8 things you learn sailing on General Patton’s yacht

This past Sunday, I was delighted to make my debut in my other hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, writing about my journey from Marquette to Duluth aboard the When and If, the yacht belonging to General George S. Patton. Click here to see the PDF and get all the history on this amazing boat, the oldest and most authentic to visit Tall Ships Duluth.

1. Making friends is easier when your boat is famous. Everywhere we went, from, people wanted to ask about the boat, talk about old Blood ‘n’ Guts, find out where we’d been, and learn our stories.

2. It helps to have a professional photographer on board. I wish I could have Emma Louise Wyn-Jones with me all the time! Check out more of her amazing photos on her Facebook page.

3. Even in August, swimming in the middle of Lake Superior is colder than you could possibly imagine, even when you’re diving headfirst from the legendary Black Rocks in the Upper Peninsula capital of Marquette.

4. A boat is the only way to get around the wild, unspoiled, and gorgeous Apostle Islands (which, despite living mere hours away, I had never visited before this summer).

5. Being a crewmember (even a guest one) at a Tall Ships Festival is like being a gorilla in a zoo (and I mean that in the best possible way). Luckily, we had intern Ben Shaiman (Official Blogger of Tall Ships America) onboard to show us the way.

7. Lake Superior is not to be taken for granted. The Edmund Fitzgerald is just for starters of shipwrecks.

8. Pasties are delicious for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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It’s been almost two years, and I miss it every single day (VIDEO)

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Dutch TV has now aired four different video installments of the Oosterschelde’s round-the-world voyage of 2014, which I’ve been watching with awe and a little trepidation. I’ve seen most of the videos, so I figured it wouldn’t be that earth-shattering. But I was a delighted to see that a lot of this astonishing footage–of dolphin pods, of hauling lines in gales, of the beautiful sun-hardened faces of the crew–was new to me, too.

In particular, I recommend watching the last one. Not all of these people I met in person–my leg of the voyage unfortunately isn’t featured at all, because two months straight at sea proved too much for even the most intrepid documentarian. The focus here is on the shorter Antarctic  journeys and the Cape Horn voyage that took place before I boarded, as well as the trip from the Azores (where I got off) to Rotterdam. However you will see many of the crew members who were onboard my leg.

It’s also a chance for you to see some extremely familiar faces to me (without naming any names of course).

But I’m just going to say it–going back can be painful. The other day, the longing to go back was almost unbearable. Images flit through my brain: as if I were back sitting on the wooden deck box, the rain pattering on my face on midnight watch. Watching the sun rise out of the gray mist, the drowned world reformed anew each day.  Unfiltered sunlight on weathered rope. The flip of the tail of an Ascension blackfish. The drunken ecstasy of dancing in the middle of the world with people who, for that moment, at least, are beautiful, inside and out , and who think you are beautiful, too. I felt…blessed. And even though some of those good feelings eventually crumbled, as they always do, our community of pirates has dispersed and moved on, our connections broken or lost, their etchings remain on me, unerasable.

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What I’ve written on this blog and elsewhere has only scratched the surface of what it was really like. So few people get a chance to experience something that is so far removed from everday existence that it’s like almost literally traveling to another universe. I look around my house now and I have to pinch myself to remind me that it was actually real. How do you ever move on after that? How do you engage yourself in the normal rhythms of 21st century life? Honestly, I still haven’t quite figured it out. I’m not the same person as I was before that trip, and I don’t know if I ever will be.

This isn’t “an oh, wasn’t that a great trip.” It’s so far beyond that it scares me–the fact that it’s almost two years later and this longing is as powerful as ever. And the knowledge that I will never get that feeling back–and I may never do anything in my life that makes me feel that way again– sometimes scares me.  I can try to recreate it (I have tried to recreate it) but it would never be the same. I don’t want it to be the same.

All I can hope is that someday I’ll be able to do something again that will mean as much to me as this trip did, that I’ll be embraced by a group of people in the same way I was embraced by them. I had hopes that it would continue, that this could somehow be the new normal. But I was naive. But if it’s possible for anyone to simply run away to sea forever and never come back, I’ve yet to meet them. There are always obligations, always yokes, always links to land.

As 2015 comes to a close, I’m feeling reflective. The readers of this blog have helped me along the journey, and I am thankful for you, too! The chance to share my adventures with you is a true gift. I hope there are lot more adventures ahead of me, no matter what they may be, and I hope you’re along to experience them, too.

