It was an old dream. When I was 13 or 14, a neighbour at my father’s age, told me that when he was a young boy he sailed as a trainee on a tall ship, the barque Statsraad Lehmkuhl. At the time, my father and I were building a model of a barque, after plans from a half model that my great grand uncle had made in the 1880s. I borrowed books and read all I could on tall ships, and learned the names of all the sails on a full rigged square sail ship.
Statsraad Lehmkuhl was then (end of the 60s) as she was in the 1920s when our neighbour had sailed with her, a training ship for the merchant navy. I wanted to go out with her too, but my parents had other ideas, and I may not have been too serious about it either. Anyway, my fascination for sailing ships and sailing remained.
Statsraad Lehmkuhl is still a sail training ship, but in a different way. Now people of all ages can go on short cruises and for a few days experience life on board one of the best maintained and biggest sailing barques in the world. They also have partnership agreements with the Norwegian and the Dutch navy for training their young cadets.
When they announced a one week trip from Bergen to Lerwick, Shetland late August this year, I was ready, and enrolled as soon as they opened up. That was end of 2019. Then came Covid and lock down on all events that would bring groups of people together. First until June, then the restrictions were extended week by week, until the Norwegian authorities gradually loosened up. By the end of August, it became clear that Statsraad Lehmkuhl could sail, however with a smaller group than first planned. We ended up being 46 sailing passengers who departed from Bergen August 30, with a crew of 26. (It would appear that we had one more person on board, but that was not known at the time of departure. More on this at the end.)
Because of pandemic restrictions, we could not sail to Shetland. Instead, the plan was changed to follow the wind and sail in the North Sea for five days. That was fine with most of us, as it meant more sailing and more of what we came for.
We got out into open sea Sunday afternoon 30th of August, in a stiff northerly breeze. On the way, while still being in sheltered waters, we were given basic instructions and those who wanted could enter the rig.
I climbed to the first platform on the main mast. You climb up to just under the first platform without attaching yourself to the rig. That was a bit nervous, but when I got up there it was just fine. Safety harness was compulsory, and there was a lot of stays and solid parts to hold on to. There would be more trips up, involving practice in setting sails. I didn’t like the idea of loosing my grip and find myself hanging in the harness! One of the crew said it had happened to him once, and it was not comfortable. So you better hang on!
We were a mixed group of men and women, aged 15 to 72. Some had sailed with the ship several times before, others had never been on board a sailing vessel, let alone an ocean-going ship.
Wonder about the detour to Stavanger? Well, Tuesday afternoon we were called to assembly on deck. The captain came and told us that it had appeared that we had an extra person on board. A young man had turned up and presented himself to the crew. He had apparently come on board the night before we sailed from Bergen, having in mind getting to Shetland. As he obviously was not on the passenger list, the change of sailing plans had not reached him! With only a bar of chocolate to feed on, he was probably getting hungry. The captain said that they had informed authorities on land, and were waiting for instructions. This had never happened before in the ship’s life time, so we were witnessing a historic event!
They did not have to wait long for making a descision. Soon afterwards, one of the regular passengers suddenly fell down on deck in convulsions. He was quickly taken care of by the ship’s doctor and other health professionals. It looked serious, but was not life threatening. But he ha to go to hospital care. The order came to stike sails and soon we were underway to shore.
The whole situation was handled very professionally by the captain and the crew, taking care of both the stowaway and the patient in a respectful manner. When the ambulance and the police boat came out to collect them, we were asked to go below deck and not take any pictures.