Simon's First Voyage!!


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Simon's First Voyage!!

Here is a week's account from the August 2021 voyage, written by our Development and Partnerships Manager (Simon Thorrington). Enjoy!

This voyage was originally planned as London to Folkestone but ended up being London to Margate to Great Yarmouth to Lowestoft.....but that's the beauty of sailing...flexibility! I hopped onto Tall Ship Pelican, to sail her, for my first time ever!

For the record, my feelings in the weeks leading up to this voyage were a combination of excitement, anticipation and enthusiasm for something new, and apprehension, fear and trepidation at the prospect of seasickness (though in the past it has bothered me much less than my wife) and especially heights.

Here are my day by day thoughts, feelings and activities:

Day 1, Sunday 15th August:

I arrived at Euston on Sunday 15th August at about 5pm and caught a taxi to the ship in South Dock, Canary Wharf. There I was enthusiastically greeted by Tamsin saying “Hi Simon! I've got work for you to do!” and CEO Adrian, on the dock. Soon after this welcome I was tested by Tamsin for COVID-19 using a lateral flow test. Negative. Although my result was negative, mask on inside the ship to take extra precautions.

After this, I met captain Chris and Mona the new cook and was  shown to cabin 4, bed 6, (my cabin and bed) which is a four person cabin, all fine. Most of our cabins have recently been transformed from 4 bed to 6 bed to allow more voyage crew to join us which has been great!

Soon after I met Toby Horne who was in the bunk above me. Nice young guy and really into tall ship sailing. I apologised in advance for if I snored which he told me the next day I didn’t!! Also on board on this first night were Sarah Brazier, Megan Raven and Ishbel Holt who had been on Leg three of the Darwin 200 voyage which finished in London last week, and Hannah Blake, who had been on all three legs and had asked to stay on for this week long voyage. The other youngsters arrive tomorrow morning.

Day 2, Monday:

I disciplined myself into an early shower routine, which I did stick with all week despite watch duties. On this day the rest of the voyage crew were due to arrive to begin their voyage. I’d expected a steady trickle, but in reality most arrived between 11 and 12, with the final two at 12.45 by prior agreement. Most came with mum or dad and it was lovely to meet them all having emailed, spoken by phone, messaged and had the one zoom call in the weeks before. Delightful people, all understandably showing a mix of excitement and apprehension.

I met Marc the medic whom I'd been emailing for several weeks as we vetted the applications. What a character he is! Full of enthusiasm for everything it seems! All voyage crew had to be questioned about recent mixing with people and were COVID tested with Lateral Flow Tests. All good and negative so, alike me, were welcomed aboard!

After lunch, at 1.30 training began, with safety on board first, ship tour, rules and regulations for the voyage. The plan was to leave Canary Wharf at 8am tomorrow, and this will be when the watch system will begin. I’m in Main Watch, a group of ten (plus Connor as watch leader), and the two other watches are Fore and Mizen. Watches are for 4 hours, so then 8 hours off – midnight till 4am, 4am till 8am, 8am till 12.30pm, 12.30 till 4pm, 4 till 6, 6 till 8, 8 till midnight. The split between 4pm and 8pm is to ensure that proper rotation happens.

First night and I already found it lovely to see the youngsters mixing and playing cards after dinner. Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Day 3, Tuesday:

We were all up early because the pilots were arriving before 8, to guide us out towards the Thames estuary. We motor 'sailed' all the way to Margate where we anchored about half a mile off shore. The sail went well, and we covered 78 miles in 8 hours! We sailed past the O2 Arena, the Thames Barrier, underneath the QE2 Bridge and the M25 motorway. As we headed out, we could see wind farms and the distinctive shapes of the old Thames Estuary Maunsell Forts defence towers built during World War 2, which we sailed very close by.

During the day the youngsters did some climbing, and I had to explain to Connor and Tamsin that this is the one part of watch duties that I can’t do! I’ve walked and climbed all my life and been in some really exposed positions at height, but I discovered about seven years ago that my head for heights had gone, no explanation, no sudden crisis or event, but I just found when up a hill somewhere - pretty sure it was the Corridor Route up Scafell Pike at Piers Gill – that I developed massive anxiety, and it has happened numerous times since when driving on exposed roads. Tamsin and Connor were fine, because ultimately there's no obligation. But the youngsters were brilliant, most of them just shinning up with evidently no fear, and just a small number clearly nervous but determined.

I saw here my first examples of both the sailing professionalism of the permanent crew and their care for, mentoring of and support of the young crew. There was very close supervision and encouragement when needed, and no put-downs if it didn't go well, just learn and try again.

