Tallships 2003 a/b SV Excelcior  LT 472  



   From 2nd mate to chief of the washing up

Delfsail to Travemunde

Gaft Ketch The sailing trawler EXCELSIOR was built in Lowestoft in 1921 and fished the North Sea, trawling for plaice until 1935. She was then sold to Norway and spent the next 36 years as a motor coaster under the name Svinør. In 1972 she was brought back to England for restoration

Translation by

Graham Williams

Eastbourne (Near the  Beachy Head lighthouse)

12 July

3.00 p.m. Delfsail. Lots of people, lots of ships; a good twelve tall ships together, more than I’ve ever seen. As I arrive on board again it is of course sunny and warm, which is doubtless a relief for the organisers. No passengers on board so a peaceful start and before an hour’s gone by the party begins with the shopping. When we get back the crew parade has just begun; a really spectacular show band from Indonesia with drummers in diving suits and others in extremely colourful uniforms. Later on the trip in another country I would take a photograph.

The shopping done and we get a call for the Barbecue at the local football pitch where lots of crews in uniform have already got together. Three tickets per person, one for a sausage, one for a shashlik and not forgetting one for a beer which of course gets used first. After a while the clouds start to get dark and we leave the field with the Indonesians at the front. Now it begins; there is someone in uniform staring at us, then suddenly recognition, not by me but the skipper. “Dennis, is that you from the Standard?” ‘Yes.’ “But that’s a uniform!” ‘Yes, I'm mizzenmast bosun now on the MIR".

We met Dennis 2 years ago in Bergen (Norway) where he was sail maker on the ‘Standard’ a replica mediaeval vessel. Dennis looked like an old pirate or maybe he resembled what I might expect a Russian to look like. Now his appearance is that of a Russian officer with short cropped hair and smart uniform. It ends up with a heavy session on board the Excelsior trawling up memories from Bergen and Esbjerg after I’d left.

Even more drinks with the crew of ‘Asguard II’ from Dublin. Afterwards a visit to the local establishments for freebees from the organisation isn’t much to shout about.  It’s as busy as hell in and around the pubs, not with ships crew’s but visitors to Delfsail.

13 July

Sunday, rest day. Bill worries about the leg to Gdynia because the trainees are only arriving on Monday evening. So it falls to me to check the route for distances and tides and therefore planning. After pulling all the charts and books out of the cupboard and poring over them, reach a conclusion.

Leaving at 0200 Tuesday morning  and averaging 4 knots for the whole journey we need 5 and a half days which comes down arriving on the 20th and the passengers have to leave on the 21st at 0200. This gives still leaves us worrying somewhat. The Excelsior can make 7 knots motoring but that’s no real option being a true sailing vessel under race regulations. We need wind. We’ll look into it some more tomorrow. This evening is the Parade of Sail and after another spectacular fireworks display we’ll be leaving tall ships Delfsail.

14 July

This morning to our liaison officer’s house to download some software for the weather fax. I’ve brought my SSB radio and Bill a laptop. Too few floppies so have to try another way. Tried the library and a few companies but without success. Try in Gdynia if we’ve time.

Clean ship and wait for trainees to arrive.

17 July 8.00

Start from the BKYC to Gdynia. Smooth sea to begin with. Wind veered to NE ESE which is better for us. The gap between the 14th and 17th is the Kiel Canal where we arrived in Holtenau to bunker yesterday afternoon and onwards to Bornholm. From Kiel course 080 wind NE force 5/6. After a quiet passage through the canal, now slamming against the wind. Still 35o NM to go and the first cases of sea sickness report in.

The wind brings us anywhere but the right direction and after a time slamming into rough seas and more cases of sea sickness the decision is made to return towards Kiel. For the first time a good night’s rest. This in part because as crew we’ve taken double watches. The double watches are in part because Nick has to unblock the toilet drain system. That a turd can get through a 10 mm pipe is no longer the question, but 9 mm  is too little, while the pipe was originally 40 mm. And the double watch because the trainees are still inexperienced; nine fifteen year old boys, Jenny and two teachers.

After a nice beer at the BKYC, not to be missed at the price, and a good nights’ sleep, we’re now underway, our second chance to reach Gdynia.

We’ve got to make it this time ‘cos there’s no time to spare. I go below since at twelve I’m on duty again and its chucking it down. Somewhat refrigerated after yesterdays’ heat.

18 July 11.00

Not really the feeling of a good nights’ rest. Bill’s watch and it’s grey and spitting. Course is 070 to the waypoint at Bornholm. Still 180 NM or so to Gdynia. 7 knots at the moment which should mean 30 hours and arrival Saturday, but 7 knots average is a lot to ask and in the worst scenario we’re assuming a 4 knot average which means still 45 hours to go, on time for the trainees but actually too late for the crew since the new passengers will be arriving.

