The longest contract I have ever signed by first mate Duarte

Photo by  Pierre Fromentin

The longest day of the year, on the longest contract I have ever signed. What a run it has been today and so far!
After a quick stay in the Azores, where I could finally speak my own language with someone other than myself and “matar Saudades do pais onde nasci” (kill Saudades of the country where I was born) – and that I love dearly, we run back to mainland Europe at good speed! This morning reaching peaks of 10 knots making every cell of this boat cheer with joy.
She sails on her own – showing off that she can ride alone - now under reefed mainsail, full tops`l, course, fore-staysail, inner jib and main staysail at dawn surrounded with squalls gusting 25 knots plus and pouring rain over the salt deck and skin. We just took the main out before a strong one and set it again after the downpour. The waves build up as the day/night goes by and the steady wind blows, some larger ones make us roll filling our lee scuppers full of darkish blue water. The good old North Atlantic with a “moderate” breeze.

The course is perfect, around 45 degrees over the ground, aiming to England, and the forecast good enough to keep us going at a good pace towards the Channel, perhaps where we might encounter more adverse conditions than the ones we happily have now.

This trip began to me last year at the graduation of Enkhuizer Zeevaartschool, this fantastic place where sailors are born and trained, of it much more could be said, that many of us already know, but that is another story.
There I met Remi, the Captain - for who doesn`t yet know - and there he offered me a position as first mate! A challenge, as I had no previous experience on such a ship, let alone as a mate... although he valued most my previous experience in other ships. After e-mails and some consideration I accepted the job, summer went by and I was back in the Netherlands where soon enough I joined the ship in Den Helder during the refit. Given previous experience in “fancier” boats, I fairly had to decrease my standards over ship's neatness and adapt to the many different ways of people to work and doing things, Tres Hombres style... One that I came to accept and now too makes part of me.

Among the many good people we had onboard this trip, the ones that we began sailing with and the ones that are aiming as much as me to finish in grand style, all that became my family - for the time being - the kind of family that are made only under sail and last for as long as the trip lasts, the family that have to work together through hard times and good times, whether they like it or not, of them I am most proud, for I saw them, as much as me, being challenged and overcoming challenges over time that not all can imagine of doing or managing so well.
To everyone else who sailed with us, young, old, naïve, wise and bold, to their personal qualities and collective abilities, thank you too for you made this trip every now and then with renewed joy.

It is funny to think now though that in the old days of sail, this would have been a short contract – a tougher breed than is now made sailed in those days. For us, nine months have gone by and we feel the wear of it now that we are approaching the end ;) We grew tougher now compared to when we have started!

Having broken records of speeds in the English channel, eaten scones in Brixham, fought again a leeshore of the coast of Porto for 3 days, where after all we were not allowed in due to heavy weather, we sailed and landed in Galicia in the calm bay of Baiona and ate monstrous burgers, set sail to the Canaries, loaded our first barrels in La Palma, crossed the ocean on dead reckoning and celestial navigation, a broken stunsail boom – me to blame, due to some impatience (Patience, a skill that is readily available to learn onboard the Tres Hombres) - reached and stayed too long in Barbados where the dreadful party boats shatter the would-be silent nights (and where I ended up buying myself a boat), having swum barrels on board for a good two cables from the beaches of Martinique to our lay at anchor, then sailed South to Union Island where Lis broke her wrist, after to collect some lovely chocolate in the spice island of Grenada and to eat the best chicken of the Caribbean, heading West to Colombia, avoiding the coast of Venezuela, had to be towed against a strong blow to the dusty harbor of Santa Marta, arepas con queso, and after a week or two, having loaded cacao and coffee beans fought 480 miles against the prevailing trade winds tacking over 17 days to reach Boca Chica and making over a thousand miles. Boca Chica takes one, load cacao to the US, but where in the US, it remained a mystery as we went up and down the coast riding a gale finally to settle in Morehead City where we were welcomed by friendly folks and town much to my surprise and ignorance. Heading back to the Dominican Republic, never in a straight course but riding half winds most of the way, rounding dreaded Bermuda and then South to the Mona Passage reaching Boca Chica once again with a perfect approach to the mooring without any assistance, not the first to be seen by us. And so to load the cargo hold up to the top with more cacao to make the Chocolatemakers and lovers happy. We turn north to head back, pffff time flew by after all, but the Mona Passage lays East of us so 3 or 4 days we tacked once again against Trades and finally to the Azores. But, there is always a but... It is late in the season and the weather is doing crazy things lately, winds are scarce and our progress slow, we took 30 days to reach the mid Atlantic Arquipelago, last days with no fresh vegetables although at the table there are no complaints, for Giulia does her best to keep everyone`s belly happy, and she does great.

All this happened in short and so far but much much more is unaccounted and untold, it would be impossible to do so, although all of you already have an idea from previous blogs.

With the hardship that comes with this ship by the fact that she is unique in the world, by having no engine (eg.: when we have to tack for a few hours to an anchorage that is in sight and in reach to an engine within minutes; or heave up anchors by hand.... I could keep on going... but you get the point), a lot of good things happen around us that many others cannot expect or see, that make our days better throughout the lows. I dare to say we are surrounded by some magic, perhaps due to the good energy that all – at the office, new and previous crew, trainees and you at home – that know this project, give to us.

With all that good energy that gives the Lady a momentum we now sail on our last leg towards home.

Looking back and to the now, I have been given a great opportunity where I have learned so much about so much, being the life and management of it onboard and how to take a square-rigger by the bridle or how to live without a fridge and how to deal with storage of food that soon perishes. A renewed look over the world and the damages we make on the Earth, not at all unexpected, seen everywhere we have passed and felt by most of us with some pain.
Looking forward, a world more of knowledge to learn opened for me. Hopefully, in a future we will find more ways of sustaining life in this indeed Blue Planet that we take for granted.

Dawn is upon us and with a grey morning squall with great seas, a beautiful double rainbow show up for us!

Happy , and see you all soon!

Duarte, first mate

Photos by Pierre Frometin