a time voyage into the 19th century


This ship is special. Totally different than any other ship I have been on. Something you got to give yourself to completely to like it. Something that does not suit everybody. Most of all it is an experience I am glad to have made even though I might not return to her as my way leads me more into the direction of cargo ships. But I will try to recall my impressions of KASKELOT here.

On a sunny Sunday in May 2004 I see the ship for the first time.  From a call to the company about job openings I only know that I will join a wooden barque for a docking time and a short voyage to Portsmouth. Nothing exciting, but a salaried job and in so far better than others I have had. So coming down the road from St. Austell to Charlestown (Cornwall) I am by no means prepared for the picturesque scene awaiting me.  I feel like being in the middle of a pirate movie. In the historical port stands a black square rigger - KASKELOT.  The driver helps me with the heavy luggage as I board the ship. The ship smells of spices, salt and tar - just like a real ship should do.

Sarah, who prefers to be called Cera and is the bosun here, welcomes me on board. She shows me where I will live. We enter the hold over a steep leddar and from there a door leads into the crew's quarters. In the traditional way our accommodation is one big room before the mast. 10 deckhands can live here with bunks along the sides and a table with benches in the middle. If you forget abour modern clothes, cell phones and a portable CD player laying about it looks just the same as the quarters of the sailors some centuries ago. I am lucky. Together with another female deckie I may live in the bosun's cabin which is seperated from the others by a light door. Cera does not need the cabin as she lives in with 2nd mate Jim. There is not much space there. If the light door is closed you feel more or less like being inside a wardrobe. I occupy the lower bunk and squeeze my belongings into the shelf. The light is working, the bed is dry, no cockroaches - I will be okay.

On deck I meet James. He comes from South Africa and is the son of some rich plantation owners. He is on a ship for the very first time and is suffering from a kind of cultural shock. While at home he is served by a maid and a butler he is now expected to clean the floors, wash the dishes, etc. Apart from Jim and Cera he is the only one of the crew who already arrived.  All others are like myself only mustered from the next day on. Together we shall get the ship ready for the sea, sail her to Shoreham-by-Sea, get her ready for the annual survey in the dry dock and then sail her to the Fleet Review in Portsmouth. Afterwards we shall sail for Weymouth to stay alongside providing open ship. This will then be the final destination for most of us as the company also runs a sail training programme for paying trainees who will take care of the ship from there on.

Our crew consists of:

On the next day Fran calls all on deck for a safety instruction. Afterwards Jim goes aloft with us. Oh dear, that is all very different here than on the other ships where I have been. The rigging is 19th century style. No bottle screws, no sheckles, just dead ends, knots and seizings. Whenever possible historical materials are used such as wood, leather, steel wire, natural fibres. Yet the running rigging is not made from hemp but from a man-made fibre called artificial hemp what looks and fells like hemp but does not have it's disadvantages. Another difference is that the shrouds are much more slack than on steel ships as the construction with the dead ends cannot be strengthened in the same extend as bottle screws. This would also not be advisible as mast and hull are made of wood and need a certain freedom to work without suffering damage. The next difficulty provide the foottock shrouds. The platform is rather big and it is not alway obvious which would be the best way to climb. Jim shows us where to grab and secure and gives us time to find our way. Then we lay out on the yard. Somehow I get the feeling that this was made for much taller people than me and only with tricks I reach my position. Now we practise to ungasket and to stow and gasket the sails. Whow, what gaskets. They are minimum 5 m long and are put around the sail and mast several times. When ungasketing they get coiled up into neat little coils that hang in front of the sail. Not very practical but historically correct. The sail falls. Now comes part II. Stowing the sail. Blimey, what's that. The sail is heavy like stone. It is not made of Dacron like on modern tall ships but from thightly woven cotton. Now it is wet from the last shower and we need all hands to roll is to a neat sausage and place it onto the yard. Now, when gasketing it, we must take care that the gasket leaves the safety line free as otherwise one would get stuck on the way back to the mast. Cool. I am annoyed. I volunteer for galley duties instead of stowing sails, but no way. All sail manoeuvres are all-hands including cook and officers. The 12 of us is the absolute minimum of crew to handle this monstrous rigging.

