638 nautical miles on a Russian square rigger

My first voyage with MIR from Rostock-Warnemuende to Bremerhaven 4.4.99 to 10.4.99

 

 

Easter Sunday, 4.4.99, 2.00 p.m. Standing at Berlin-Schönefeld station, I kiss my husband, hug my little son and wave them goodbye. Later I am sitting on the wall, waiting for the train to bring me to my great adventure. ..

My love affair with the last big sailing vessels began when I was a little kid. My first memory of a tall ship leads me back to a summer when I was 8. My parents had taken me to Laboe (next to Kiel) to see the submarine and the marine monument situated there. Though I thought the submarine was interesting , I can only remember the monument as boring. Then suddenly I saw something amazing. The German sail training vessel GORCH FOCK passed by under full sails. Love at the first sight. I knew immediately that when I would have grown up I would become a sailor aboard  such a ship. Unfortunately my father told me: “Sorry darling, forget the idea, but they don’t take girls, and by the time when you are adult there won’t be any windjammers left in this world!”

... nothing happens in the train. I am alone in my department. In every station I watch the people who enter the train. I wonder if anybody of them wants to MIR, too. Are sailors different than other people? I change trains at Rostock. Will this journey never end? I peep out of the window. How high are 49 metres? One should be able to see the masts soon. Suddenly I hear the voice of a child: “Look, mommy, a sailing ship!” Now I see my home for the coming 7 days. I take my rucksack, my camera. My feet find the way on their own.

My liaison with square rigged ships like GORCH FOCK was a lasting one. I accepted that I could not sail aboard of them, but who said that I could not know everything about them. So I got stuck in front of bookstores selling literature about sailing. For my 10th birthday I got “the great book of the Gorch Fock”. Soon more books of that kind followed. When I was bored at school I started drawing sketches of sailships. Unfortunately Berlin is really far away from the sea, so as I grew older other things got more imminent for me: boys, dancing, school. What remained was a slight sentimentality that tore  me towards the sea with invisible leads. Once I was there my feet took me to the harbour and if there was a square rigger somewhere, I found it.

6.00 p.m. I stand in front of MIR. I cannot believe that it will really happen. I shall go aboard and she will sail away with me. The gangway shakes and rattles. The first thing I see on MIR is a smiling face. It belongs to Evgeny who is on the watch. “Trainee? Wait here, Nicole come soon." Nicole is the name of our liaison officer. She will mend all our problems during the voyage. I feel  absolutely jealous for this job. Meanwhile more trainees arrive. Nicole leads us to our cabins. We shall live in two 12berth-cabins, 8 trainees in either one. Of course, the beds next to the window are occupied by the time I arrive. Anyway, I choose a bed next to the door. Luckily the bed below mine remains empty and I enjoy the luxury to have a second wardrobe for my stuff. After doing my bed, unpacking the luggage, I explore the ship. That is when I meet Isa, our second liaison officer, and her fiancé  Sascha. He is so sad that he has got to let his sailor woman  go with us. It is only a week until Bremerhaven, but then she will change for KRUZENSHTERN to sail with her for 8 months. How will he survive this? In the meantime the other trainees arrived. With Sascha (13 years old) and his grandfather Hinrich, Stephan, Manfred, Gerti, Klaus, Markus and me our cabin is complete.

I feel hungry. I decide to walk into Warnemuende to post some letters to my children, call my husband and then eat something with Nicole, Isa and her Sascha. I wonder, if this will be the last good meal for the next time. I think of stories about cooks on sailing ships ...  
By the time, we come back to MIR it is dark. She is illuminated by the lights of the harbour. The scene is quiet and peaceful. I know that everything will be great. I crawl into my bed. To the sound of the waves and the snoring of another trainee I fall asleep.

