by Seán Ó Gríofa – 7th Waterford De La Salle

In July 2011 Seán Ó Gríofa from the 7th De La Salle Scout Troop took part in the first part of the Tall Ships Race from Waterford to Greenock in Western Scotland, just east of Glasgow. He was lucky enough to be selected as part of 50 youth members of Waterford Youth Committee and while he had sailed before, he had never been on a tall ship, let alone been part of such a big crew.

I was lucky enough to be selected as part of 50 youth members of Waterford Youth Committee to partake in the Tall Ships 2011 Race 1 from Waterford to Greenock in Western Scotland, just west of Glasgow.  While I had sailed before, I had never been on a tall ship, let alone been part of the crew. The boats I had sailed were a maximum of 5 metres, this Dutch Class A ship I was boarding on Saturday the 2nd of July at 1600 was 59 metres long, so quite a step up!

When I boarded I was greeted and escorted to my cabin, a 2 bunk cabin which I would later find out I was to share with a guy from New Ross, Keith, who I would get such craic off over the next 9 days. The cabin was quite luxurious compared to most of the other ships that were racing against us.  The Soerlandet (a Norwegian ship) for instance housed 120 trainees in one large room, all sleeping in hammocks so naturally we were delighted when we saw our accommodation.

Above: Our cabin, I slept on the bottom and my cabin mate, Keith had the top bunk.

Once I was settled, I went back upstairs and out on deck to meet my new shipmates who I would spend the next 9 days with. We had dinner at 1800 that evening and were met by the captain who told us the unfortunate news that we were to sail around the east coast of Ireland rather that the original plan of going west. This decision was taken as the weather was too bad for the smaller Class C and D ships that were also competing in the race. After dinner there was an hour or so of winch training and we were free for the night then to wander the streets of Waterford.

Above: Just prior to cast off in Waterford

We rose at 6 the next morning for prep for the parade of sail. We were to cast of at 0713 but due to fog we delayed for an hour to get better visibility for spectators on the way down the estuary. The tradition of Sailing Ship Eendracht is to use a sling shot to destroy other crew with water balloons, so we spent a few hours on the way down tormenting other ships and singing shanties, all in good spirits of course!

Above: On the Parade of Sail in Waterford. Shane from my watch on the left and myself on the right

Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention.  We were assigned to our different watches on Saturday at dinner time too. There were 3 watches, red, white and blue. I was in white watch. There were 13 trainees and 2 watch leaders  (permanent crew) in each watch. So you were generally on watch for 4 hours and then off for 8, the only exception was between 1600 and 2000, this watch was split into two 2 hour watches. It sounds complicated but it’s quite simple once you get in to the swing of things. Because this was a race, the ship didn’t stop, the watches worked around the clock doing everything that needed to be done e.g cleaning the toilets, scrubbing the deck, tacking the ship, which took 30 minutes as opposed to 2 seconds on a small dinghy and steering the ship. The list of duties was endless.

Above: Sjoerd, one of our watch leaders during the do watch (0000-0400)

The race wouldn’t start until 1500 that day (Sunday the 3rd). Our watch was due to do the 1200-1600 watch so we were starting the race, an important job as you only have a 15 minute window to cross the start line, 1500 to 1515, and with a massive expanse of water around you, it’s a difficult margin to stay within. We crossed the line at 1507 and we’re on our way’, very slowly, as there was barely a breath of wind.

Above: Prepping and hoisting sails before the 1500 start.

The wind stayed calm for much of Monday but started to pick up over night and on our watch from 4am to 8am, we tacked and gathered speed and maintained 12 knots – a good speed and we were in the leading group. Unfortunately the wind was from the south east, a tail wind, bad news for our ship, A gaff sail schooner and good news for the square rigged ships, as they favour a wind from behind as opposed to us, favouring a wind from ahead given the design of the ship.

Above: Not a breath of wind, slowly chasing down Mir and Wylde Swan

On Tuesday morning at 1030am we crossed the finish line about 100 miles south of Greenock. We were 7th in class due to our unlucky ways with the wind but we still had fun. We were too early to go direct to Greenock as they weren’t expecting us until Thursday at the earliest. We moored off the coast of Prestwick that evening and still carried out our usual watches and duties, showers were cleaned, toilet bowls scrubbed, dishes done. We were a floating village and everyone had to work hard to ensure that all the necessary chores were done

Above: Clouds rolling in from Arran, typical Scottish weather

The next day we sailed around the island of Arran and moored just off the main down along side our 2 Norwegian friends, the Christian Radich and the Soerlandet. We were the Dutchfilling of a Norwegian sandwich!

Above: The Norwegian sandwich with a Dutch filling, Soerlandet, Eendracht and Christian Radich seen from the tender heading towards the mainland

We were invited along to the mainland by the local sailing club in Arran. All 3 crews met up with the locals and had a BBQ in someone’s back garden in Brodick, the capital village of Arran. We had to rush back to the ship as the Radich’s anchor had not stayed and all 3 ships were drifting dangerously to the rocks. The Christian Radich got to a depth of 9 metres before it got itself out of trouble and with a draft of 5 metres, they hadn’t much more time to get out of there.

Above: Sun setting in the west beyond Cowal

and Below: Working hard on the deck of the Eendracht

The next day was our last day at sea and to celebrate this, the crew held the captain’s dinner for us. This meant that we didn’t have to lift a finger for dinner, the crew served us and cleaned for us. In return, each watch was asked to perform a recital or song during each course of the meal.  We re-jigged the Wild Rover song to include all the funny and not so funny events that had gone on while we were at sea. This went down treat and made it to the ship’s website.

Below: Ready for the crew parade in Greenock

On Friday, late morning, we sailed in to Greenock harbour and berthed. It had been a fantastic week at sea and hopefully I’ll be doing the same again next year on the 2012 Tall Ships races.

Below: On the bridge of the Eendracht in Greenock