That's it for the first day. From the 2nd day on a tight working schedule is set. In the mess room we find the watch plan. We are attached to 2 watches. While we are in port both watches work day shifts only and take turns with the galley duties. Later at sea we will go "Swedish Watches": 1st watch 08:00-14:00, 2nd watch 14:00-20:00, 1st watch 20:00-24:00, 2nd watch 00:00-04:00, 1st watch 04:00-08:00. As there are 5 watch times and 2 watch groups the watches are rolling. However, if you have the short night (only 3,5 hours sleep between midnight and 3:30 a.m. when they wake you for the next watch) you feel like a zombie.

But for the moment we are still in port. The day starts with cleaning the ship. One watch inside and the other watch outside. Cleaning toilets and showers, sweeping and washing the floors, clearing the mess room, cleaning windows, polishing the brasses, the duties are shared evenly between all crew including Fran and Jim. Afterwards Fran brings sand, soda, brushes and holystones to make the deck white again. During the long stay in Charlestown it had become quite green and slippery. In the beginning this work is pretty good fun, but after some time we start feeling arms and kneed and spines,  but the deck does not look much better. So we will have to do this over and over in the next days.  Apart from cleaning we are busily bringing equipment and provisions on board and in the afternoon we start with maintenance works. Jim asks who can splice. Silence. I volunteer and may now make new safety lines for the foottock shrouds. That's cool work. All others go painting and are told to practise splicing in their free time.

Finally the ship is ready for going to sea. We wait for the high tide as during low tide the port of Charlestown is falling completely dry. KASKELOT needs almost the complete 14 ft tidal range for leaving her berth. Now the historical lock opens and in a complicated manoeuvre John brings us out into sea. The first night we spend at anchor nearby to have daylight for our first attempt to set sails. It works out well and does not appear so strenous to us with wind and swell helping.

KASKELOT sails astonishingly fine. The sails stand well and we make good speed. What a shame that the voyage to Shoreham is so short. We will make it in only 3 days. At night under the starry sky I start to fall in love with the ship. James is on lookout at the bow. He does not really know what he is looking out for, but he is very enthusiastic. Cera is our second lookout on the poop deck. From the main deck the klick-klack of the bilge pumps are heard, professionally worked by Giles. This must be done in every watch as the ship is currently taking a lot of water. Every 4 hours we pump 13 inches water from the bilge. This is the main reason why we go into dry dock. The ship needs new caulking.

Shoreham-by-the-Sea is definitely the most boring place I have seen so far. Especially as we are not directly in Shoreham but somewhere behind nowhere between Shoreham and Brighton in the industrial port. Meanwhile we are in dry dock. As we do all works ourselves we did not go to one of the big comfortable and expensive shipyard docks but into a historical (aka old, dirty, unsused) dry dock where only once upon a blue moon a ship docks. The dry dock here is actually not really dry. A wide stream origining from a waterfall through the leaky gates runs over the dock basement and is pumped out again by a noisy pump beneath our sleeping quarters. Our enthusiasm to work down there for the next weeks is endless.

The works we are doing are very interesting. For the caulking comes a specialist who surveys the ship for rot and leaky parts. These parts first need preparation. We wash the hull with a pressure washer and srape out all rot and old caulking material. Now old line pieces, rags and cotton are hammered between the planks until only one finger fits in. Now this last bit is filled with boiling tar. What a fun. On a cooker we permanently heat the tar and with kind of huge pipe cleaners we smear it on the ship. As this work is over head and you can't avoid dripping everybody is black all over and we can lean our working overalls to the wall in the evening as when the tar cools down it gets stiff.