***

Easter Monday, 5.4.99, 7.00 a.m. A friendly announcement in Russian language comes out of the bordloudspeakers. We sit upright in our beds. Then the English version. We understand that this has been something like good morning, etc. Anyway, Nicole comes and tells us, that we are kindly requested to get up now, can have a shower or a wash, and shall meet her at the breakfast at 7.30 a.m. 8.00 a.m. will be begin of work, 10.00 a.m. disembarking .

In a way MIR is a kind of luxury liner. I am positively surprised by the sanitary tracts of the ship. E.g. there is the possibility to have a hot shower every day at any time. There are extra showers for ladies, though we are only 5 female trainees at all. Toilet, bathroom and shower are always clean and tidy and without any unpleasant smells. The work necessary for this is done by the staff promptly and silently. I think that this is a bit unfair. We trainees would have been able to do this on our own. I mean, we are no passengers. One thing about the showers is a charming detail: when the ship heales  over, the water runs from the lady’s showers to the gent’s showers and the lads have no chance to reach their clothing without getting wet feet. Nitchiwo. Bad luck.

10.00 a.m., the guests are kindly requested to leave the ship now. The gangway is brought in, the ropes are thrown on deck, and we leave the port. On the quay runs Isa’s fiancé. He is really fast and keeps up with us until we reach the mole. 10.20 a.m., the pilot leaves the ship and we set sails. All trainees are totally confused about this manoeuvre. We don’t understand a single word from the announcements of the bridge. The seamen show us, what to do, which ropes we shall pull. We learn our first word of Russian: brossili – let go! Fascinated we look to the masts. Sails are set and the yards are in a different position. The only thing that is missing is enough wind. But MIR is a good ship. She reacts to the slightest breeze and we reach a speed of 1.3 knots. Happiness shows in the faces of crew and trainees. In the bright sunshine we stand on deck and enjoy this beautiful day on the Baltic Sea.

Nicole and Isa tell us about the galley duties. We shall work in teams of 4 trainees. Everybody is on duty once a day, always at another time. This is quite a lot of fun. Every team tries to be the fastest to set the table, get the meals from the galley and to wash the dishes and clear up the mess room. After lunch we hear about the daily routines. We learn that it is not allowed to whistle  on sailing ships, otherwise there would be storm. By 1.00 p.m. we are invited to come to the bridge, where the captain wants to introduce the crew to us.

***

1.00 p.m., all trainees stand behind the bridge and wait for the things to come. The crew arrives. How smart they are, all in their uniforms, and how odd we look, just like vagabonds. As Captain Victor Nicolaevitch Antonov  smiles the ice melts. He introduces every officer and bosun  to us. We notice with surprise that they are only a few. For this voyage we shall only be captain, 32 crew and 16 trainees. I remember that in my books was written that for a ship of this size (3masted full rigged ship, 2,285 t, 2,771sqm sail area, length 108,9 m, beam 14m) we needed much more people and the crew of MIR should be 50 crew, 120 cadets and up to 60 trainees. This might become an interesting voyage. At that moment Captain Antonov asks us to help. “it is not that you must do this, but if you decide to help us, we rely on you and you must go on with this until we reach our port. We need helm watches, bow and stern watches. Who wants to do this?” Nicole and Isa tell us what we have to do and that we would only have to go 1 hour watches, not 4 hours like the crew. So most of us decide to work with the crew. My watch is 6.00 to 7.00 a.m. and p.m. at the helm. With me there will be Evgeny and the Chief Mate. I like this. It is amazing to steer such a beautiful ship all alone (of course under control of  an able seaman).

Logbook 5.4.99, 2.30 p.m.
Temperature 12°C
Water 4°C
Wind 4m/s southerly
Course 330°
Speed 1,3 knots
Position 54°22’N 11°52’E
Depth 19m

3.00 p.m. the tough trainees are invited for a rig training. Chief-bosun Andrey climbs to the cross tree with us. Seaman Maxim brings the typical clothing of a square rigger: the harnesses, and shows us how to wear them. This proves to be quite difficult for some of our male trainees. Seaman in general are slender and not very tall. So it takes some time to find a harness that fits Stephan. The first group of trainees is ready to go aloft.  After being checked out, we follow Andrey into the rigging. Carefully and slowly climbing we make our way to the cross tree at about 15m above deck. We climb through the hole onto the cross tree and Andrey shows us where to lock the harnesses. Now we look down. It is like looking out of the windows of a 7 stories house. We are glad that the ship is not rolling. After a little time our legs stop shaking and we climb down again to watch the next group going aloft. I am happy. My childhood dream has fulfilled. I have been in the rigging of a tall ship. What is to come next? How high the moon?