When the ship is at anchor there is “anchor watch” for two hours per watch group. Key measurements are taken every 15 and 30 minutes recording anchor chain length and depth, anchor movement or vibration, travelling speed if any, air pressure and wind speed to ensure no issues occur. We did 12 till 4, but half did just two hours each. Fascinating learning from Cadet Drew what all the monitoring was for, everyday is still a school day!

Day 4, Wednesday:

An early start again on Wednesday, and at the full crew meeting, Captain Chris and the crew explained that they have decided not to go south into the Channel, but up the North Sea towards Great Yarmouth. This was because the wind was in the right direction and we'll be able to sail, which is what this voyage is all about! The forecast suggested that the reverse would happen on Friday so that we could sail South towards Belgium initially and then tack to join the Traffic Separation Scheme. This meant it was all hands on deck to put up the sails for the first time on this voyage.

Now, please don't expect me to have memorised much of the set of instructions and guidance! I used to be a quick learner and retainer, but these days it takes a few attempts before retention! So, I just did what I was told. The youngsters were fully engaged with the process, following all instructions closely. It helped that it was a lovely day and the sun was out warming us, this meant the mood seemed to change palpably. Not that it was poor or downbeat before, but I could really sense a change, with pride at what they had achieved as a large team and as three smaller teams.

We also made good progress through the morning and into the afternoon, but by the end of the day the wind had dropped and we were virtually standing still. So the sails came down and we motor sailed. Watches had started properly today, with some required to do the night shifts! Main watch, my watch, were on duty from 6pm till 8pm and we saw the sun going down, and then again from 4am till 8am the next day.

Day 5, Thursday:

A much earlier start to the day, 3.30am for watch!! It was completely pitch black, apart from lights in the wheelhouse and the high white light on the fore mast. Out at sea there were lots of lights, which became easier to see as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, including from the North Sea wind farms, of which the sailing community appear to be not too fond!! Still motor sailing and making good progress, and then at 5.15am, as night became day and the wind was picking up, the signal went out to prepare to hoist.

As it was so early it was decided that our watch of ten plus professional crew would attempt it all, and within an hour they were up! Fantastic, we felt so smug!! As the others emerged from their beds on deck there were lots of smiles as they saw that we were sailing again.

At around 2pm the port pilots came out to guide us into Great Yarmouth. The sails were therefore pulled down, and we motor-sailed into the river channel which had quite a fast-moving flood tide and a sharp right turn on entering, which, I later learned, was clocked as a potential hazard for the departure by the professional crew. We arrived alongside at about 3pm.

After mooring and debriefing, all were told that shore leave was granted, but come back for dinner at usual times, and then all could go out again, under-18s until 8pm, but over 18s for as long as they wanted. Under-18s must stay in groups of three or more. I wandered out for an hour to stretch legs, but stayed in and read and chatted for the evening until a fairly early bed, given that I’d been up since 3.30 and hadn't slept since!

There were no problems, everyone came back when they were supposed to. A couple of the girls came up to me an hour later, tapped me on the shoulder, and said, ”Excuse me Simon, can we have a word? Please can we come again next year?” Whoa!! Blown away!

Day 6, Friday:

Today we were still alongside at South Dock, Great Yarmouth as I woke and it was truly a lovely day again! At the morning meeting we were told that we would prepare for the motor sail south at around 3pm. For two hours in the morning the youngsters did more mast and yard arm climbing, preparing for the sail into Folkestone on Sunday morning. A tradition is for the trainees to be high up them all as the voyage comes to an end. Then shore leave was granted again until just after lunch and once back we all prepared to sail again.

Due to wind direction, it was motor sailing out of Great Yarmouth and East-South-East towards Belgium. This was until at some point we would tack South-west towards Margate and Dover. We left the port and river at some speed (again) which I later discovered had caused the professional crew real consternation and a sharp inward drawing of several breaths! My team went onto watch at 8pm until midnight, and for the first three hours it was beautiful sailing, calm weather, and for the first time this week a moody half-clear sky with an almost full moon and Jupiter shining very brightly. I took some decent pics! I did all three duties during those three hours, port and starboard lookouts followed by helming starting at 10.30pm.

All was going well and just after 11pm Third Mate Nic gave the change of direction instruction to start the tack. Swiftly after about ten minutes suddenly there was a rush of activity. I was concentrating so hard on maintaining the course that at first I wasn't aware of what was happening. Several rushed up to the wheelhouse including captain Chris in his jacket and PJ bottoms, and then I noticed the engine noise diminishing. Subsequently I was told by some in the mess room that there had been a very noticeable scrunching sound from the direction of the engine, and within an hour we knew that something serious had happened. OH NO! Quite quickly the decision was taken to stop, turn around, hoist the sails, and head back North wind-sailing. All hands were called for the sails, and then our extended watch ended at around 12.30am.

