How big is the boat?
The three-masted top-sail schooner has a length-over-spars of seventy meters. It carries 11 to 13 sails under full sail, depending on whether we set the two topmast staysails. To set up these staysails, assistance is required from crew aloft while being hoisted from the deck up.
Traditional sailing and maritime traditions are highly respected on board. Though we have an autopilot option and electric winches, these are rarely used. The helm is manned 24 hours per day, in every weather condition. Such responsibility is taken very seriously as there is no wind indicator to guide help on where the wind comes from. Of course, it can be risky leaving a vessel of this size under full sail in the hands of a teenager, however we have seen trainees who turned out to be extremely good helmsmen. From the bridge, we watch the course steered (HDG & COG) and the track-line on the plotter to judge the precision of the steering. I remember one instance where I saw not even one kink in the track-line, so I assumed something was wrong with the equipment. I went outside to check and decided to take over the helm to see for myself, and it was perfectly aligned on the plotter. Perfect steering by the young Japanese trainee, called Joshi, who was called Mr. Joshi after that!
For the crew amongst you reading this, it may be interesting to note that nowadays sail training vessels are a bit out of the league, as very few of them are able to comply to with the full SOLAS passenger vessel regulations. However, they still sail with more than 36 people on board, with unlimited sailing area classifications. The main reason is due to the availability of lifeboats, which are replaced by a fast rescue boat and have 300% life raft capacity. These vessels are normally certified as a special purpose vessel or a historical vessel, depending on the flag state. Nearly everything on board is run through full ISM, and equipment needs to be Classified and SOLAS approved, which ends up being a paper shop like on a cruise ship.
Why did you want to sail this boat?
This question was first posed to me by one of the parents who wanted to understand why on earth I would take on such a responsibility to sail with a bunch of teenagers, instead of being the captain on a mega yacht. I must admit, at the time I was not prepared to answer the question immediately. I have, and still am, freelancing on superyachts for deliveries or relief positions and so I understand the reason for the question. Firstly, the main reason is the social aspect (or social experiment, as I like to say), of living aboard such a “small” vessel with a community of 70 or 80 people, sailing around remote locations of the world. For as much hard work, considerable responsibility, and risks involved with such a job, the most rewarding part is seeing the trainees grow as individuals, as well as becoming competent crew.
The personal growth of the trainees after nine months is absolutely life-changing. What triggers this personal expansion is learning the meaning of responsibility, taking ownership, and experiencing how to live together with people from other backgrounds or cultures.
Also, to see them grow from total greenies to proper sailors is also very satisfying. The maritime crew is constantly being challenged by constantly supervising and teaching all they know and more. In the first month, everything is very hectic, and one cannot sail the ship under full sail as the use of every sail, sheet or block needs to be explained before sail maneuvers are even possible. After four or five months, you begin having a working crew and suddenly you have sixty deckhands! But in the last three months it starts to become really fun, and you can talk every maneuver through. “Hey, watch leader…you’re not able to properly clew-up the starboard side of the upper topsail because it seems that one of your buntlines is caught somewhere.” That is all that needs to be said to hear a 16-year-old watch leader shout down to the lower deck; “HEY Jeremy, put on a harness and go aloft, check the blocks at the upper topsail yard going to starboard, especially the far most outer buntline. The rest of the watch standby on the pin-rail, ready to ease starboard bunt-lines on my command.” Then when you hear the crew repeat the exact command of the watch leader; you know you have a crew. It’s beautiful! By the time the final months arrive, you barely need to tell them anything…unless it’s “Guys, please, I am still in charge here, can you please ask me first!”
Finally, I love the fact that Class Afloat sails off the beaten track. Because of my experience in the program, I have visited many countries in South America, dropped anchor in the San Blas Islands, dove in Fernando de Noronha and St. Helena, and will never forget Ascension Island.