***

By the time my husband first met me, he did not know, what kind of woman he had chosen. Maybe it came to his mind when we were in Hamburg in 1985. At the harbour RICKMER RICKMERS had arrived, the windjammer for Hamburg . so I handed our baby to him and told him rightaway that I had to got there then. Of course I had to go there every time, when we were in Hamburg in the following years. Some time later, we made a trip to London – second honeymoon – and he asked me, what I wanted to see there. My answer was: “CUTTY SARK!” This is the last of the famous teaklippers and the fastest ship of her time, sailing up to 17,5 knots. Today her home is Greenwich  Some years later, in New York it had to be PEKING, sistership of KRUZENSHTERN, and so he gave in and walked with me onto every square rigger  we met. And we met quite a lot. I was a shiplover by now and stepped on them even if I was not searching them. Only accidentally I met MIR (Peace) for the first time. We wanted to travel to England and had booked a passage on the MS HAMBURG, a huge passenger ferry, that links Hamburg and Harwich. Unknowingly I had booked for the time when the Sail ’89  was in Hamburg. Windjammers from the entire world met there. For decades beautiful square riggers like SEDOV  and KRUZENSHTERN had been hidden behind the iron curtain, but now the Russians had come with both ships. The real sensation was a brandnew square rigger. While everybody lamented, that there were lesser and lesser of those ships afloat, the Russians had built a new one. What a ship. Tall, slender and white she was docked at the Landungsbruecken. Compared with all the old ladies next to her she appeared proud and self confident. What a sight. Unfortunately our ferry did not wait until I could take a closer look on her.

3.30 p.m., “Drr-drr, drr-drr, drr-drr, sails alarm, all hands on deck in ten minutes.” Sails alarm. Now we got wind. A lot of wind. Only from the wrong direction. Combined with rain and almost no sight. The sails get packed, we continue under engine. I the tight waters around Denmark it does not make a lot of sense to sail by the wind. And we are not so many people, as I said before. And we don’t have so many sails (only upper and lower topsails, two jibs and the lower staysails). So the captain decides to go to Skagen under engine, put more sails on the yards and than set sails in the free waters of the North Sea. Time for a training alarm. To the sound of the siren we hurry to our cabins, take our live vests, rush back on deck and try to find out what the Russian words on the vests mean. Everybody made it? Good. End of the training.

Time for my first watch. At the helm Evgeny, Zhenja as he is called. He speaks English very good and we talk a lot. So I don’t mind the ice-cold rain that pours onto our heads without intermission. I learn to steer a ship with a steering wheel that is so big that I must stretch my arm to reach the top of it. This is absolutely different than steering a car. If you steer forward this does not necessarily mean that the ship moves forward. Every wave puts her into a new position. Luckily we have a compass, only one has to watch it at any time. While I look to the horizon, MIR goes where she wants. “Don’t sleep on the watch!” I am sorry. It does not matter, I am still learning. So we have to go back to our course. The commands from the bridge are given in Russian. Zhenja translates into English. By the time we reach Bremerhaven I am able to count to 360 in Russian.

***

At the evening I am nothing but tired. My legs ache from climbing the rigging. My right arm aches from pulling the ropes. My left arm aches from steering with the helm. I fall asleep in a minute’s time. By 0.45 a.m. Nicole promised to awake us as we shall proceed under the Belt bridge than. It is the biggest bridge of the word at the moment.