We stop motor sailing for a while. Bill has to do some maintenance on the prop shaft. After all everything has been shaking itself lose for days and nuts and bolts are working lose. There everything’s tightened up. Otherwise, as mentioned already, grey with a westerly force 3. Not ideal but better than a head wind.



19 July 14.00

The sun breaking through, we approach Gdynia in an almost flat sea on the way to dock I. After an extremely grey night with at in the beginning thunder and lightning again, we still arrive at a reasonable time. The ‘Stad Amsterdam’ has still to follow along with several other tall ships. I have to say that after a mornings’ reasonable sleep I’m looking forward to setting foot on terra firma again, which with a bit of luck will mean another shower after the BKYC. Now wait and see what Gdynia has to offer besides the usual maintenance that’s planned for tomorrow. The train ride to Warsaw that I’d had in mind at home will probably not go through. Have to wait and see, first though a pint!

21 July 22.00

Yesterday half a day just connecting a coupla lil’ wires to the generator. Half a day just because access is so difficult and you have to improvise with everything. It just didn’t want to work. So just had to try getting a couple of cable clips somewhere on a Sunday. Luck is now with me  again and I can connect the whole thing up. After a bit of puzzling it works.

In the evening the after guard party for the officers on board a Polish tall ship.

Early this morning leave for a sight seeing tour with a bus, a group I thought were Fins and 25 Russians. After 500 m the Fins get out when they hear that were first staying in Gdynia. Afterwards to Sopot  because there the longest pier in Europe is supposed to be. It looks like a french rivierra. After Sopot Gdansk where the group further disintegrates and I just wander off on my own. The rest want to spend something like an hour looking round an enormous supermarket. I took the time to look round Gdansk for myself and have to say that Gdansk and he inhabitants look pretty good especially at 30 degrees centigrade. 

After this the hope to get the washing back on time. It was after all picked up yesterday morning. First wait at eight thirty then I get to hear from the liaison officer that  they’re coming in an hour, so back to the boat to work a chicken leg inside and back to collect the washing. After still more to and fro phoning the car arrive with the washing. The man gives a ridiculous weight to settle up. After a long discussion between our officer and the wash man we manage to get the weight down by 30%.

Tomorrow is another long day as the leg to Turku begins.

Wednesday 23 July 10.00u

Under way to Turku. Just woken up after a good night sleep. A sunny day with a west north westerly breeze force 3/4. Clear sky and a couple of tall ships about. The peace of sailing is welcome after a just as peaceful day of the Sail Parade. An imposing site these ships congregating in a small area preparing for the Parade. A stroke of luck for the ships, organisers and crews was that there was hardly a breath of wind which made everything simple.

24 July 20.30

Bobbing about isn't what we’re here for, but our boat is still only making 1.1 knots, a real set back compared with a few hours ago and this at the end of a very sunny day. Several times we had to unroll the fire hose to keep the deck cool.

Just got a report over our standing so far. 7th in class and 9th overall out of 80 ships. Oh how we’re hoping for wind to take us the last 90 miles home. A strong wind would be in our favour since Excelsior is built for it, but it looks like there’s not much in the offing which is to our disadvantage. 'Windrose’ the mega yacht with its all Dutch crew has already finished though with a substantially different handicap rating; 1.3 against our 0.55. After the finish lies the Finnish archipelago with its many islands where we’ll hopefully soon be to spend a couple of days sailing with the 'Tante Fine’ (FR) and ‘Asguard II’ (IRL) before making for Turku.

Saturday 26

Finished early this morning. 11th in class C1 and 26th overall. Difficult to say how good or how bad. Its always down to the choice of strategy. At the start several ships went east, some west. The direct line to the finish is nearly due north. We decide to follow the direct line. In any case this is the shortest and you can cope with variable winds. And they were variable though luckily not from between NE and NW, but certainly in strength from force 1 to nearly 5. Too little for a heavy ship like ‘Excelsior’ (103 tonnes) which as mentioned earlier was built for severe weather.

After days of relative sameness and not too much excitement we’re now motor sailing towards Hanko where we’ll try to rest up and carry out necessary maintenance. There is usually help offered there by ships with local connections.

