Diary of a Tall Ship’s Novice - Part 1 Days 1- 2

Nick White has been sailing for nearly 20 years on friends’ boats, doing courses and chartering both in this country and abroad, but the chance of a week on a Tall Ship would be a whole new experience and an opportunity not to be missed. The following is a transcript of his diary.

Day 1 – “new boy aboard”

Arrived at Gosport 1315 hours, cleared security at Fort Blockhouse Naval Base and headed for T.S. Royalist, moored on Petrol Pier, my home for the next week. It looked an impressive Square Rigged Brig, smart and tidily turned out. Owned by the Sea Cadet Association, the cadets cannot always fill the ship due to exams etc. so it is sometimes hired out on private charter. I dropped off my kit and climbed down to the mess deck to find most of the crew of 23 already there. Lucky to be inside before the rain started.

After a short briefing by the permanent crew, of which there were six, we were allocated bunks, based on the perceived ability to be able to climb up tiers. Mine was the middle of a tier of 3. Canvas stretched over a steel frame with a thin mattress on top - could be folded back against cabin sides so the lower bunks could be used as seats. My first impression - “this looks a bit chaotic”, my second - “this is going to be cosy”, but I was well used to that after my experiences on the Global Challenge Race.

Next, allocation of watches. I was Starboard Forward watch and we drew lots for positions and duties. Mine were:-

  • Bracing stations – fore course sheet
  • Handing sails – buntlines and clews
  • Setting sails – assisting with top gallant and topsail halyards.


Had a thorough briefing on life jackets, fire and other safety aspects including “abandon ship”, then made the most of a brief lull in the weather for mast climbing instruction and trip up the port ratlines to the lower platform, returning down the starboard ratlines. The ratlines are wooden cross pieces between the shrouds, like rungs of a ladder. Safety lines were used to clip on all the way up and down and a double karabiner system used to unclip and reclip individually to pass the supports in the line. Fine, but just when you start to gain height and confidence the wooden ratlines are replaced with rope ratlines angled outwards to help negotiate the overhang of the mast platform. A bit unstable and if you did fall it would be quite a drop before you were arrested by the safety line. Then the tricky manoeuvre of getting up and over the platform and finally down the other side. There’s nothing like a bit of exposure to concentrate the mind on being careful! No chance of us disobeying the rule “no skylarking aloft”.

The weather turned from foul to fouler. All the crew opted to drink on board. Dinner - Chilli con carne with red wine, followed by spiced rum and a cheese fest. Pipe down 2300 hours. No chance of turning in earlier with 12 of us sharing mess deck bunks. We now discovered the quarters were originally designed for cadets 40 years ago, when even the cadets were smaller. Consequently with my feet against the bulkhead behind the watertight doors I could feel the feet of the neighbouring crew member touching my head and couldn’t turn over without disturbing my crewmate above me. Reminded me of my “coffin berth” on the Challenge. Could have been worse – my crewmate underneath couldn’t even get into his bunk (big bloke – small bunk) so elected to sleep on the floor. Slept soundly in spite of everything – perhaps the spiced rum helped.

Day 2 – “Force 10 and new friends”

“Call the hands” at 0630 hours, but I was awake and up before the threat of being tipped out of my bunk. Breakfast of toast and porridge. Weather even worse than yesterday – forecast referring to force 10 in western channel, so the captain opted to play safe and not venture too far. We used the time wisely with a briefing on Bracing Stations – how to set sails and tack and “wear ship” (gybe). The general rules, which we were given when we first applied for the trip, state, “the order Bracing Stations….is to be obeyed with the speed of light”. Next – fire drill, issue of life jackets and tour of ship. In spite of wet, cold, windy conditions, we were then out on deck to practise bracing stations etc. Pleased with my new GTX jacket - kept me bone dry.

Lunch of soup, pork pie and rolls. The MOD forecast promised that the weather would moderate for a couple of hours around 1400 so we used the weather window to leave Gosport for Cowes. On the call of “bracing stations” each crew member went to his allotted position. Lots of practice tacking, wearing ship, stopping and man overboard drill. Reassuring how quickly the permanent crew could recover a MOB.

Very physical sail to Cowes due to number of sail manoeuvres involved, for practice. I’d forgotten how heavy warps and sheets of a large vessel could be when coiling them.

Safe arrival at Cowes and ashore for welcome shower, followed by dinner - roast beef, roast pots, chocolate pudding. Trip to Union Pub for a pint in front of a roaring fire, before retiring to the ship for another cheese fest and pipe down. An interesting day and steep learning curve.

The great thing about sailing is that whilst one may arrive on a new boat with a little trepidation, (What will your new shipmates will be like? How will you fit in?), by the end of a day’s sailing you feel that you’ve known them for years and they’re soon thought of as new friends.

…….to come – “seasickness and going aloft” and “coffin dodgers”

Read Diary of a Tall Ship's Novice - Part 2 here


Author – Dee White

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