Tuesday, 6.4.99, 0.45 a.m., we stand at the bow. It is absolutely misty. We see nothing, not even the top of the mast. Only 4 staysails are set. We hear the engine. A scene like in the Flying Dutchman. In a distance two horns sound. If the captain has navigatad correctly, we are 1,5 miles ahead of the bridge. We still see nothing. Maybe there is no bridge. Maybe we go aground. Nobody wants to be at the helm now. Than a shade, green, red. Nothing else.  A line of lamps, two pillars. Man, there is the bridge, directly above the bowsprit. We look to the foremast. 49 metres – impossible. The foremast proceeds under the bridge, the main mast, and the mizzen mast. Everybody of us would swear, that it must have been less then a metre, in truth it was more than ten metres between us and the bridge. We recognise a car on the bridge and feel pity that he cannot see us. We disappear in the fog.
It lasts long until I fall asleep again.

5.45 a.m., Sascha stands beneath my bed. “Get up, time for watch. It is raining!” Well, I promised, so I must go. All right, let’s get up. I jump into my jeans, wear almost everything I find inside my board, add the warm winter gloves and head to the bridge. It is incredibly cold and awfully wet. Zhenja’s good mood and friendly words keep me warm. 6.30, a command in Russian, that I do not understand. Zhenja asks me, if I liked coffee. “Yes, I do!” “He said, you shall go inside to get warm again.” Inside the bridge warm sweet coffee and bread await me. I feel that never before I have had something so good.

8.00 a.m., end of watch, nothing to do, boring. The ship goes under engine. It is raining, of course. The board piano is not the right company for me – I have no sheet music with me and I am not good enough at memorising music to play full pieces. I go to the bridge. Nothing interesting. Captain is inside – better not disturb. Chief bosun needs people for some knots. Why not. He shows us, how to do it. Unfortunately our knots don’t look like his ones. Does this matter?

01.00p.m., I volunteer to help the crew in the rigging. Bosun Kostja doesn’t believe that I want to work aloft in the rain, but short time later we stand on a foot rope 15 m above deck and rig a new staysail. Now I know how the knots should have been. It is really difficult to unfix the trainee’s knots. It is a tricky work, we have to do. the sail is huge and heavy and has to be sewn on the stay. After half an hour we only managed to do three knots. At this place where we are, there is only space for 2 persons, so the work cannot be done much faster. I get a lot of respect for the rigging as I realise how much work it is to keep it in good condition. After 30 minutes Andrey and the Doc arrive to take over. The wet clothes go into the dry room. My hands get warm with the help of a cup of tea. By the way, I had a lot of fun, doing this work.

Summer 1996. Hamburg again. This time together with my eldest son, Jens, who had also started to get infected with the windjammer fever. We were, of course, onboard RICKMER RICKMERS. While I inspected the samples in the souvenir shop, my eyes got caught by a flyer. “Sail with us ...” I read on it. Nevertheless it should last over 3 years until I finally did it. There was always something else. The ports were too far away, I had nobody to mend the children while I would be away, and I had no money, no time. Anyway, now I knew for sure that one day my dream would fulfil, I would make a voyage on a square rigger. Which one was clear to me. In the meantime MIR had become really famous. Being winner of several regattas she had achieved the unofficial title ‘fastest class A sailing vessel of the world’. (as later a cadet notes to me: women love winners!)
In spring 1999, then there was the right moment. I had made some extra money, my children would be on language classes in England and Malta, my youngest son wanted to stay with grandmother, and my husband could not leave work to travel with me. I investigated for the old flyer, found it somewhere in the attic, and contacted tall-ship-friends. Yes, my ship was scheduled for a Baltic Sea/ North Sea voyage around Easter. And she had become even more beautiful as I remembered her. She had a blue rally stripe now. So I called my Daddy and told him that he wanted to care for my little son until Grandma returned from her holiday, booked and hoped there wouldn’t be any hazards to keep me from sailing.

