the Eye sailing!
Eye of The Wind - Newsletter
(for Australian friends - Ina)
Spume flies before the fore foot, and flying fish take to the air to escape the westward track as Eye of the Wind runs down to Barbados before a steady Force 5. The vessel is running under all squares and the windward stunsail. This produces a trade wind roll which always seems to become more pronounced at mealtimes, causing all hands and the cook to be spreadeagled grabbing every moveable item.
A far cry from the cold and blustery evening which found us berthing astern of "Astrid" in the port of Rostock. It was wet, cold and noisy, as a massive fun fair blurted out 101 distorted pop songs. Once again, we were to experience the comradeship and hype associated with Tall Ships gatherings.
Owing to the continuation of gale force winds, the start of the race was postponed for 24 hours and for the likes of us, the non-initiated who had never sailed in the Baltic before, we heard of the nightmare conditions one can experience with unfavourable winds and atrocious short, steep seas.
A spectacular start as the class A and B vessels thundered across the start line with all sails set. We had the awesome but breathtaking sight of 'Sedov' under full sail overtaking us and passing within 20 feet. A soldier's breeze continued as we sailed northward up the Baltic leaving Gotland on our port beam and rounding the island of Hiiumaa to enter the Gulf of Finland.
Twice a day our positions were relayed to Race Control and 2 hours later the relative position, taking into account handicaps, were issued. Of course, of special interest to us were the other vessels in our class and 'Eda Fransen' who was participating in her first Cutty Sark event, with 2 of our ex-crew aboard as Master and Bosun.
As to be expected the Russian vessel 'Mir' surged ahead to win the race and to be the first vessel to enter her home port of St Petersburg. 'Eye of the Wind' crossed the line 2nd in our class, and was place 3rd on handicap.
St Petersburg, the fabled city of the Czars, lies at the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland. It was built on marshland and is known as the Venice of the North. It is entered by a long, dredged channel which passes the island of Kronshtadt - the main Baltic naval base for the Russian Fleet.
What a dismal first impression it was with numerous rusting and half sunken vessels lining the derelict wharves. Entering the main commercial docks the run down facilities continued - ancient cranes pointed their jibs skyward and there seemed to be a complete lack of day to day commerce that one usually associates with a working port. In contrast, we passed a massive atomic powered war ship which must have been a cruiser or battle ship in the final stages of fitting out. This vessel the 'St Petersburg' is to be the crowning jewel of the navy.
Our berth was in the centre of town alongside the 'Captain Miranda'- she was voted the party ship of the fleet. Consequently we had many a noisy, but enjoyable night as South American samba drums and whistles played forth to the astonishment of the Russians.
The St Petersburg committee went out of their way to show us Russian hospitality. Numerous excursions were organised for all crew members, and sports competitions as well. On one excursion we visited the first castle built at St Petersburg, and saw the battleship where in 1916 the Russian Revolution commenced when the sailors mutinied. Our guide showed us the notorious KGB building and in fact informed us that nowadays, more people are working for them than in the time of the Communist regime. Our final call was at the sight where a replica of the first vessel of the Russian Navy designed by Peter the Great was being built by a group of local enthusiasts.
The impressive Hermitage Palace with its untold wealth of collectable works of art had such an array, we were told, that to see every one of these masterpieces would take you 9 years. Countless rooms lined in differing shades of marble brought from the four corners of the world, and floors of fine parquetry and inlay housed collections of both Russian and European art masters. We were proudly told that they have more paintings of the French Impressionists than are found in all of France. One can only imagine the hardship and labour the peasants experienced to build this colossal palace, and the many more architectural wonders which are found in the city.
We were shown beautiful Russian Orthodox churches, which during the Communist regime were turned into public toilets or swimming baths. The beautiful frescoes were either painted or plastered over, and in one such church near the ship, a group of people laboured at scraping away the plaster with tiny trowels in an attempt to restore them. It was exciting travelling on the Metro with its exotic stations, many of which were pre-war with wrought iron work, ceramics, tiling and unusual architecture. It is reputed to be one of the deepest Metro systems in the world. The Russian people we came in contact with were very friendly, and eager to assist you and practice their English.
The highlight for the Captains must have been the Captains' Dinner at the Summer Palace - a beautifully restored palace, which was ravaged by the Nazis in the last World War and has been painstakingly returned to its former glory. In a ballroom 300 feet long by 60 feet with guided and mirrored walls, we sat down to eat a sumptuous 5 course feast of Russian fare whilst entertained by local folksingers and musicians. Many for the first time had genuine Russian caviar, both red and black and an assortment of local fish.
To end the evening, we lined the palace balcony and grand staircase to watch an impressive firework display in the palace grounds. It certainly was an unforgettable evening, and the whole experience of St Petersburg was a delight for both trainees and crew. Our trainees this year came from Yorkshire Schools, so consequently we did pretty well in the sports and organised events.
For the next leg which was a cruise in company, we had 6 young Russians aboard and a young Fin who had spent his life cruising the Finnish Archipelago. He acted as our mud pilot to take us through this labyrinth of islands and rocks - 5,000 named rocks and islands and 5,000 unnamed just in the approaches to Turku alone. After a brief visit to Helsinki, we sailed in company with 'Eda Fransen' to Maarianhamina, which is a mecca for all sailing ship enthusiasts as it was the home of Gustav Erikkson, who between the wars, owned the largest fleet of commercial sailing ships in the world. A superb maritime museum has countless exhibits of this bygone era, and one is able to appreciate the size and power of one of the last grain race ships as you stand on the deck or in the hold of the 'Pommern' which lies as a floating monument to those bygone days.
