Tall Ships, Music - and Eye of the Wind.

I joined Søren Larsen with a fiddle, having had a familiar decision to make - which instrument to bring to a ship. The fiddle usually won - it's common to find a guitar already on board a ship, but much less often a fiddle! But it always felt a shame to have to make such a compromise.

I was pleased to find that there was a decent ship's guitar aboard Søren, and was soon even more pleased to find that she was a ship full of music. From the first week aboard, in Cornwall in the pouring rain, Terri often taught us a variety of shanties as we gathered on deck after a long day's work: 'Paddy, lay back'; 'Spanish Ladies'; Tony Goodenugh's 'Pump Shanty; Fielding + Dyer's 'Whale Song'.

During a window of calm weather on our passage to Madeira, we gathered the crew on the foredeck and played tunes and sang songs. John, one of our guests who was a master mariner and pilot at Seaham Harbour proved to have an excellent voice, treating us to songs such as 'Skibbereen' and 'What will I do with my Herrin's Head'. Lucy, our sailmaker, played tin whistle; and I was able to supply some guitar backing and a few tunes on the fiddle.With a moody night sky above us, we sailed towards a dark horizon, enjoying the music and the respite.

On the Atlantic crossing, the heavy mainsail was lowered and raised several times, as well as the only-slightly-less heavy upper topsail. Terri was our shantyman, and led the song; the remaining crew on the peak and throat haliards roaring the chorus line. It was good to hear shanties as they are meant to be sung - by a ship's crew while working hard. Sixteen voices in stereo - eight on port, eight on starboard - singing while hoisting three-quarters of a tonne of douglas fir and canvas up the mast by hand is a fine thing to witness, and it doesn't matter if the pitching isn't perfect!

 - - - - -

A combination of music and sailing had taken us to the Caribbean, where Bequia island felt like paradise. Steel bands played by the waterfront at the Frangipani; and the path led over the saddle of the island, through soft scented trees to the isolated beach at Spring Bay; walking back in the dark, glowing fireflies hung laziily under the trees.

In the Windward Islands we crossed paths with an old friend - the brigantine 'Eye of the Wind'. (Pictured).

Eye of the Wind and Søren Larsen had history together - they had sailed in company around Cape Horn in 1993. The following year, when I was sixteen and a slightly frustrated and aimless sixth-year student at the Anderson High School in Shetland, an opportunity was advertised for youths aged sixteen in Scotland to be sponsored to join her for an Atlantic crossing. I applied immediately, and got the place.

I had all the highers I needed, or so I thought; and was just killing time at school, looking likely to fail Geography and sixth year studies Chemistry. So it was with great pleasure that I asked my teachers to sign my leaver's form, slipping in the fact at the end that I was leaving to sail across the Atlantic.

The six-week voyage from Boston, Massachusetts to Gloucester, England changed the way I saw life completely.

I was a keen trainee who could not get enough of climbing. Day or night, when there was aloft work to be done, I wanted to be first up the mast. We kept watches, fished, and steered; the 25-day crossing had its share of boredom, of course, but I was positive and happy to be onboard. The crew spoke about the world and travel in ways that seemed new, and yet made perfect sense; and they seemed to respect my own comments and opinions. From Captain Tony 'Tiger' Timbs, who seemed to me upstanding and wise, and yet humble and open, to base-jumping Australian engineer John; ex-Soviet solder Igor to deck hand Marian who could beat a sail into shape while 40 feet above a rolling deck more effectively than any male sailor I knew, I was inspired. I learned a huge amount about the ship, the sea, and the weather; but most of all, I think I learned how it felt to be part of a team I could really believe in. I had my horizons widened, and believed there could be a place for me in that world.

The following six years on oil tankers were tough, and I often wonder if I would have stuck it out had I not had that experience aboard Eye of the Wind. So it was emotional to see her now.

We spent Christmas Day together anchored off beach at Bequia; raced between the islands, swapping crews by day, and stories in the evenings; and ranged through the Windward Islands from Saint Vincent to Grenada. We became good friends with the crew of the 'Eye', and it was a sad parting when we went our separate ways; they cruised past, raising sail as they headed south towards Trinidad, exchanging three cheers with our crew; we would raise our own anchor that evening and head west, towards the Western Caribbean and the Panamá Canal.

                                         Søren Larsen, anchored off Granada.

 

 

 

 

5 comments

  • Brian
    Brian Cullivoe
    Excellent, Barry - enjoying these!

    Excellent, Barry - enjoying these!

  • Jim
    Jim Freo
    Top stuff Barry! Sal says you left out the bit about just how much we partied & how much fun we had.

    Top stuff Barry! Sal says you left out the bit about just how much we partied & how much fun we had.

  • Barry Nisbet
    Barry Nisbet
    Cheers! Yeah you're right Jim - I have glossed over a lot of the crew and the fun stuff! Might have to think about how much of that is repeatable...!

    Cheers! Yeah you're right Jim - I have glossed over a lot of the crew and the fun stuff! Might have to think about how much of that is repeatable...!

  • Andrena Ballantyne
    Andrena Ballantyne Tain, Scotland
    Wonderful stuff!

    Wonderful stuff!

  • Amanda
    Amanda Virginia
    As one of the voyage “crew” - I remember a little NYE ceremony with the oldest and youngest crew members and then proceeding to get trashed on shore. I had brought a magnum of champagne to toast the new year (borrowed from my job, yes that is the story I’m sticking to). Honestly it was one of the best NYE I’ve had.

    As one of the voyage “crew” - I remember a little NYE ceremony with the oldest and youngest crew members and then proceeding to get trashed on shore. I had brought a magnum of champagne to toast the new year (borrowed from my job, yes that is the story I’m sticking to). Honestly it was one of the best NYE I’ve had.

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