Portuguese ship Sagres. Photo by MAX
“Your first experience of a Tall Ship is like your first love,” says American actor Billy Campbell, “you can never forget her.” Billy Campbell, 45, knows what he’s talking about. He first set foot on the Norwegian ship Sorlandet four years ago as a sail training trainee and now can’t imagine a summer without sailing aboard her as a seasonal volunteer crew member.
Billy says he had been entranced by life at sea since reading Patrick O’Brien novels – author of Master and Commander, amongst others. “I love everything about being at sea — climbing the rigging, polishing brass, washing the decks. you name it,” laughs Billy. “I would probably turn down work if it meant I couldn’t sail with Sorlandet, and I can’t ever see not doing The Tall Ships’ Races each year.”
American actor Billy Campbell does polishing chores aboard Sorlandet during The Tall Ships’ Races 2004. Corinne Hitching
Sailing on a Tall Ship is an addictive experience. Speak to anyone who has ever done it and you will see the same glow light up their eyes. “Once tried, never forgotten,” says Australian Julie Molloy, 48, who first sailed on a Tall Ship twenty years ago as part of Operation Drake – a voyage commemorating Sir Francis Drake’s voyage around the world. “I’ve now sailed and seen some wonderful places in the Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the North Sea and even Loch Ness,” she recalls. “But it didn’t matter where we went, the real experience was being on board the ship. It makes you live in the moment!”
Australian, Robert Carter, now 73 years old, joined the Russian ship Nadezhda in 1999. “Looking back, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life,” says Robert. “Apart from the exhilaration of taking in sail aloft and other sailor activities, there was the bonding that occurred between the trainees and crew. As a marine artist and historian, I spent many hours sitting watching the sea, feeling the movement of the ship and I am sure my paintings now have something in them from that voyage.”
Photo by MAX
Tall Ships actually come in all shapes and sizes. Generally, the expression is used to describe the glamorous square rigged multi-masted ships that so epitomised the age of exploration when the likes of Christopher Columbus, James Cook and Vasco de Gama took to the oceans with little knowledge of routes or destinations. Today, many of the square rigged ships are replicas of those vessels. Where they differ from the modern cruise ship is that they work with nature, rather than against it.
Cruise ships tend to do everything possible to stop you feeling as if you are at sea with engines and stabilisers. They pitch, roll and plough through the water, whereas a sailing ship flies with a wave, gliding over the sea surface. On a liner you hear and smell the engine, whereas on a sailing ship you hear only the sound of the wind and the creak of ropes.
American Jim Whitlatch on board Europa of Canadian Sailing Expeditions.
Sailing on a Tall Ship offers a chance to take a step back into history and experience. If you’re prepared to get on board for a sail training experience then the experience will be enhanced as you get to climb the rigging, haul on ropes and understand and sense how to harness the power of the wind. That is the very essence of sail training and it’s open to anyone, no matter what age, nationality, religion or ability. You don’t even need to have had any sailing experience!
Alison Green, 46, from Scotland first sailed on a Tall Ship in 1975 and has been doing it regularly ever since, with her last trip aboard Royalist in September 2004. “The best thing about being on a tall ship is that you don’t have time to think about anything else. You need to focus on simple, achievable tasks – a great way to unwind and forget about all those little niggles you have in everyday life.”
Esther Tibbs, 62, first took a sail training voyage on board Sir Winston Churchill at the age of 40 and admits that she was terrified at the beginning. “I’m not a good swimmer so all that water beneath me was frightening, but after a few days I realised that I was enjoying myself!” she remembers. “Being on such a huge ship with so many other people was a bit of a culture shock to start with, but in fact the camaraderie is one of the most memorable things about a tall ship experience.”
Being out at sea also changes your perspective in many ways. “To see so many stars in the sky is simply breathtaking,” says Esther, “and coming into a port, even one you know well, on a Tall Ship is exhilarating. Everyone stands and stares while some of the crew man the yards and that makes you feel really proud to be part of the team bringing the ship in.”
Age is no barrier to getting on a Tall Ship. Janka Bielak, an 80-year-old Pole, has been sailing on them for many years, believing them to be a good forum for international friendship. Each year Janka loves to join The Tall Ships’ Races for at least one sector. “The sea is our bridge,” says Janka, “and to sail on a Tall Ship is unforgettable!”
Eighty-year-old Janka Bielak with Captain Marcus Seidl of Statsraad Lehmkuhl.
Canadian Gordon Maw, 70, says his Tall Ship experience was probably the best holiday ever. “The most appealing features to me were the antiquity and complexity of such beautiful ships, the fact that those of us who were interested and able could participate actively in the sailing of the ship, the degree of considerate attention paid to us, and the great food. The most significant feature of the trip was to find that I was totally comfortable up in the masts and out on the yards. I’m already looking forward to returning to the Canadian Sailing Expeditions ship, Caledonia, this summer and would recommend it without hesitation.”
The Tall Ships’ Races take place every year, generally in waters around Europe although occasionally they cross the Atlantic to Bermuda, Canada and the US. To many, such as Billy Campbell, they are an important part of the year and the experience of racing against others is an exciting and addictive way to spend a week or two. The sight of thirty or more multi-masted ships in full sail powering across the ocean together is breathtaking.
Add the challenge of being part of a team that is trying to keep ahead of the competition and you have a recipe for one of the most exciting and adventurous ways to spend a holiday. The days in port are also full of fun and color as can only happen when up to 100 vessels of all shapes and sizes jostle against the quayside.
View of the start of The Tall Ships’ Races from on board Sorlandet. Dirk Hourticolon
To everyone that has ever undertaken a sail training voyage there is little doubt that it has affected their life in many positive ways. Take an adventure of a lifetime and try it for yourself!
Though each of these ships is based in one country, they often sail far from home, frequently worldwide, with participants joining for a segment of a larger itinerary. All websites included here welcome older participants. Many of the ships and organizations are featured in this article.
American Sail Training Assn: www.sailtraining.org
Bark Europa: www.barkeuropa.com
ByTown Brigantine: www.tallshipsadventure.org/adult.html
Canadian Sailing Expeditions: www.canadiansailingexpeditions.com
Classic Sailing: www.classic-sailing.co.uk
Enterprise Ship Trust: www.enterprize.com.au
Full-Rigged Ship Sorlandet: www.fullriggeren-sorlandet.no
Jubilee Sailing Trust: www.jst.org.uk
R. Tucker Thompson Tall Ship: www.tucker.co.nz
Sail Training Ship Mir: www.tallshipmir.ru
Tall Ship Soren Larsen: www.sorenlarsen.co.nz
The Tall Ships People: www.tallshipspeople.com
Eendracht, Rotterdam: www.eendracht.nl/en
Tall Ship Friends: www.tallship-friends.de/
Tall Ships Adventures [up to age 75]
Photo by MAX
Corinne Hitching is Media & Publications Manager for Sail Training International, www.sailtraininginternational.org, a charity that welcomes participation by people of all ages, nationalities, religions and social backgrounds. Sail training challenges people to learn about themselves, discover hidden strengths and talents, and learn the value of others and of working as a team. Sail Training International also organises The Tall Ships’ Races every year, www.tallshipsraces.com.