Logbook 6.4.99, 4.00 p.m.
Temperature 7°C
Water 3°C
Wind 7m/s south-westerly
Course 340°
Speed 8 knots under engine and staysails
Position 57°08’N 11°39’E

Wednesday, 7.4.99, 6.00 a.m., night watch. Being near to the Skagerrak, there is quite a lot of wind. The ship is rolling severely. We are still under engine, but Captain Antonov   promises we will set sails after breakfast. Then we would have passed Skagen. By the time I come to the bridge I am asked inside. We  steer with the joystick. This is great fun and I am allowed to steer on my own for 1 ½ hours, of course supervised by Zhenja and Chief Mate. Unexpected problems emerge. I am sitting on a high stool, so that my feet don’t reach the floor. The ship is rolling. Left Hand at the joystick. Don’t worry, I think, I can always keep the balance if I put my right hand at the radar. Nice idea, but then I get a cup of coffee into my right hand. So I wonder, what will happen first, that I spoil the radar with my coffee, that I steer the ship on a sandbank, or that I fall with my stool right into the arms of Chief Mate. It feels like being in a rodeo. I am on the lucky side, nothing of it happens. Having such a lot to do, and having been forced to eat a banana, I have no chance to get seasick.

7.30 breakfast. 8.00 we set sails. Amazing. By the time the sails are set, MIR heals over up to 10°, which is not much. We are forced to orientating ourselves new. Some things become absurd. Eating soup, for example. I can only take a little bit at a time, otherwise it will spoil the whole table. Lunch is not so attractive for some of us. Seasick. By the time we are having tea, the number of the trainees is strangely reduced. At the dinner we are only 6 left. We got to hand back a lot to the cook, who is really sad about this. It tasted so good, but we cannot eat 16 portions. Even some of the crew are seasick.

There is a lot of rubbish in the water. Things that do not belong into the sea. Wanting to make a joke, I tell Sascha, that one could make a complete ship out of this. I shall remember my words three days later.

***

I stand at the bow and watch the waves. I enjoy the storm in my hair. The sun is blinking. I ask Captain Antonov to go aloft for photos and get the permission. At 2.30 p.m. I stand on the maintop. I feel happy and excited. The sight is sensational. It is exactly what I had been looking for. Above me the sky, around me just the storm and the sails, below me the ship and 200 metres of water. Marvellous. Here on the mast I can feel the rolling of the ship much more than on the deck. Sometimes I can see the sea below my feet. I have only the permission to the first platform, but I wouldn’t go higher anyway. Seeing me there, the other trainees already declared me insane. Half an hour later, the cold wind makes me climb down again. It’s time for galley duties anyway. Captain Antonov decides that we have enough seasick people and  we board a tack out of the storm. Alike most times he succeeds perfectly. By the time of my watch at 6.00 p.m. the wind has almost vanished. Our speed lowered to 2 knots.

Logbook, 7.4.99, 3.00 p.m.
Temperature 10°C
Water 4°C
Wind 12m/s north-westerly
Course 341°
Speed 5 knots under sails ( by the wind )
Position 57°45’N 08°42’E 
depth of water 200 m
miles made good in the last 24 hours: 194,5m
Distance to shore: 29m
Distance to port of Bremerhaven: app. 250m

Norway. We see a lot of ships. Some of them are greeting us. We answer like a queen. I bet that almost everybody on board of these ships ( as long as they are not seasick ) wishes he could go with us. Thanks to Dima’s wonder pills the most of our sick trainees are well again. The only exception is Wiebke, who is pregnant and cannot take any medicine. So she stays at the lazaret.  The Doc is happy. He has got something to do. This does not mean that he does not work on deck any more. On a sailing ship there isn’t anybody afraid of hard work and getting dirty. Everybody is getting in line to do the necessary job. In the rigging or at the ropes we can see the doctor, the cook and cook’s mate, sail maker, engineer, radio engineer working hand in hand with the seamen. Only the deck's officers stand at the side. They got enough to do to co-ordinate the whole activity. One morning during my watch Captain Antonov calls Zhenja to help him to correct the position of some sails. To me it seems as if he enjoys to do the work himself. During this  I am steering all alone. Without being controlled. Though I am a bit worried of faking it, I am amazed of being trusted so much.
In the evening another tack. During the manoeuvre  I notice that the crew calls me by the name. I feel immensely proud.

