In my blog of the Twin Towers I told you that I participated with my schooner ‘Artemis’ in the 1976 Tall Ships’ Race that was organized to give our american friends a hand with their celebrations of two centuries of freedom from royalty and rot. Well, that was their affair, for us sailors it was a question of getting from that royal island across the Atlantic as fast as we could under sail. First stop was in the Canaries, Tenerife, good place, I bought there some excellent spanish wine from Galicia with which I managed to bribe a governor around Washington for a mooring spot.

The next lap was from Tenerife to Bermuda and I had to laugh just now when, to refresh my memory, I checked up the distance between these places. One informant tells me pertinently that that distance ”as the crow flies” is about 2900 miles. Firstly, I’d like to see the champion crow who flies those thousands of miles between two islands, secondly, a crow never flies a straight line, the pair of them, married for life, fly in great intersecting sweeps because they’re looking for grub. Some literary fellow about a hundred years ago, trying to describe a straight line while not knowing a bloody thing about birds, coined that idiotic phrase and since, other literary geniuses have followed suit. The cretin that invented the expression of “washing down his food with a great wine” has also had great success, you can’t open a book and some one appears performing this washing machine business.

Anyway, we were on our way to Bermuda and it became one of the worst voyages I’ve ever been on. You see, the wind disappeared. The whole fleet became becalmed, there must have been about sixty of us and life became a misery of flapping sails, running out of water, grub and tobacco. Four bloody weeks it took us to get to Bermuda and we had to use the engine in the end.

Soviet Union’s 4-masted ‘Krusenstern’All the ships were from Europe with the Soviet Union’s 4-masted bark the biggest one, ‘Krusenstern’ and the least hospitable of the lot. We sailors were fascinated by all the tall ships around us and we visited when in harbour. I was the only ship that had not been paid for by taxpayers, my wifey and I had worked for it and ‘Artemis’ at times was popular with captains of OPM ships. (last time I tell you, OPM= other people’s money) However, to get on the ruski ship was difficult because the soviet commissars made life difficult for their own people and visitors and so we never got to know them.

‘Krusenstern’ was a fine vessel, built in Germany in 1926 as ‘Padua’ and stolen by the Soviets after WW2. Many of the tall ships in 1976 were ex german vessels built in the twenties and thirties. Of course, all of us were trying to win this race but in the persisting flat calm just getting to Bermuda began to become the main objective. On board the soviet ‘Krusenstern’ the thinking appeared to be more ambitious and getting to Bermuda as the first of the Tall Ships seemed to be her aim.

The morning of the 25th of May saw us in a very feeble breeze in company of several ships, one being the ‘Krusenstern’. During the night there had been a bit of a breeze and so positions had changed somewhat. All day long the soviet vessel did not move relative to us but came the night, the ruskis slowly started to move ahead but not with the wind, there being none. Maybe they thought I didn’t have a radar, not being an OPM vessel and hoped I wouldn’t see them disappear under engine power. They moved slowly, 3-4 knots and I stayed up the whole night, watching the old K on my radar which had a range of about 40 miles. Before the night turned turtle the commissar’s ship was out of range, he had started to win the race. I had met the old captain once and was sure he would never have tried to win by using his engines and it must have been the bloody commissar who had given that order. Then, a few hours later I received the proof of the ruski’s cheating. The Race committee must have seen it also but never said a word. At 8 o’clock each morning the ships radioed their position publicly, following their names alphabetically. Well, during the night, Sagres’ the portuguese bark who had been slightly astern the previous night had crept up a bit and was now lying in the relative position to me that ‘Krusenstern’ had occupied the previous morning. When ‘K’ gave his position it was a false one because it coincided with the position where ‘Sagres’ reported herself to be. ‘K’ wanted to hide the advance she had made under engine in the night, hoping to mask that advance during a future breeze. The bosses in Moscow told the commissar what the captain had to do. I don’t often feel sorry for people but this old skipper should not have been put in that shameful position.

We never saw him anymore, the mate collected the prize and ‘K’ left ahead of schedule.


Category: sailing

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