Transatlantic on Tall Ship Mir by Darren Smith

 

Hi Angus, How are you keeping!IŪm currently in Ireland, staying at JohnŪs house, who sailed with us from Boston and then on to Amsterdam.

 

About the trip÷.I was absolutely delighted to see you on the sail parade out of Halifax and presumed that you made out that it was me waving like a lunatic!The start was really impressive, seeing such a concentration of tall-ships at the start line.The Mir won the start and I later asked the captain about his tactics.He was calculating our position relative to the start line using radar, GPS and a stopwatch to ensure that we crossed on the gun.We were frantically putting up and pulling down sail, bracing the yards and using the rudder to control speed, imagine doing a 720 if we broke the start.

 

We headed south while the rest of the fleet headed north.For some time the rest of the fleet was getting ahead of us until we picked up the Gulf Stream and a cyclone (low pressure system?).Up until that time we were more or less drifting, with some of the crew merrily fishing off the aft deck.Once we hit the weather we just flew, it was amazing to be sailing on the same tack for a couple of days.The boat really came alive in the heavier weather and it was most impressive while you were sitting in the mess to hear the percussion as it hit a wave particularly heavy.Fortunately we were never heading straight into the waves but had them coming at 45 degrees and greater off the bow.They didnŪt seem to be all that big at the time but I heard later that they were meant to have been between 30 and 40 feet.This weather lasted for four or five days and during this time we blew out eight sails.They didnŪt so much tear as exploded with a tremendous bang, I canŪt recall if we lost any on the way up from Boston.

 

At one point we were 160 miles ahead of the fleet but then we hit an anti-cyclone and were becalmed.We drifted 10 miles short of the finish line for over a day and at one point ran the risk of crossing it backwards.We anchored off the Isle of Wight for a few days while the rest of the fleet came in.We were given a bunch of excuses about why we couldnŪt go ashore but it basically boiled down to the cost, a bit frustrating as it turned out we were only a stones throw from some of my family whom I subsequently stayed with.We then sailed up to Holland and anchored off their south coast, later motoring in circles as it became too choppy to remain at anchor.We were expecting to be allowed off in Flushing but in the end we only anchored there while we took on fresh water.We sailed up the coast and waited around a bit longer at which point the fun really started.Nicole called us up on to deck and told us that we had to prepare to leave the ship in two hours and we were subsequently transferred to the Sedov.Since anchoring at the Isle of Wight we kept getting different stories about whether and when we could go into port, including Flushing, and obviously the final answer was÷no!The RussianŪs couldnŪt get an assurance that the Mir would not be arrested as the Swiss had a $60 million claim against the state.I was quietly amused at the irony of being transferred to the Sedov as it had been arrested in France in relation to a separate debt.The Mir was to sail directly to St Petersburg, even though about 90 Germans were due to get on in Amsterdam to sail up to Bremerhaven.


It was really weird what a horrible experience it was to get chucked off the Mir in the manner in which we did, and a lot of people experienced this, even though we were all looking forward to going ashore.On my last night in Halifax I took a couple of cadets out to a pub and they were really enjoyed themselves, so I had promised to take them out on the town in Amsterdam, as had a few other trainees.To have to say goodbye so abruptly and not have the opportunity for some drinks was dreadful.However the Sedov is a very stately and impressive old boat.And the parade up the channel into Amsterdam÷something I would not have missed for the world.The whole way up the channel was crammed full of boats of every size and description.The Sedov took on about 400 paying punters for the day and there was a real party atmosphere on board with music blaring, even though we of course were not allowed to mix with them!We motored up, following the Dar Mlodziezy, which looked glorious going up under full sail.I think the trip was only meant to take three hours but it was closer to seven by the time we were all secured.

 

Life on board was very different and often I rued the absence of you guys, the Happy Hooligans as I later referred to you all.A group of Canadian Sea Cadets moved into our cabin who were a really fun bunch of kids, but I find the scope for conversation with teenagers somewhat limited.There was a group of girls from Leeds who had done their own fund raising to get on, quite a lot of very retentive Germans and a few others.Numerous small groups tended to form and as the trip progressed there was more and more whingeing about one another.It was basically boredom, particularly while we were waiting at anchor for so long and some people had difficulty just chilling out.It was just as difficult to get involved with sailing the ship as we experienced on the way up from Boston, so apart from pulling the odd line here and there I tended not to involve myself even though I ended up living a totally nocturnal existence.Having said that, I did make a point of spending some time on the bridge each watch during the rough weather, which was fun.

 

The food didnŪt get any better either and you just got use to having the runs for several weeks.One day I subtly broached this subject with the female leader of the sea cadets, Jen, IŪm of course less circumspect about discussing this with blokes, and she was very relieved to know that it wasnŪt only her who was going through this.As she put it, she didnŪt know why she bothered going through the motions of eating her food, it would have been far simpler to have just tipped it straight down the bog.

 

At one point I was talking to Bob Wiggins and he said that what he got out of the trip was very different to what he was expecting, which sums up my attitude exactly.There is without doubt a feeling of satisfaction at having sailed 4,097 nautical miles to be precise, on a tall-ship across the Atlantic.In terms of learning about sailing and gaining a detailed insight into Russian culture the trip was a dud, but then again to know that you have the mental dexterity to not get phased by your surroundings was worthwhile.I was in Southampton the other day looking at the yachts going in the BT Global Challenge÷.


Amsterdam was fantastic.Many of us had planned to stay on the Mir in port but we were not allowed to stay on the Sedov.Amsterdam normally has about 750k people and I heard that there were approximately 3 million people in town for three different events, so the chances of finding accommodation were reasonably remote.Both John and I were meant to meet up with people and we were totally despondent at the way our respective plans had gone guts up.We went to a caf» to use the net and we were both able to contact our people.I had obtained my friendŪs phone number and left a message, and while I was sitting at the bar she rolled up, I could not believe it.In all I met up with three other friends from Australia and we had an absolute ball.Two of us stayed a couple of nights in Utrecht and took a couple of kayaks for a paddle along the canals, picking up a couple of bottles of wine, which I thought was very civilised.

 

I then flew to England and stayed with an aunty and uncle in Bournemouth, along with another aunty and uncle who are out from Australia.I met one of my cousins for the first time who was on a weekŪs holiday and we had an absolute ball together.I caught the ferry to Ireland, of course, eleven hours is nothing, stopping at Cardiff along the way to catch up with an old friend from Australia who I hadnŪt seen in a couple of years.I will probably be travelling for another month and had then better start looking for work in London.I hope to get across to Malta with my family as that is where my dad mostly grew up.

 

Anyway thatŪs about where IŪm up to at the moment.Thanks again for your hospitality in Halifax and would you kindly pass on my regards to your family and the boys.IŪve got a really nice photo of Rob on the bowsprit which I will get copied and send across to him.

 

Regards

 

Darren Smith
Contact Darren by email