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In the New Year, I have big plans for this blog. The number one question I get when I tell people about my adventures is, how? How did you sail on a tall ship? And how can I do it too?

In 2016, I hope to do a post, or series of posts, that answers that question.

And still I keep dreaming.

11 ways to experience the maritime tradition on a trip to the Netherlands, part 2

During June and July, I finally made my first visit to the country whose strong maritime tradition resulted in my ocean voyage of last year. The first half of my post on the Netherlands can be found here.

7. HOORN

Henry Hudson's historic Half-Moon.

Henry Hudson’s historic Half-Moon.

I was astonished when I learned that this coastal village 30 km north of Amsterdam had given its name to the place that has struck fear in the hearts of generations of sailors. to the point where they get tattoos to commemorate their rounding of the cape off South America–if they survive at all.

In 1616, Willem Corneliszoon Schouten  first rounded the southernmost tip of South America. He named it Kaap Hoorn, aka Cape Horn. During the Dutch Golden Age, this was also the center of the Dutch East India company and the center of trade–basically, it was the crossroads of the world, long before other ports usurped it. This is a wooden ship lover’s paradise–you could walk around here for hours. The sheer number, and the uniqueness of the vessels on display, is just so far beyond anything you would find in the U.S. Here, a schooner incites awe wherever she goes, but this is just par for the course every day in Hoorn, where there people who actually live in schooners permanently anchored, and dinghy into work each day.

Oh Captain and I met some friendly sailors just hanging out on the quay, offering us a ride on their water taxi, which gives you a canal’s-eyes view of the Hoorn waterfront, and some champagne. Although we didn’t have time for the taxi, one of them also happened to be one of the crew members of the replica square-rigger Half Moon (Dutch: Halve Maen). This was the ship under command of Anglo-Dutch explorer Henry Hudson when he sailed into New York Harbor in 1639. It’s now on display in Hoorn as a partnership between Albany, New York’s New Netherland Museum and the Westfries Museum, and is available for public tour. Inside, it’s tricked out to look historical, with bear and beaver furs, sacks of grain, and replica cannons (but no gunpowder, which as our friend is explained, is illegal in the Netherlands, though not in the U.S.).

To get to Hoorn, there’s a bus route that runs back and forth from Amsterdam Central Station roughly every ten minutes, so it’s an easy side trip if you’re in the capital.

8. See Amsterdam Canal Tour 

The view from the canal--another canal tour!

The view from the canal–another canal tour!

This is sort of a no-brainer, but worth it, especially if you have an engaging–and cute!–tour guide. He, of ourse, was actually the same guy who offered me champagne in the marina in Hoorn (he told me which boat he’d be on the next day, and where). It’s a hop-on, hop-off tour–pay 22 Euros for a 24-hour pass and you can get off at the Anne Frank house, wait in line for the three hours it generally takes to get through the queue, and then get on again to continue your trip. You can also get off or on at Central Station, Leidsestraat, Museum District, and City Hall. I ended up stayed on for almost three go-rounds–by the time I was finished, the guide was handing me the mic and letting me give the tour!

For me, the highlights were the view of the curch steeple where the ladies used to watch for their young men who went to sea (swoon, so romantic!) and the hundreds of canal boats that used to haul cargo on the waterways, but that have now been converted to the most popular real estate in Amsterdam.

9. Scheveningen, The Hague

The world championships of beach volleyball were going on while i was there.

The world championships of beach volleyball were going on while i was there.

This may not be the end of the world, but it feels like the end of the Netherlands. A former fishing village turned Belle Epoque bathing resort, it’s technically a district of The Hague. There’s also a popular piano bar on the beach there, Crazy Pianos, though unfortunately, we didn’t get there in time to see the pianist. But luckily, on a beautiful summer night in late June, you can watch beach volleyball players and surfers–yes, surfers! in Holland!–and feel like you’re somewhere very far away from home indeed.

Of course, my friend and I had to test the water, which was, of course, freezing–shattering my illusions that I had magically been transported back to the South Atlantic. But you can still enjoy a beer or five and a fresh seafood meal, and delight in the knowledge that you’re enjoying this country at its summery best.

The Hague (like every Dutch city) is delightfully compact, so it’s not hard to get to from wherever you’re staying–just walk toward the water, look for the Grand Hotel, and you’re bound to find it.

