01 November 2013

Tall Ships Festival

From 25 to 28 October 2013 – a holiday weekend in New Zealand, Auckland ‘City of Sails’ played host to a Tall Ships Festival. Seven ships and more than 500 sailors, fresh from similar festivals in Melbourne and Sydney, raced across the Tasman for this magnificent three-day festival. Thousands enjoyed the spectacle of their arrival and departure, got the chance to step aboard and explore many of the ships, and take part in the various maritime activities that took place around the waterfront.

As well as New Zealand’s own three-masted barquentine Spirit of New Zealand, Australia’s Young Endeavour was part of the fleet. Both are training ships, teaching young people to sail these magnificent vessels but also imparting skills in teamwork, communication and leadership. The Young Endeavour's crew hung out in the masts for their arrival into Auckland, as you can see from the image at right.

Sailors from the NZ Navy helped nudge the Lord Nelson in to her mooring
The 55-metre British Lord Nelson is also available for voyages by young, and old – at a price, of course – and is the only tall ship in the world purpose-built to be sailed by physically disabled as well as able-bodied people – she is a wheelchair-friendly tall ship, with a ‘speaking’ compass so the blind can operate the helm and power-assisted hydraulic steering for crew with limited strength.

The Picton Castle leads Europa into port
Though she began life as a Welsh fishing trawler, served as a Royal Navy minesweeper in World War II and is now registered in the Cook Islands, the179-foot barque Picton Castle is actually Canadian-owned – her northern-hemisphere home port is in Nova Scotia. She has been completely refitted as a steel-hulled Cape Horner and offers deep-ocean sail training and maritime education, taking crew aged from 18 to over 60.

Three Dutch ships took part in Auckland’s Tall Ships Festival. The three-masted bark Europa began life in Germany, where she served as a lightship on the river Elbe before being completely rebuilt in the Netherlands during the 1980s. Her 14 paid and 48 paying crew roam the world’s oceans, join in tall ship races and festivals, and even include the Antartic in their itinerary.

The three-masted topsail schooner Oosterschelde, the Netherland’s largest restored sailing ship, was first launched in 1918 but underwent a complete restoration between 1988 and 1992. She is rather splendid and actually quite spacious inside, as you can see from the virtual tours on her website.

Oosterschelde
The Tecla previously fished the North Sea for herring and transported grain, stone and turf in Denmark’s coastal waters before moving to Holland in the 1970s, when she was refitted as a charter sailing vessel. She also circumnavigates the world annually, providing a range of voyages for those adventurous enough to criss-cross the oceans in a sailing ship.

The Tecla tied up at Princes Wharf

As well as the Spirit of New Zealand, two other New Zealand ships joined in the Tall Ships festivities in Auckland. The R. Tucker Thompson is usually based in Northland, where she conducts youth development voyages during the winter months and offers Bay of Islands’ visitors day sails in the summertime. Modelled on a North American Halibut schooner, she is a gaff-rigged square-topsail ship and is a relative youngster, having only been launched in 1985.

And last but certainly not least the Breeze, a 60-foot brigantine, is a locally built replica that is now a permanent attraction at the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland. Her similarity to the trading ships that plied the New Zealand coastal and trans-Tasman shipping routes during the 19th and 20th centuries means she is often commissioned for use in historical movies and television shows.

The R. Tucker Thompson (left) and the Breeze (right)
These impressive ships frequently evoke nostalgic thoughts of former days, of times when the means of transportation was something to be enjoyed for itself rather than simply being a way to move quickly from A to B. In reality, ships like these used to be cramped, wet and cold, lacked privacy and were subject to violent motion such that, for folks like me who are subject to seasickness, the mere idea of even a one-day voyage makes me feel queasy. 

Still, if you are not motion-challenged and focus instead on the positives, there is something wonderfully romantic about the craftsmanship that has gone into these ships’ creation, the highly polished wood and the intricacy of the rigging, the fascinating knotted ropes, the power contained in the turn of the wheel, the teamwork and cooperation required of the crew, the sounds of creaking timber and cracking sails, the roar of the wind and surge of the waves, the challenge of man and man-made vessel against the raw power of Nature …

* If you want to see more photos, there's an album here

Sails up, ready to depart