Trading ketch Nordlys is getting ship-shaped for her 146th sailing season

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A group of international volunteers carries the restoration works despite harsh winter condition, making it possible for Nordlys to sail again. In the last days of November, when mornings already called in with a frost, Nordlys returned from her final voyage of 2018.

The refit – a repair or re-equipping – was scheduled to start in January 2019. In comparison with her sister ship Tres Hombres, the sailing season of Nordlys is the other way around. While Tres Hombres follows the trade winds across the Atlantic in November, Nordlys sails through Spring to Autumn, delivering cargo at European coast. With winter being dedicated to the repairs and preparations for the next sailing season.

Through January to April, there is a group of approximately 10 international volunteers at time, working at the required tasks. Some people remain through the whole period. Others would come to give hand for a weekend, several days or even weeks, whatever their situation permits. The timing leaves this group of volunteers exposed to rather harsh conditions. Well, Netherlands is not Siberia, but still, winter can be cold and you feel it when working outside in the shipyard all day.

But don’t get me wrong. Despite the fog covered, wintery melancholic setting & rather smaller introvert event, the fun is not missing!  There is laughter and jokes and stories being shared with rather interesting people, who came here from all walks of life, various countries and some of whom sailed the Seven Seas and travel the world. There is music and dancing at (and sometimes directly on) the Pirate Bar. And sometimes, but not always, there is the excellent Tres Hombres rum.

But don’t get me wrong again. Even with all the fun included, this is a serious business. All these people gathered here to work with a clear mission : To make Nordlys ship-shaped for the upcoming sailing season.

To those amateurs among us (me included): What does this actually means? What does it take to make a historic wooden vessel prepared for North Sea conditions? Jake Copperthite , experienced American boat builder, sailor and one of the refit supervisors provides me with the following list of tasks, which had been accomplished during the 2019  Nordlys refit. For part of the refit, Nordlys had been taken out of water at Teerenstra Shipyard in Den Helder and the jobs done included:

- identification and repairs of leaks

-replacement of planks that exceed their life span

-reinforcement of the steering gear unite

- overhauling of the spars & standing rigging

- renewal of covering board on the port side

- replacement of damaged deck and hull planks

- overhauling of the anchor gear - renovation of the galley

- re-caulking all problem areas -

- And of course plenty of sanding, panting and all these jobs, that every ship needs among other tasks.

Jake explains further: “Some of these jobs sounds simple, but they are in fact very complex. Exchanging a plank sounds like something you manage in the afternoon, but to exchange a hull plank for example, that’s a job which takes around two weeks.”

And talking of traditional ship building job’s complexity, we are touching another important point: The refit provides an absolutely unique educational opportunity for those who wish to learn traditional ship building skills. Or for those who even just want to try. No matter their skills and experience, anyone can help with one task or the other. And those who wish to learn, can do so from those who are masters of their trade.

You learn here in an informal, friendly settings, yet with great responsibility for the task you took, whatever small. As this is not a training site, this is an actual 146 years old ship that will be, in a short while, sailing the Seas. And most likely with your friends or you on board.

When I worked on site, no matter how basic were the jobs I done, I couldn’t stop thinking: Here I’m. One from the line of all these people, some long gone, who’s hands had build and continuously repaired the ship. People, who made her to last more than one human life time. Who were they, these boat builders and sailors? What were their stories? Whom they loved? What were they dreaming of?

They are gone. That’s all gone, unknown to us. But Nordlys is still here, 146 years of a story written in planks and tar and steal. And Here I’m – little part of this story, which hopefully will last much longer than my life time.  Incredible experience which can hardly be find otherwise.

Fair Winds Nordlys!

Maruska Polakova