Tall Ships (B)Log – Guest Blog by John Harlow; Harlow Insolvency


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

John Masefield

So, here I am, back at my desk, still buzzing after a five-day adventure on the high seas.  I’m trying desperately to get my mind back into work-mode, but have to confess to momentary lapses when my mind takes me back onto the seventy-two foot “round-the-world” Challenger boat and to the experience of sailing such a large boat and the friendships which were developed in such a short period of time.  I’m sure I’ve come down with a dose of Sea Fever!

We were taking part in a round-Britain relay, run by the Tall Ships Youth Trust raising funds for the Newark and Sherwood YMCA.  We were designated as Crew 4, sailing from Liverpool to Greenock in Scotland, via Belfast and (unexpectedly) Campbeltown.

The crew was comprised of The Skipper (Terry), First Mate (Sophie) and two Tall Ships volunteers (Steve and Pete).  Our complement comprised of “business leaders” from the Newark and Sherwood area; namely Maria, Keith, Jerome, Alex and me.

We departed from Newark at 06:30 on Tuesday 17th September in a mini-bus and arrived at a rainy Liverpool at or around 10:30, where we were met by Craig from the YMCA and were introduced to the crew.

After being shown around the boat we were given a briefing by the Skipper over lunch.  We slipped our lines and having stooged around in the “pool” waiting for the tide to provide enough depth over the sill, made our way into the Mersey and hence to sea.  On leaving the main shipping channel, having successfully dropped the Pilot, without damage to boat or Pilot, we set a course to pass to the west of the Isle of Man.

By this time, the rain clouds had blown away and a bright sun smiled down on us through the myriad of revolving sails of the off-shore wind-farm.  A slightly lumpy sea soon found-out our lack of sea-legs as we settled into life on board Challenger 3.

The wind, however was not to be as kind, as it settled down “on the nose”, preventing us from setting all sails.  We did however haul up the mainsail and motor sailed to the north, the huge sail helping to steady the motion of the boat.

The crew had been split into two watches and we sailed through the night, standing three-hour watches on and off through to the dawn.  My watch (Port Watch) covered 11:00pm through to 02:00am and 05:00am to 08:00am, being lucky enough to greet the sunrise.

The night watches were fascinating, being brightly lit by a slightly gibbous moon, the starlit sky providing useful reference points to assist steering the boat over a jet-black and silver sea. Our fellow Tall Ship, Challenger 4, which had left Liverpool at the same time as us, had disappeared astern during the night and we didn’t see them again until Greenock.

By now, we were getting used to the routine aboard ship and regular cups of tea and meals kept everyone cheerful.  As we neared our destination we sailed past numerous sea birds including auks, cormorants and gannets, busy fishing the inshore waters. We motor-sailed up towards Belfast Harbour, where we dropped the mainsail and motored up the channel towards Samson and Goliath, the famous and emblematic twin cranes of the Harland and Wolff shipyard. The modern building of the Titanic Museum made a stark contrast both to the cranes and to the original slipway where the ill-fated liner had been built.

The shore facilities were excellent and much needed showers were enjoyed by all.  Some decided to visit the museum whilst others explored the town.  Although weary from the long sail, we all found the energy to sample a beer or two in a couple of the establishments in town, before returning to our bunks.

Thursday morning saw the crew awaken early and we motored out of the harbour, setting a course to the East and Scotland.  The Skipper had decided to put in another stop, choosing the small port of Campbeltown for our next overnight stay.

Once again the weather served-up an azure sky filled with sunshine and the heavy weather “oilies” we had been so grateful for during the night sail, were discarded for lighter clothing and in some cases, shorts.

The wind, however, once again failed to put in an appearance and what might have been a lovely beam reach across the Irish Sea, once again became a chug under the motor.