We stay three weeks in Shoreham. The weekends are used for days out into the near-by Brighton. During the week we spend the evenings in the Ship-Inn, the only pub in vicinity of the ship. Anne and I go swimming in the sea every day. The others laugh at us and say the water was much too cold. We don't mind and think it is wonderfully refreshing. Also it is a chance to get clean again after work since the showers on board do not work in the dock.

Finally the works are completed and we leave the dock. Only to get alongside the pier nearby as now we need to practise drills. The MCA surveyor will come on board to check everything and make sure that the crew is efficiently handling distress situations when we take passengers on board in Portsmouth. Also they will check if our historical safety equipment is in good working order. Being the only one on board with a fire fighting education I won the jackpot and may now wear the special suit and fire fighting gear. Part of this is a breathing apparatus which does not work with compressured air but with a long air hose and a foot pump which must be worked by another crew member. It takes some time until Giles finds the right rhythm so that I have the feeling to get enough air. Meanwhile the others of the crew have prepared the fire hoses and Kevin has started the memergency fire pump. This thingy rather looks and sounds like a lawn mover, is portable and works with petrol. It can be used either as fire pump or as emergency bilge pump. We practise with it until everybody of the crew is able to put it together right and start it. Then we practise to get our rescue boat into the water. It is lashed to the poop deck and for launching it we use the main yard and two tackles. After some practising we have it in the water in less than 7 minutes. The inspector comes and fills in the papers. Soon after this we leave with destination Southampton. There we will board our passengers who want sail with us along the fleet parade to Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Fleet Review 2005:
Almost the entire Solent is full of naval ships of different countries plus about 100 tall ships who were invited as special guests. The ships are anchored in exact lines from Cowes to Portsmouth. A very impressive sight. As our passengers are members of the Royal Navy we stick to the flag rituals what means we must dip our flag towards all British naval ships. Finally we reach our anchor position. Here we will stay until Her Majesty the Queen has inspected all her ships. She is on board of a research vessel and sails along every line. We try to spy her out with our binoculars, but we are not sure who of the persons seen on the bridge of the research vessel might be her. Civil ship like us are not near enough what is understandable with all the bomb threads islamic terrorists have spread lately.

In the evening follows "Trafalgar 2005" - the attending tall ships will hold a sea battle against each other celebrating the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. For this we got fitted with guns and firework. Our anchor position is plotted exact to a half metre. But being in Merry Old England this event is a bit delayed. The tide is not and so comes that in the middle of the show the current capsizes and all ships turn away from each other and shoot into the air... As the tidal streams are extreme in the Solent the beautiful picture almost breaks apart and all ships struggle heavily not to drift and collide. The people on the shore do not notice our problems and have a good time. It is a long day and only after midnight we make fast in Portsmouth. Now all the catering stuff must be brought from board and only after this we can turn into our bunks.

On the next day we leave. Being fed up with all the fuss John finds us a silent bight near the Isle of Wight where we go at anchor. We spend some time fishing, swimming and relaxing before we sail on to Weymouth.

The voyage is not long. Weymouth in the county of Dorset has invited us and the other ship of our company EARL OF PEMBROKE to stay for a fortnight of open ship and day sails. But on the way there another sea battle is fought. Somebody had the crazy idea to feed our guns with vegetables and other stupid stuff (like rotten makarels...) and to shoot the EARL as she sails by. British humour...

In Weymouth we have time to relax as we all collected a lot of overtime hours in the last weeks which we can now use for extra free days. I use them for a day out on the Channel Island Jersey. Another time I change positions with a girl who works on the EARL to do some day sails with them. Finally I get my things packed and organise my voyage back home. My time on KASKELOT is over. My reliever is already on board. Gemma, James and Anne also leave here, Giles and Cass stay on till the next port.

The last morning comes. Todd, an American trainee helps me with my sailor bag. A taxi brings me to the bus station from where I will travel to London and then on to Berlin. I look back to KASKELOT. It is not my world any more, but it was great having been a part of this world for some weeks.


 this page was updated 10/07