10. PANORAMA MESDAG, The Hague 

One angle of the Panorama Mesdag.

One angle of the Panorama Mesdag.

When Oh Captain first told me about this; I had no idea what I was about to see. When I arrived, the guide gave me a free audio tour and told me to hang around in the lobby long enough for the big group that just went up to see the panorma to disperse. Downstairs, the museum is a remarkable introduction to 19th-century The Hague school of painting, which was founded by Hendrik Mesdag. He specialized in moody, dark-toned scenes of rumpled fishermen and their wind-powered vessels, which had to be towed upon to the beach by horses (more of these paintings can be viewed in the Rijksmuseum (below), and reveal a bygone way of life. Sadly, none of these boats seem to exist anymore–except for the ones converted into houseboats in Amsterdam.

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An example of a Hague School painting.

As I made my way up the rickety wooden staircase, I noticed light filtering in from the canvas, changing the view depending on what the weather is like outside. Sanding inside, turning around in this 360-degree canvas, which Mesdag completed with the help of his wife, in 1881, you genuinely feel like you’ve trudged up a sand dune and emerged in 1881. It’s like seeing all of Scheveningen laid out before you–bathing machines on one side, fishing boats on the other, evoking a bygone time.

11. The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Prins Willem, who sailed from Middelburg to the East Indies in 1651.

The Prins Willem, who sailed from Middelburg to the East Indies in 1651.

After you see the Night’s Watch, the cavernous Rijksmusem holds numerous treasures for the ship geek. I was staying only a few blocks away from the Museum District with another friend (ship friends are more valuable then you could ever imagine!). I enjoyed seeing the ship’s model of the Prins Willem, and treasures from the Dutch colonial period.

The hats of the unfortunate frozen whalers.

The hats of the unfortunate frozen whalers.

Most poignant was the rather grisly display of knit caps that were worn by a 17th-century whaling crew who froze to death in Spitsbergen, identified only by the patterns thereon–both in life and in death. Like the “weeping tower,” it reminds me constantly that unlike today, sailing wasn’t all fun and games. The jolly bold sailors of the past (and their women) paid a steep price for following the wind and earning their coin. But they did it anyway, and that’s why we love them.

11 ways to experience the maritime tradition on a trip to the Netherlands, part 1

By the time I debarked from my two-month tall ship journey, not only did I know how to belay, sew sails, and polish brass, I had a healthy curiosity about the Dutch–this strange, tall seafaring race that taught me how to do all of that stuff. It was weird that I’d spent two months learning about this culture, but had never actually visited the country.

Last month, I remedied that. Word somehow got around that I was in the country, and my trip was soon full with reunions with shipmates-turned-friends-for-life, beer and gossip flowing, and (just like on the ship) plenty of tears (long story, but what can I say? The sea, even the memory of the sea, makes me emotional). Oh Captain, My Captain was on hand to squire me around, introduce me to virtually everyone in the country ever associated with ships, and show me a few spots I never would have found on my own.

That aside, if you’re just there to take in the sights (probably a safer option), you don’t have to go far–from the canals to the museum art, the sea is never far.

1. THE NATIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM, Amsterdam

Exterior of the National Maritime Museum (Het Scheepvartmuseum).

Exterior of the National Maritime Museum (Het Scheepvartmuseum), with the ship Amsterdam visible.

Of the two maritime museums I visited in the Netherlands, this was my favorite. Het Scheepvartmuseum, as it’s known, is located in a formal naval storehouse constructed in 1636, and you can tour the replica of the 18th-century East Indiaman Amsterdam. The audio tours are free!

It also has a first edition of Maximilian Transylvanus’ work, De Moluccis Insulis, which described Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage around the world.

My favorite was the starlit navigation room, which had old-fashioned astrolabes and compasses, and reminded me of long, cloudless nights at sea, searching for constellations like Scorpio and the Southern Cross.

2. MUSEUMHAVEN, Amsterdam

One of the Museumhaven's grand dames.

One of the Museumhaven’s grand dames.

If you’re traveling with a kid, you might be on your way to the science museum Nemo, a truly astonishing feat of engineering sticking out from the Oosterdok area. But on the way, you can check out the Museumhaven, a little piece of (free!) ship geek heaven. Long gone are the days when sailing ships transported freight along the inland waterways, and if you travel the canals, you can see what happened to a lot of them. But the ships here still have their masts attached and give you a glimpse of the way things used to be, as they wait to be restored to their former glory. You can stop and read the placards about all of them.