No time for boredom however (as if!), all hands were kept busy setting the enormous spinnaker pole on the mast, swung out at right angles to the boat.  The “Newark crew” were then prevailed upon to climb-up the fore-guy, aided by a harness attached to the spinnaker halliard and then ‘spike’ the end of the pole (i.e. touch it).  Once we all had enjoyed a dangle over the water and a view of the boat from above, we were returned to the deck and greeted by the sight of a pilot whale, breaching a couple of times just ahead of us.

We passed the Mull of Kintyre, with the accompaniment of bagpipe music from Skip’s phone amplified by a large saucepan. On reaching Campbeltown, we moored up on the pontoon adjacent to several fishing boats, which were busy attracting the attention of a large number of querulous seagulls who were taking an interest in whatever it was coming overboard from the day’s catch.  They were supplemented by three curious seals, also on the hunt for titbits.

Once the boat had been tidied-up, a pre-prandial pub trip seemed in order and Starboard Watch “got away” with suggesting a fish and chip (and potato fritter) supper, instead of the Skipper’s world famous (his words) sausage and mash. After that it was a quick post-prandial beer (or Whisky) and bed.

Friday morning dawned (wait for it) bright and sunny, but with the promise of a breeze in the air. An air of expectation hung over us as we prepared all the sails for hoisting and raised the main-sail to motor-sail our way around the Isle of Arran.  The scenery was spectacular, but it was also clear that Arran was stopping the wind from getting to us and the foresails remained stubbornly on deck.

We poked our nose in to the small harbour at Lochranza at the northern end of Arran and as we came back into the Firth of Clyde, the wind started to fill in.  All hands made haste and the two foresails, the Yankee and the Stays’l, were hoisted, sheeted in and at last Challenger 3 heeled happily to the rising breeze.  Hard on the wind we headed for the Isle of Bute, the wind coming around to the right, freeing off and the boat picking-up more speed…exhilarating stuff.

Before reaching the Isle of Bute it was time for man-overboard drill.  The Dan buoy (known as Oscar, as it flew the maritime O flag) duly fell over the side, the call was made, the boat hove-to and all hands busied themselves watching, pointing and dropping the foresails with all haste.  The Skipper skilfully manoeuvred the boat until it was just upwind of the casualty and as it drifted down, Oscar was safely retrieved.

We then headed into the scenic Kyles of Bute, through the narrow channel and around the Northern tip, when the yankee was hoisted once again and we practiced tacking back to the Firth.

Helmsman “Are you ready to tack?”

Sheet handlers (especially Keith) “I was born ready!”

Helmsman: “Helms a-lee….safety turn off….Lee-Ho!”…..Pull you lazy swabs!!!…and you, let go the *&^%£^ old sheet and show me jazz hands!

Much harder work than you might imagine, but rewarding when you get it right!

As the breeze began to die, we headed for our final destination, Greenock.  Between Inverkip and Greenock we re-joined company with Challenger 4, who’s crew regaled us with a raucous rendition of YMCA by the Village People.  They were three sails to the wind (literally) and were clearly having a brilliant time.

All too soon we were tying-up alongside in Greenock and commencing the tidying-up and cleaning ship process in order to leave all shipshape for the next lucky crew.

So, it has to be a big, big thank you to all involved.  The Tall Ships’ skipper, crew and volunteers who showed us just what the youngsters who sail with them might expect and who showed us the ropes (sorry, lines) with patience and understanding. To Craig and the YMCA for giving us the opportunity for the experience…. how many people get the chance to drive a seventy-two foot ‘around-the-world’ racing yacht?

Thanks too to my shipmates from Newark, it was a pleasure to sail with you all and I hope we have an opportunity to sail together again.

Finally, of course, it’s a huge thank you to everyone who has donated to what is a very exciting project being undertaken by Newark and Sherwood YMCA.  A true community project, destined to be the largest of its kind in the UK, if not anywhere, one which will enhance the lives of countless under-privileged youngsters.

If anyone wants to find out more about the project please visit: https://ymcanewarksherwood.org/community-and-activity-village

And just a reminder that there’s still time to donate to this cause by visiting my Just Giving page: – https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/john-harlow-ymcatallships2019