A festive spirit reigned during our stay in Turku, Finland. Thousands would stroll the waterside quays and view the armada of ships gathered there, as the perfect summer weather brought out the crowds.
The final leg of this year's Cutty Sark took the vessels racing to Copenhagen. After an early morning start all ships were close hauled trying to beat south down the Baltic. A fresh frontal system brought blustery weather, and for once the yachts and fore and aft vessels showed their paces. In the Force 6-7 the trading ketch 'Excelsior' soared away, becoming first in her class and first overall until cracks appeared in her main lower mast doublings and they were forced to retire.
Sailing close hauled, we tacked across the Gulf of Finland gaining little ground to the south. On each of our windward legs we would glimpse other square-riggers in a similar predicament. At last we got a favourable wind shift and we were able to make soothing and cross the finishing line half an hour before the finishing deadline. For once, most vessels were able to finish both legs of the race and we were 2nd in our class.
Copenhagen, the town of Hans Christian Andersen played host as the final port. It was a sad parting with the Yorkshire Schools group, who must be voted the most industrious and keen group of young trainees we have had aboard for a long time. A final gathering of all the musicians and singers from various craft congregated in the lower saloon for a farewell session.
Many a happy night was spent with the musicians of 'Eda Frandsen' and Barney from 'Shabab of Oman' and the choral accompaniment of Clair our cook, and Roscoe and Susy from Hobart, who had joined us for the summer season.
For the next 2 weeks we cruised Danish waters, competing in the Match Race and Festivals organised at Horsens and Juelsminde. A very low key affair after the Tall Ships, but thoroughly enjoyable and well organised.
We won a genuine whisky barrel (empty, worst luck) for the best singing whilst unloading a traditional cargo. Everyone would come home bleary eyed after some great music evenings ashore. We made acquaintance with the Baltic trader 'Fri' - the original Green Peace vessel, which went to Mururoa Atoll in the first protest in the late 60's.
Our final leg of our northern waters voyaging led us to the Kiel Canal, which we transited at top speed with a favourable tide, and we were able to make Heligoland 24 hours after entering the canal. A blustery morning at this duty free port before we ran before a forecasted strong northerly system. Fortunately for us, we only experienced winds between Force 5-6, though the east coast of UK and southern Belgium had gusts of 55 knots. We surfed into the Dutch port of Scheveningen where we met numerous tall ships sheltering from the inclement weather.
A fair wind down channel seeing the white cliffs of Dover in the morning light, making landfall at Weymouth which displayed its usual hospitality, as a port friendly to tall ships. We cruised along the south Devon and Cornish coast, calling in at Brixham and Charlestown before locking in to the inner harbour at Penzance.
Mike Kitchenside took over as Captain for 2 weeks to allow a short holiday for Tiger - the last before we reach Australia. Yet another refit at Penzance, this time concentrating on storing for the long voyage back, and finally getting Fred's Harley out of the lab. We were sad to bid farewell to Roscoe and Suzy (who we will catch up again in Hobart). We were very grateful to our usual stalwart helpers, who eased the load on us all.
The turmoil of the refit caused many heads to shake on the wharf, with the words 'you will never get away on Sunday morning'. They were right, but only because the first of the autumn gales blasted southern Cornwall on the Friday and Saturday. A hurried 05:30 departure on Monday morning saw John Hart (who had taking photos of us departing in 1976 from Ramsgate) frantically getting himself and his gear over the side and into the stingray as the Pier Master cast off our lines a little earlier than he had informed us the day before.
Cleared the harbour entrance in the pre-dawn bleakness and motor sailed into the remains of the southerly gale. It was a sad, but hurried departure, as we won't see the shores of UK again for a couple of years.
1997 will find us once again in the Southern hemisphere and beneath the Southern Cross. It is hard to believe it is now 5 years since we sailed through Sydney Heads on our Cape Horn voyage.
Whilst in St. Petersburg we met the Australian representative for the 1998 Tall Ship programme, and were very pleased to hear that the event is going ahead. The celebrations we all experienced in 1988 were world class, and I am sure both Sydney and Hobart, 2 of the most beautiful harbours in the world, will provide another unforgettable occasion for us all.
At last the dates have been finalised by the ISTA, and the ships will grace Sydney from 20-26 January 1998 then Hobart from 2-7 February 1998. (Let's hope they have allowed enough time, knowing how changeable the conditions can be on this passage.) The round Tasmania race will then commence from 7 February for 4 weeks. No doubt many of you will be out enjoying the spectacle, and you are welcome to visit the ship at either venue.
If you don't make Tassie for the Tall Ships, don't forget you can visit the South West Wilderness area with us in March and April, when Tasmania is sure to turn on her best summer weather. 1998 is the 'Year of the Ocean' and by the time you get our next newsletter, we will have finalised an exciting programme.
Due to some cancellations for health reasons, we still have a couple of berths available for the Panama to Tahiti section of the itinerary. We have been able to break this section into smaller legs - Panama to Galapagos or Easter Island, and Easter Island to Tahiti. These voyages range in duration from 23 to 55 days.
If you would like a more detailed itinerary of these, please contact Keith and he will be happy to send you information.
Fair winds to everyone for 1997