3. THE FERRY, Amsterdam

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The view of Amsterdam across the river IJ, with cruise ship.

Another awesome free way to get a sailor’s-eye view of Amsterdam. The ferries are free and leave frequently just north of Central Station, are often packed with pedestrians, cyclists and motorbikes. There’s not a whole lot to see in Noord, separated as it is from the rest of Amsterdam by the river IJ. But what more do you need than to sit on the bench, admire the Amsterdam skyline, and watch the ships go by? When I was there, a gigantic passenger ship was blocking part of the view–just a sign that Amsterdam is regaining its place as a cruise destination. There’s a conveniently placed bar there, too–you’re never too far from a place to drink a beer in Amsterdam.

4. MARITIME MUSEUM, Rotterdam

The view from the museum harbor.

The view from the museum harbor.

The whole city is like a living maritime museum exhibit, given that it was the world’s largest port for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, you won’t see the working port if you stay within the city center. However, you can experience the historical part of it by visiting the Maritime Museum (just don’t go when there’s a birthday party going on, yikes!), which is located just a few blocks from Central Station. The focal point is the museum harbor outside, where you can tour a grain elevator and any other ship that happens to be open at the time–which isn’t always easy to tell.

Grain elevator you can go onboard and tour.

Grain elevator you can go onboard and tour.

5. Offices of Rederij Bark Europa and Oosterschelde, Rotterdam

Of course, this won’t mean as much to someone who, like me, didn’t spend two months on one of these ships, but since I did, it was like visiting an old friend. The ships themselves weren’t there–the Oosterschelde was spending the summer cruising in Norway. But I did get to see sister ship the Helena–which met the Oosterschelde when it returned to Rotterdam from its circumnavigation. Plus, their office is on a boat, and it’s right in the museum harbor, so you don’t have to make another trip.

Knock knock! Anyone home?

Knock knock! Anyone home?

Warning: Don’t bother with buying a water taxi ticket in the museum. I waited in line for 30 minutes only to have my spot taken by a bunch of rowdy schoolkids and their teacher (getting on the boat with hem would have been fairly close to my personal definition of hell, so I didn’t even try). Instead, wait for the other water taxi (below). It won’t take long, promise!

Anchors aweigh.

Anchors aweigh.

6. Water Taxi and Hotel New York, Rotterdam

The view from the Rotterdam water taxi.

The view from the Rotterdam water taxi.

The water taxi delivers you to the very Art Deco Hotel New York. It’s a short ride and the cool breeze of the harbor feels incredible, especially if you happen to be there, like I was, during the biggest heat wave to hit Europe in a long time. No ticket required–you can pay cash to the taxi “driver,” and one leaves just about every few minutes. “You come back, there’s a boat,” as the guy put it .

Enjoying the summer heat wave in front of the hotel.

Enjoying the summer heat wave in front of the hotel.

Plus you get to see the Hotel New York, former HQ of the Holland America Line, which is only accessible this way. Supposedly there’s a great view from the top, but I couldn’t find the way up. I was on my way to Brussels so I had to keep to my schedule, but I would have loved to linger here longer and have a drink. Plenty of others were!

Hotel New York

Hotel New York

To be continued…

Into the blue

All right, you guys, this is it. On Saturday I leave to cross the Atlantic Ocean not 1, not 2, but THREE TIMES in two months. Needless to say, internet access is nonexistent at sea, but the Oosterschelde blog, via satellite, will help fill the gap left by my absence. The crew takes turns writing posts. If you’re at all interested in this pirate insanity, I urge you to follow along!

Now, deep breath. Here’s the sked. As a quirk of the flight I booked, I fly to Madrid first.

Followed by a couple days couchsurfing and tangoing in sunny Buenos Aires.

Not me (yet).

Before I jet again to the End of the World, where I’ll just have enough time to visit Tierra del Fuego. No, Dad, it’s not just a punchline.

There’s a bar here, too.

Before meeting my shipmates (I’ve already “met” one, hi Lotte!) and setting sail on the Oosterschelde.

The seas won’t always be this calm.

From there, it’s all water for a long, long time–up through the tradewinds, the horse latitudes, then the tropics, then the whole thing over again in reverse. This takes roughly 60 days.

