat to end and I didn’t want to think about what was in store next for me so I procrastinated. Even though I still had another week on the boat, the trip suddenly felt too short. I laughed at myself because for the last 24 hours all I could think about was how I was ready for the boat to reach land, but in hindsight, I suppose all I really wanted was to finally stop feeling sick on the boat. I wanted to stay on the boat longer! I wanted to keep sailing. My time suddenly felt way too short. It’s amazing the difference a few hours can make. You go from one extreme want to another extreme want.
The sun felt so good we all went for a swim in the bay! While I am normally the first person to jump in, the fact that my body had been feeling so weak for days, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to climb back aboard. But Paul promised if I couldn’t he would help me. So IN I GO! And when you haven’t showered in a week and you’re pretty sure you have dry vomit somewhere in your hair, the cold saltwater feels SO GOOD. I hadn’t felt like myself in weeks, and floating around treading the Atlantic water made me feel reborn. It was the first time I felt like myself. Like a happy little sea otter. After that, it was almost all back to normal.
The next week was spent working on the boat and exploring Baiona. In between work days, I was trying to juggle recovery, the struggle of letting go attachment to people on the boat, savoring the beautiful memories I had left, and trying to make my next travel plans all at the same time. It was just one big tangled mess I could only deal with one step at a time.
Change of Crew
With our arrival in Baiona, four of us were leaving the boat and four new trainees would arrive to take our place. I’ve always been bad at goodbyes, and after literally weathering the storm, I had a particularly hard time saying goodbye to the crew. I was constantly trying to enjoy our last days together, but at the same time spending much of the time thinking about how much I will miss them. I was sad I wouldn’t make it to their next stop in La Palma, but I was also ready for the next part of my trip. Knowing that I would be able to see my family in Italy was the only light at the end of the tunnel I could see.
I had a couple days in Baiona after I had to leave the boat to make room for new trainees before my flight out to Italy, which was nice because it meant I got to see the boat cast off. I was happy I could be there for everyone and with the new trainees there, I felt like I could actually take some photos without feeling guilty for not focusing on work.
The last day I spent helping the crew with last minute preparations before they left…loading barrels by rolling them down the dock as the sun came up…finally getting my DSLR out for the first time.
By the end of the day the wind report was now favoring them to leave that evening instead of the next day. So the crew scrambled even more to get the boat ready. Suddenly I felt like I was out of time. The last muster before the tow boat arrived I stayed on the outside and I had such mixed feelings. I was excited fro the crew to get out on the water and for the new adventure the new trainees were about to embark on. But I also felt sad I wouldn’t be apart of it all. As they got ready to cast off Marco jumped down for one last embrace and goodbye. I had expected to just start crying, but instead I found myself really happy for him and the crew. Sailors feel most at home out on the water. It all felt so rushed but it also felt like it was happening in slow motion.
As soon as the boat started turning to head out of the harbor I gathered my things to run to the other end of the inlet to see if I could see them sail away. As I waited on the rocky cliffs below Fortaleza de Monterreal in the slight mist of rain, I saw Tres Hombres emerge from around the corner. It took my breath away. I took some photos with my 35mm lens, and in between those moments I held my breath as I watched them sail away. And as the boat disappeared into the fog and daylight turned to night (heavy clouds and fog didn’t give the sunset much of a chance), tears rolled down my cheeks. My chest tightened and my heart rate increased, I suddenly realized I was COMPLETELY alone. For the last month I have spent 24/7 with 19 people living on a boat and never did I once consider what it would be like to be alone again. I love my alone time and usually prefer to travel alone, but that transition of being with a large family to suddenly being in a foreign country all alone was startling. I couldn’t stop crying. I’m not sure if the tears were from missing the crew, or tears of releasing what I had just experienced. Watching the boat sail away was like watching a piece of my heart and soul leave me. I went through so many emotions and never had I struggled with getting my mental state on board with my physical strength since I hiked The Enchantments last year. I cried as I walked away, unsure what to do with myself. Trying to process it all.
While it’s been just about one month since I stepped off the boat, I still feel like I am unraveling the experience. So far one thing I’ve concluded was that I did not prepare myself for the mental journey I would be on while sailing. My ability to push through and handle a lot was worn out by work and I never gave myself a chance to truly recover, which is probably why I struggled so much to get myself mentally on board. Even Marco mentioned that he didn’t think I had sea sickness, my sea legs were there. While others hung on to the safety line while walking across deck sometimes, he described watching me waddle across with ease “like watching a baby chicken”. Haha. You have to hear the sound effects he constantly uses when he tells stories. It’s hilarious. But he was convinced I had some kind of mental block that prevented me from forcing myself to push through. I suppose we’ll see what happens next time!
I am so honored and humbled to have met and worked with such amazing crew. Meeting so many different people with different backgrounds inspires me to want to connect CWB with the rest of the world. The more people I meet in the wooden boat community the more inspired and fulfilled I become. I’ve already decided that before I leave CWB, I WILL bring Bram and Thom to Seattle to build us a Nordic boat for our fleet. It is everything I love about my work. Connecting people with each other is just one of my favorite things to do.
After sailing over 1100 nautical miles this leg, I came away from Tres Hombres incredibly inspired, with a whole new boat family, and with greater respect for ocean sailing. That shit is real. I would do it all over again in a heart beat, and I know my time with the boat is not over. I will see the crew again. I hope one day to make the actual crossing to the Caribbean. Until then, I will continue to cherish the memories, work on my deckhand skills, and dream of the adventures to come. I hope to be able to learn more about the sail cargo world and continue to help with these projects around the world.
Tres Hombres, a modified former nazi war ship, has been sailing across the Atlantic for the past 10 years as a symbol of peace and a shining example of how we can connect humans, history, and the environment through fair trades. They were the first of its kind to be emission free. As if sailing across oceans wasn’t difficult enough, doing it completely by wind power on an engine-less ship and with the responsibility of delivering cargo in a timely and safe manner adds an entirely new level of challenges.
Three friends founded a movement that has inspired others around the to do the same. There are currently two projects being built with the intention to create a network of sail cargo fleet Sail Cargo Inc. and SV Brigantes around the world. They share resources including crew and it’s one of the most beautifully executed dreams I’ve witnessed. I’m determined to stay involved and find a way to contribute to the growth of this cause.
If you want to learn more about Tres Hombres or buy some of their fair-trade products, check out their web site.