We were due back on watch at 8am the next day , and so it was important to sleep.

Day 7, Saturday:

All hands on deck by 7am! We were informed that we were still wind-sailing and at about 6 knots, back towards Great Yarmouth. The conclusion of the engineers overnight is that the engine cannot be used again until repairs are done, and so we must rely on the wind. I recall Captain Chris saying at one point last night “well, we are a sailing ship, so let's sail!”.

Last night's decision to turn around and head back north has been ratified, and we have actually made decent progress without an engine. Heading for Great Yarmouth where we will be tugged into port for the last couple of miles. One of many things learned is that Tall Ships must take down all sails and enter port under engine power, because the wind could cause the vessel to lose control in narrow and busy passage ways. The mood despite last night's events is really upbeat. The youngsters have formed really strong bonds, they worked hard last night on the sails, it was another nice weather day, and the ship was wind-sailing at a decent speed!

My task today, was to find a quiet place on the ship and a mobile signal to contact families and give them the news that all was fine - because of course with today’s mobile phones the youngsters would be already telling them what had happened - and we would not be sailing into Folkestone, but somewhere in the area of Great Yarmouth.

Responses from parents were... ALL WONDERFUL! No problems at all, even with the one family who were already in Folkestone making a weekend break of it! So now, it was for the crew and engineers to decide where it would be best to finish the voyage.

Once decisions were made, we were met by the tug a couple of miles from Great Yarmouth, and towed towards Lowestoft, the entrance to the port was less demanding, had better parking for parents, and much better engineering facilities to get the repairs done. Unfortunately, we missed the best of the tide to sail into the Lowestoft berth and decided to anchor off shore for the night....and a last night party – and oh my word did they party!!

Despite the breakdown we'd had a great day sailing, and everyone was on a high! It would be an early start tomorrow, to raise the anchor without an engine so supported by the tugs, and then guided gently into our berth.

Day 8, Sunday:

Decent sleep – because the professional crew, and Kellie, took over all watch responsibilities, bless them and thank you! After showering at 6.15am I came back to the cabin and heard the permanent crew moving about on deck. Blimey they started early! Then shorty after two tugs approached to pull us in. The youngsters started to emerge from their post-party slumber, and while initially came on deck to watch proceedings, then went into the mess for their last voyage breakfast. Everything came together really quickly.......the anchor chain and anchor came up, we were tug-pull sailing towards our final destination, and all of a sudden by 8.40am we were in the port channel, with photographers snapping and port-workers waving. Almost there!

Over the next hour and a half the final manoeuvres were made, and we were home...not as planned in Folkestone, but at the end of a brilliant week! While all this was going on the trainees were stripping beds, packing bags, cleaning bedrooms and bathrooms, and preparing for their final departure. Would their families be there? I must admit that I was concerned...but no need to be! Several sets of parents were there early, and those that weren’t followed.

Back in Great Yarmouth on Thursday I had asked all the trainees to remind me on the last day to take a group photograph, and they did! Picture taken it was starting to rain, so Captain Chris called us all into the mess for a final voyage debrief. Chris put up a chart showing us where we’d started, travelled, and finished, explaining again the reasons for the change of final destination, and then distributed certificates, t-shirts and passports. It was a lovely couple of minutes with the entire crew together, who had shared the highs, lows, challenges and successes of the voyage, together for a last time before leaving the ship.

As the rain had eased we went back out on deck. Lily and Grace (our first ever twins on a voyage!) gave a short, but very meaningful presentations telling us how much they’d enjoyed it all! This was followed by another presentation from another trainee, Ben.  Wow, just Wow!

Huge respect and admiration to the professional crew, volunteers and cadets, for everything. Not only for their sailing skills, but for their love, care, mentoring and support for the youngsters..and me!! They are the glue that keeps all this together. And the were absolutely wonderful. You totally engaged with the sail training experience. You worked hard, played hard, and, I suspect, made friends for life. I've promised to send a link to all my photos and I'll do my best to arrange a facility for everyone to dump their picture for everyone to share. I also reminded them of the importance to us of their evaluations, so if you're reading this and haven’t filled in your evaluation in yet, PLEASE DO!

Thank you so much, crew of Pelican! What an amazing week!

Simon Thorrington
23rd August 2021


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