Sunday 27 July

Hanko; yesterday after clearing moored up in the fish harbour next to the ‘Antwerp Flyer’, which during my morning walk has left. After lunch it’s time to repair the generator.  A section of wiring has burnt an ought therefore to be replaced. Bill unassembles the generator and takes it up on deck where I get the opportunity to get to work with some ‘found on the jetty’ bits of wire. Having re-sited it back in the engine room it appears still not to work. The opportunity for me to squeeze myself between the piping which with m=y build isn’t easy. After much scratching of heads we decide to uncouple the generator again and turn it to get more room to work in. All wiring measured, every relay tested. In the meantime the sweat runs off our foreheads and down our backs. The engine room is still virtually a sauna. All in all we reach the conclusion that the cause is in another panel and so chose for a temporary solution so that everything at least worked.

After this followed dinner, prepared by Gwen, and a fantastic dive into the sea whereby everything got washed in one go.

Monday 28 July

After Hanko we left heading for Turku. Another sunny day where we motor sail between numerous islands and after lunch drop anchor somewhere to take a refreshing dip for an hour.

I get the chance to test my survival suit and luckily it seems that after years of providing protection against rain and cold, the buoyancy is still more than adequate even after countless washes. With evening approaching, we sail into a small inlet of an island where the local inhabitants come out of the sauna to witness this still not so everyday spectacle of such a large vessel in such a location.. The youngsters enjoy themselves supremely with all sorts of capers, jumping or diving from the boat into the water. After dinner the complete peace returns on board. Part of the crew are taken ashore to see the trees and flies. Not only is it extremely pleasant to hear nobody talking for a while, but the water is as smooth as glass and the only sounds are those from a couple of children swimming or birds in the woods. The peace is only occasionally disturbed by the rumble of thunder in the distance.

Tuesday 29 July

The rumble in the distance has got close  so we let the steel top forestay dangle in the water. You never know. After the first of the heavy rain I turn in, and just after this the flash boom is really close. At four o’clock I’m unpleasantly awoken by one of our guests, the one with the wooden legs. After some verbal explanation about clearing off in the direction of the fore deck I try to get some more sleep that proves more difficult. In the morning it appears that we’ve survived the thunder well enough and weigh anchor heading for Turku. We'll probably anchor once more before lunch for a last swimming/ washing session.

Wednesday 30july

Visit the MIR where we at last do what we wanted to do in Delfzeil, witch means aloft. Not only me but also Bill and his daughter one high and one lower

Sunday 3 Aug..

Yeah. We’ve arrived in Turku. Not today but Wednesday. Moored next to the ‘Tante Fine’ and 4 days of above 34 degrees, an unheard of heat wave in Finland where we use a staysail to get any form of shadow on deck. The jeans of earlier are now shorts. There are only two pairs of trousers left and the overalls. 

Four days in Turku so it’s shopping, walking too much in this heat and too little sleep. Its just like a sauna in the bunk. Most of the passengers sleep on deck. 

A visit to the Wartsila factory where they make marine diesel engines up to 20 MW, (20 000 000 Watts). A really interesting excursion. Used the afternoon to see the local history as well, which was a mistake. It was 34 degrees with the result that I was completely washed out by the evening. 

Learned from this mistake to leave my planned trip to Helsinki and went instead to watch team Excelsior in the rowing competition. Uncoordinated rowing resulted in a second place in the heat which wasn’t enough to make the final. Today heading the parade of sail we sail out of the harbour under weigh for Mariehamm where we hope to arrive after two nights at anchor enjoying the tranquillity and taking the odd dip, on Tuesday.


Monday 4 Aug.

As yesterday I sort out the route planning and navigation on board. After leaving the anchorage Bill can go and read for a couple of hours since a night at anchor in a wide bay means that he repeatedly had to be on deck to check our position. After dinner we went briefly to the island of Berghamm to climb the highest peak. With two of our elderly passengers in deck shoes and Katherin over a moss covered rocky and impassable route to the summit where we meet the others who from what I hear have found a somewhat safer path. The view from the top, maybe a good thirty metres can be called wide which means that the little islands round about are a good deal lower. After mooring up in Degerby we go for a beer at the local pub, where it seems that it doesn’t happen all too often that such a large group comes in at once. The republican comes out to take a photograph of his full terrace where not only we but also the mosquitoes are present in large numbers and it seems that a good shower and clean body just makes you more attractive to them.

Wednesday 6 Aug.

Arrived yesterday in Mariehamm and walked round a bit. Visited the ‘Pommern’ today, a hundred year old barque of the former shipping line Gustafson which gives a good impression of how life in those times must have been on board, before the mast and aftergaurd,certainly after reading ‘The Last Grain Race’ and ‘The Barque Amacita’. Afterwards go to the maritime Museum largely dedicated to this period. In the afternoon took a pleasant stroll round , rounded off by dinner in a restaurant, a real treat to sit at a normal table again. On the way back to the boat, me Bill and Asterix have a change of heart and go together to the captains reception after which the evening I again rounded of by drinks on deck.