Later we meet at the casino. That is how the crew call their mess room. There Andrey, Maxim and the Doc sell beer and chocolate in the evening. The crew pops in from time to time. They smoke papirosi or share a Russian beer. 3 DM for a beer they cannot afford. On the other hand they are too proud to allow the trainees to invite them.
Here in the casino the stories about the life at sea are told. The one I like best is about a  parrot who landed in the main mast. They didn’t know, where it came from, so they kept it. This was alright until the bird learned to imitate the sails alarm. So he flew through the aisles at night doing “Drr-drr, drr-drr, drr-drr, sail alarm, ...” Everybody got up, dressed and went outside only to notice that it had been a fake. “What did you do with the bird, then?” I ask. The answer is (of course): “na sibirje!” that is where the radio engineer’s grandmother lives.
Another story is how MIR won a regatta by doing a night sail manoeuvre in perfect darkness without light and without being noticed by the others. We trainees listen and have a lot of fun, but we believe only half of it and I am afraid that even this is too much.

Isa tells us how much the seamen earn. Even the Captain doesn’t earn as much as a secretary gets in Germany. I feel guilty and do not understand why somebody does such a hard job, 8 hours watch, daily routines, night work, seldom see the family, not seeing the children grow up, and earn just some lousy Dollars. Even if I think of lower prices in Russia and calculate that the seamen have free meals and living on board, I am afraid that too much money is spend in foreign harbours and not enough reaches the families. Zhenja tells me that all their wives have got to work and that there is just enough for living. Shall it still be like in the old times, when being a seaman meant to be poor?

When I told my friends, what kind of a holiday I planned, their reactions split. Some of them simply declared me insane! Was I not afraid to live among all these men, who haven’t had a woman for months? Nonsense! Was I not afraid of getting seasick? This was not going to be my first voyage on a ship and I had never been seasick in my life! Why on earth did it have to be Russians? They wouldn’t have two heads and three legs was my answer. What my husband said. Does he have to say anything?
Others said that this was great. How tough I was. Was I? Sailing would be the most wonderful thing in the world. I should tell them everything once I were back.
My father meant that dreaming was fine, but this did not mean that one should really do this. What did I want to prove? There would be Borsch and Vodka all day long.
Anyway, some arguments sounded realistic:

1.       what about your physical condition? This is hard work. I decided to give my aerobics classes some more attention.

2.       You don’t speak a word of Russian. You won’t even find the loo! Well, I answered, I had 5 weeks time to learn, went to the public library and got ‘Russian for beginners in 30 lessons’. By the time I left for MIR I was able to read Russian, say please, thank you, hello, good bye, sorry, and make easy sentences in the present and past tense. 

On the bridge I have some unexpected success. Silently and trying not to disturb, I stand in the corner. Over the radio I can hear the Danish weather forecast. Although I do not really speak Danish, I understand that they say, it will become a bit windy , but fine. A little while later Zhenja and Chief-Mate are talking about the weather, in Russian. As a joke they ask me in English what I think about it. I answer, that although it doesn’t look like, it is going to be fine and windy.  Of course, they don’t believe me. Anyway, it gets fine. The next morning the wind comes. Now the Chief-Mate, too, knows my name. I hear that our Chief-Mate is called Max. I try to tell him – in Russian – that my son’s name is Max, too. He, too, has a son of 13 years whose birthday had been yesterday. We talk about home. In Russian! If I don’t understand,  Max repeats or helps in English. I try to remember my book and the words I learnt. He understands me. Great.
Meanwhile Sascha and Hinrich stand at the helm. Sascha comes to the bridge and lets his jacket fly in the wind. He says, he is an extra sail. As I translate this to Max, he suggests to put him below the bowsprit.

