We’ve chosen our first winning entry for our Adventures Start at Stanfords competition! Congratulations to Leanne Hughes who has shared her greatest adventure story, taking part in the Tall Ships race from Aahrus to Helsinki.
It started with a map, as plans often do, looking at the vast expanse of the Baltic Sea. It took nearly 40 minutes in Stanfords, not because I couldn’t find what I was looking for but because I was distracted by all the other things in store. Eventually I emerged carrying a few extra books too. I was excited, the Tall Ships race was sailing from Aahrus to Helsinki this year and I’d managed to secure a volunteer place aboard the Brig Stavros S Niarchos. I’d sailed on her before taking young people on sail training voyages but a race was something different.
Imagining two weeks of high seas and gale fuelled nights it was a little frustrating for the race to commence in a flat calm, 80 square riggers drifting across the start line on a millpond sea. ‘Painted ships upon a painted ocean’ as the Rime of the Ancient Mariner goes, it was an incredible sight. However we were not left drifting for long, that night the wind began to pick up, first a gentle breeze and then something we could really sail with. The Captain set every one of the sails, nearly a kilometer of canvas in total, some ropes took teams of 15 people working together to set the sail. The next day the ship began to pick up some speed and we narrowed our main competition down to the other two British vessels Pelican and Tenacious. During the 6-8pm watch we managed to catch Pelican up 3 cable lengths away (500 m) and began to take advantage of the Stavros’ strong steel rig to keep every inch of canvas up in the gale force 7 we were experiencing. Pelican began to struggle with the high winds leaning over past 45 degrees so she finally handed her royals (the very top sail) allowing us to steal past for our first victory.
The fun wasn’t over for us yet as we still had all of our sails set and were also leaning over quite severely. Due to having experience in the rigging it was the Deckhands job (of which I was one) to go and stow the royals in severe weather. This was the most exhilarating part of the voyage, although you are equipped with a harness, you are not always clipped on, so your insurance when 148ft above the deck is your white knuckles. Eventually we managed to stow the top sails and return to a more sociable angle. During the next few nights there were similar calls at the 4am change of watch, we climbed in high seas, high winds and one night even experienced a lightning storm, sparks spattering around the horizon, thunder drowned out by the musical howl of the wind . Unfortunately we didn’t finish the race, a headwind prevented us from sailing across the finish line in time but all of us on board had an amazing and unforgettable adventure and came away with a renewed respect for the Baltic Sea.