Thursday 7 Aug.

We’re under weigh to Riga. After the strong wind in Mariehamm the wind has eased to force 3 or 4 and as it now looks we’ll cover the coming 240 NM with an average speed of approx. 6 knots, which comes down to an expected voyage time of around 40 hours

 Sunday 10 Aug.

We’ve been in Riga  a day now after a reception by the ‘Spaniel’ in an old horse drawn tram and a tour round the town enjoying a snack and a drink. Today is a maintenance day on board, linseed oil and animal fat.

Monday 11 Aug.

Take an extensive look round Riga today which entails walking round the town  from 1100 till 1600. Seen numerous beautiful buildings and parks and at last bought a new watch, one of Russian manufacture.

In the evening an after guard party again in a museum and after that an Irish coffee evening on board ‘Asguard II’. Afterwards see off our group at 2 o’clock in the morning. At 4 the diesel representative arrives after which bedtime at last.

Tuesday 12 Aug.

An unexpected sightseeing tour to Segulda about 50 km from Riga so from the bus we already get the chance to see something of the country. Numerous trees and incredibly flat. The dwellings look reasonably good and the roads are metalled. Segulda is a tourist site where we first take a trip in a raft along the river that runs past the village and there appears to be an important bob sleigh track though we can only see that fro a distance. After the trip an extensive pick nick after which we visit the last mediaeval castle before the hour long return journey to Riga where we exit the bus because of the traffic jam.

Thursday 14 Aug.

We’ve started again, this time for the race Riga – Travemunde. Riga isn’t strictly correct since we left Riga yesterday after the parade of sail through the Gulf of Riga to Ventpils where the start takes place. 

The journey began with reasonable weather and in the evening it seemed that the forecast strong wind was on its way, the dark clouds congregating over the land. But after a while we’re over taken by thick fog which ensures that my watch lasts longer because we keep three on deck through the thickest patches of fog.  AT six o’clock it clears somewhat and I’m able to go to bed. 

In the morning at seven o’clock we arrive at Ventpils where the start shall take place at 1800 and where we therefore sail round the whole day waiting for the start. In the meantime the wind gets up to force 6. The start of the Class A ships looks fantastic. Only the Oosterschelde delays and gives me the chance to shoot some pictures of her. After the meal and washing up we get a warning through of 60 knot wind. So its all hands on deck for the crew and the trainees who’re up to it. Even so a whole day sailing backwards and forwards has taken it toll and the fish get fed. One reef is put in the mainsail and we come through what we estimate to be 50 knots. On deck everything’s fine, only below is it a bombsite with everything spread over the floor. After the strong wind it’s decided the get rid of the reef  and now my feeling that this isn’t my day comes true. While heaving on the topping lift tackle, a block that should have been made loose suddenly gave way and I went down. Kirsty probably fell on my ankle and I’m suddenly out of action as far as watch keeping’s concerned and have to restrict myself to what’s going on below. This results in the watch system being drastically altered and Bill, Nick and Tom  have to manage with far lees sleep especially since considering the weather we’re working double watches again. As calm as the first race was is the second now as severe so far. The wind varies from force 4 to 9 and more during squalls

Friday 15 Aug.

After getting up, my ankle, despite there being nothing obvious is still so painful that I have to stay below. Even with my experience I consider it too dangerous for me to hobble about on deck. The only thing for me to do is take care of the washing up, writing up my journal, a bit of reading and wondering what the hell’s going on deck. Off watch the others mostly dive straight for their bunks. Lying in my bunk I feel the ship going in all directions. At least it seems one moment up, the next down, then port, then starboard, only not backwards, though it feels like it as your head is pressed into the pillow. The ship’s movement ensures that my ankle doesn’t stay still either so we’ll see. At one point we heel so far over that the fore staysail hits the water causing such a violent commotion on deck that you think what’s gone over this time, the topmast, mast, bowsprit? But it remains otherwise quiet on deck; no panicking screams or shouting but your momentarily silenced by this violence of nature. I shall have to hear the stories a couple of times only I get the feeling that the experience is totally different below. The only good thing about being confined below decks is that the rain has no effect, at least not directly. It doesn’t go straight out the scuppers though and in part makes its way down the hatches and companion ways and not having anything better to do than washing up spend my time trying to keep the water at bay. The inclinometer alarm sounds regularly in the form of the bell clapper in the galley which hits the bell to remind us that we’re heeling over. This happens with regularity as the one front after  the other moves from far in the Baltic over us giving first force 4 then force 9 which is extremely unsettling and exhausts the watches. With still more than 200 NM to go I’m hoping that the wind reduces so that I can get involved again and relieve the others so they can enjoy some sleep. Tomorrow we’ll find out if the forecasts are right. Our current position in the race after last night is 3rd in class and 7th overall. Cheers resound through the ship. Still the rest of the race.