***

Thursday, 8.4.99, 6.00 a.m., Sascha is seasick. He did not wake me. I look at the clock. I jump into my clothes and hurry to the bridge. I am – friendly – told that I am late. Bad. There is no wind. We don’t move. Disgusting.
At the horizon I can see Norway. Still Norway. Same sight as yesterday evening. We have been sailing all through the night, but we didn’t get much further. Something keeps us at the same place even if we can see the ship moving when we look at the bow. Frustrating! Zhenja makes me smile again: “Turn round, there is a sunrise behind you!” I turn and see a breathtaking sunrise. I am hopelessly devoted into our ship which glows in the light of the early morning sun. Being so fascinated, I don’t care for the course and almost turn the ship. Max tells us, that the captain has called who stood at the helm. I want to vanish. Zhenja steers back and I go to my cabin to take my camera. No coffee today.
Later Max tells us that there is a submarine below us. It seems that the Nato wants to not, what the Russians are doing ashore of Norway for 1 ½ days. Frightening. What is happening in the Kosovo by now. Maybe we have war and don’t know. We don’t know what happens in the world. The Russians cannot hear any Russian radio station here. And they don’t listen to others. Only the cook in the kitchen is tuned to the English to hear jazz.fm.
We feel better as the wind comes and we are moving again. We tack. Destination Helgoland.

Logbook 8.4.99, 3.00 p.m.
Temperature 8°C
Water 4°C
Wind 10m/s westerly
Course 210°
Speed 4 knots (by the wind)
Position 57°18’N 07°51’E
Water depth 60m
Miles made good in the last 24 hours: 102,8 miles (under sails and almost all the time by the wind)
Distance to shore: 25 miles
Distance to final destination: 210 miles

The weather being fine, we got the chance to climb the mast a little bit higher. Bosun Igor has got to work aloft and asks who wants to accompany him. Nils, Christine and me want to. Christine stays on the crosstree, Nils and I go to the topgallant platform. We are not really feeling safe here, so we decide to plug in our harnesses  to the ratlines as we make our way higher and higher. As Igor sees this he is shaken from laughter. We are a bit afraid he might fall down. It is amazingly beautiful here. We enjoy this. Only by the time when we think of climbing higher, Igor finishes his work and the weather changes. So we are called down again. It doesn’t matter, tomorrow  is another day.

Friday, 9.6.99, 6.00 a.m., helm watch. We are sailing by the wind. Naturally.  I am told to steer very carefully, only quarter turn of the steering wheel. “If you steer out of the wind, there will be sails alarm. The trainees will hang you on the yard” Nice. I succeed. I get coffee again. I stay until 7.30, then I am dismissed to eat my breakfast. I have just smeared the jam on my bread and decided to take the first bite as the siren sounds: “Drr-Drr, drr-drr, drr-drr, sail alarm, all hands on deck in ten minutes!” Everybody is looking at me. It wasn’t me – honestly!
We must go on under engine now. We are in Danish fishing grounds and not allowed to go under sails here (a right-of-way problem between sailing and fishing vessels). Against the wind there is no chance to get away from here under sails.

The crew is bored. The trainees are bored. Some are moaning. Over the board loudspeakers we hear:” Clear ship”. So soap, pipes, brushes are brought to clean the deck. I polish the ship's bell. Gerti and Markus polish the fire bell. We are irritated how heavy these things are. Andrey and Maxim had carried them easily and we are not able to carry them even if two of us try together.