See?

On the itinerary, I’m hoping, is a tiny little rock in the Atlantic called Ascension Island. I guess it’s controlled by the British, but I’m pretty sure they’ve forgotten it exists by now, along with its sister St. Helena, the “cursed rock” where Napoleon was marooned and eventually died. This is the kind of place you can tell people you’ve visited, and they go, “huh?” (I like that kind of thing).

No, this is not a joke. There’s really land out there.

Until we reach Horta, Faial, Azores, a port that transatlantic sailors have used for centuries, leaving murals on the sea wall. Dolphins and whales, too!

Every one of these represents a different ship!

Conveniently, I can’t catch a flight back to the states until April 18, which gives me enough time to island hop through to Pico.

and the largest island (another flight), Sao Miguel.

Before catching my ridiculously convoluted flight back to Boston, then Minneapolis via Seattle (no that’s not a typo).

Hell, yes, I’m scared. I’ve traveled a lot, but no matter what, jetting off alone (and for me, it’s almost always alone) in the great unknown never gets easier. But I won’t stop doing it.

I’m crazy like that. I’d pretty much have to be.

Buy this book (no, not mine)!

Even at sea, there’s no escape from cops behaving badly, I guess.

Packed with photos from the Oosterschelde’s 18-month voyage from the Netherlands to New Zealand and back again, this book in cooperation with Elastik.Concepts will be published in June 2014. (And yes, I promise to try to photobomb as much as possible, so maybe I’ll be in it!)

Order now and pay € 17,50 (excluding shipping costs) instead of € 22,50. Send an e-mail with subject ‘pre-order book’ to info@oosterschelde.nl with your name, address and telephone number.

Sending out an S.O.S.

Are you following the Oosterschelde blog? I am, and you should, if only to figure out how a crew of 28 diverse people manage to amuse themselves for over a month with no land in sight! As they move closer and closer to Cape Horn, the latest of which has proved the classic Message in a Bottle:

The text of the message.

Stay tuned to see who finds it (granted, it may take a while)!

Those are some seriously high seas for that little bottle to take on.

Through the tradewinds

The Horse Latitudes? The Roaring Forties? Ushu…usha…what? In case you were wondering exactly just where I’ll be sailing come February, here’s a helpful map from my friends at the Oosterschelde to get you started:

My route (Oosterschelde) is in purple. My leg is from Ushuaia, Argentina at the tip of South America, up through the South Atlantic and over the Equator, and debarking in Horta, Azores in the middle of the North Atlantic. (How am I getting home from there? Don’t ask).

My ports of call will span the major weather systems and the most storied trade routes, traveled from everyone from pirates and the King’s Navy. Over the next few months, my posts will take more in-depth look at some of the stops! Hop aboard!

Want to sail to Alaska on the Pacific Grace? Of course you do!

Alaskan Glacier ~ Photo by James Warburton

Yesterday, I was excited to receive this exciting dispatch from SALTS, the extraordinary Victoria, B.C.-based sail training organization with whom I took my first (and second) tall-ship voyage:

NEW FOR 2014 – Summer trip routes will include:
A 10-day trip from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert with exploration in the coastal region of the Great Bear Rainforest,
A 22-day trip from Prince Rupert, into southern Alaska to view calving glaciers and wildlife, and then to remote Haida Gwaii, with final disembarkation in Port Hardy,

A 10-day trip from Port Hardy along the west coast to Victoria, and
SALTS much-loved traditional five 10-day trips that in total circumnavigate Vancouver Island.

IMPORTANT DATE – Registration for summer 2014 trips will open on:

Monday, October 28, 2013 at 8:30am PDT at www.salts.ca.

Berths are available for young people age 13 – 25. No experience is necessary. Voyages fill up quickly (one trip filled up in 11 minutes last year), and once full, a waitlist is taken.

If you’re a youngster (which I, sadly, am no longer) and have any interest in learning to sail tall ships, I recommend you do everything possible TO GET ON ONE OF THESE VOYAGES! This is the first time in recent history (correct me if I’m wrong) either the Pacific Swift or the Pacific Grace has left the vicinity of Vancouver Island for a summer trip. Just think: twenty-two days of discovery–that’s swimming, fishing, exploring, whale-spotting, and of course, sailing–in Alaska is too exciting to pass up! (Can you tell I’m jealous of whoever gets to go?)