Saturday 16 Aug.

The last of the saucepans washed up it’s time to dive into the bunk. The heel alarm isn’t going off so frequently now. The first job after getting up is some coffee and breakfast. We’re still heeling to port and heading for Gdynia. Just been on deck for a roll-up and found that standing is still a bit sensitive in the Achilles tendon. The sun is blazing and the wind is pretty constant, though the as well is still around 4 metres. Several ships have pulled out of the race for one of other reason, the ‘Tante Fine’ pretty soon after the start, ‘Asguard II’ last night and a load of others. I don’t know their names but we’ll get a report soon from the race control where everyone has to report their position.

De day has progressed a bit and in the meanwhile it appears that ‘Asguard II’ has requested assistance because she’s making water and they haven’t found the leak yet. We hear a helicopter via the VHF and the “Zonnobe Gramme” is standby ship. Although the pilot is a few years old it says that the normal weather conditions in the Baltic is sunny and calm and normally no storms. How come for the second race then? We’re alright. The permanent crew with me in charge of the washing  up can relax after the storms of the previous period. Not that its not blowing now, still a constant force 5 to 6 but the sea is less rough. At the same time we get to hear that we’re still 3rd in class and 20th overall which must mean that several of the yachts have passed us. The course was directly towards Gdynia, an attractive prospect but the race is taking us towards Bornholm and beyond.

Sunday 17 Aug.

Yesterday evening the wind died completely and after the sea calmed down a bit I just went on deck for quarter of an hour, not only for a roll-up and some fresh air but to see how the ankle was doing. This morning it seemed that it wasn’t good for me to stand on deck as the ankle had got somewhat more sensitive. This is a real shame because with a blue sky and little wind with more sails up, it should have been a beautiful day. Now I’ll just have to humour my ankle and restrict myself to sitting or lying down to read. One bonus of this weather is that the washing up can be done according to the watch system. We’ve still got 160 NM to go to the finish and only 4  of the 12 in our class are left and we are still 3rd, although 7th overall. The reports about ‘Asguard II’ are more favourable. A diabetic has been airlifted off by a helicopter and the leak is under control. They are now under way to Gdynia.

Monday 18 Aug.

Around lunchtime we’ve still 140 NM to the finish and after that  another 90 to Travemunde. This morning got a message that ‘Asguard’ has rejoined the race so its looking better After a day and night the wind direction suits us and we’re heading for Bornholm and after the enjoyment of smooth water, so that I could move about on deck it now starts blowing harder. Everything that could be put up according to the rules was put up this morning; flying jib, jib, staysail, main, main top sail, mizzen staysail, and the mizzen. If the wind really gets stronger and from the south east as forecast then we’ll certainly reduce sail before dark. More wind means more swell and more movement from the boat which implies that I shall have to move less and stay below decks. Just as I write this the mizzen staysail is taken off.

An hour later and this is re-set and we’re sailing heading for our target wind south east and our course west. Forecast later this afternoon gives increasing westerly and the flying jib is taken in. We go and eat; French beans in a sort of |French cheese sauce with pork and fried potatoes and everybody enjoys it. At eight o’clock the sparkly is opened as we finally pass our waypoint at Bornholm and Kirsty has received her exam results, A, B, and C’s and is very happy with them.

Wednesday 20 Aug.

Over a week under, the last few days against a head wind and many a shower, but we’ve finished and are getting closer to Travemunde and the clouds cover us like a blanket. 4th in class and 24th overall is the preliminary result. We hope to moor up late this evening and to transfer to the taking of something alcoholic to round off the second race. The distance from Ventpils to the finish at Travemunde is 350 NM or so, the total track we’ve followed from Riga nearly 800 NM which is an awful lot, but we’re getting closer and secretly I think of how and when to get home. First though try phoning in the evening and ask how it is in Holland and then make a definite decision if I go by plane or train, or Friday or Saturday or even Sunday . . . .

We’ll see tomorrow. A long race ( a long bloody story mate!) with personal set back at the end with that ankle, but since that’s better again I have been able to take my place in the watches again, except now have the day watch instead of the night so every cloud has its silver lining

Saturday 23 Aug.

After the usual parties and sightseeing today it’s the train home after a successful working holiday.