Logbook 9.4.99, 2,30 p.m.
Temperature 10°C
Water: 5°C
Wind: 11m/s south-westerly
Course: 200°
Speed: 5,0 knots under engine
Position: 56°02’N 07°30’E
Miles made good in 24h: 62,7
Distance to coast: 20m
Distance to final destination: 167m

Although we are not happy about this, we cope with going under engine until port of Bremerhaven. We are scheduled to meet the pilot the next morning. Then suddenly sails alarm. At 4.00 p.m. we set sails again. 
5.00 p.m. I am invited into the bridge for a coffee with Max. Chief-Engineer Valery has nothing to do and so we become a party of tree. “Hey Barbara,” says Max, “of that you can be really proud. You have a rendezvous with the Chief-Mate and the Chief-Engineer! We have a lot of fun. The two are chatting in Russian about people they know. The only thing I understand is: “...na Sibirje!” they want to send a lot of people to Siberia. How charming! I feel sorry for Sascha and Hinrich who are on the watch. Sascha stands in front of the door and doesn’t dare asking if he could join us.
6.00 p.m., I finish my coffee and go to the helm. It is my  turn now. I enjoy steering MIR under sails through the North Sea. We are fast as we sail by the wind and she reacts to my steering as if she was alive – maybe she is.
I forget my galley duties, but everybody understands, that I don’t want to leave the helm before end of watch at 8.00 p.m.

***

After dinner the interested trainees go to the bridge again. Nicole shows us all the instruments there. Suddenly we note some kind of SOS-call. A fishing vessel has been overdue in the Skagerrak, possibly lost. No contact for over a week. I remember all the rubbish we had seen and my cynical command towards it. I feel sick. There is nothing we can do now, we are too far away. Other ships will start a search.

Isa and Stephan are not involved in this. They are in the cadets' auditorium and practice for a concert tonight. Isa is a professional singer and will perform the Ave Maria for us. Stephan is going to  accompany her with the piano. This is scheduled for 10.00 p.m. Captain Antonov’s plans are of a different kind. He has scheduled a sail manoeuvre in perfect darkness by the light of huge lamps in the rigging. By the time the illumination is turned on we are stricken by the beauty of this sight. The sails gloom. The faces of the crew brighten. As Chief-Bosun asks who volunteers to go aloft, the Doc jumps in the air and calls out: ”Mne!”(Me!). In the end everybody goes, except for the trainees – for safety reasons – and the deck's officers in whose faces I can read sadness therefore. I would have loved to go aloft, but I accept that I have to stay on deck. Actually there is enough work for us to do there. It is a big fun. We are running around on the deck like little children – even the trainees know by now what happens when we pull a certain rope or line. We feel a bit like pirates in an old movie. Actually we belong to the merchant navy, but nobody would recognise this today.
Now I know, what makes these men being seamen. It is joy! I wish I could sail with them forever, even if I would get only some lousy Dollars.
On the bridge stands Antonov. He smiles. He has always known this.

11.30 p.m., the work is done. Isa sings beautifully. The trainees sit together for some more time. It is our last evening. Then we sink into our bed.

In the early morning I come to the bridge. I find Max and Zhenja in a kind of discussion. Most of the trainees had not shown up to their watches. So Zhenja thinks, I won’t come either. Max says: ”I tell you, she’ll come!” Both smile as I come through the door. We steer from the inside, drink coffee and talk in Russian. Enjoying the magic of this morning I skip my breakfast and stay until the end of watch at 8.00 a.m.
As I meet the other trainees, I am disgusted. Many of them are in an extremely bad mood. They hate the idea that we will reach Bremerhaven later as scheduled. (It is Antonov’s fault, the say, he shouldn’t have set sails again yesterday). I wonder why they are in such a hurry. 
Stephan, Isa , Nicole and me think very differently about our Captain. We think, he is amazing.  We don’t agree that the crew doesn’t talk to the trainees. Could it be that they didn’t talk to the crew? Anyway, most of the trainees enjoyed the voyage and want to return aboard MIR.

That is how my first voyage on the MIR ended. We reached the port in the evening of that day and the trainees left for home. I stayed for another night and after that I was very sorry, I had to leave not only the ship, but her people who had become friends to me in this week. So when Captain Antonov asked, whether I would sail with them again or not, there was no hesitating.
The immediate answer was: YES, as soon as possible….                                     

(report written in April 1999)

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