Sailing Under Square Sails



Love your life on the blue planet.
Expand your horizons, be spontaneous, learn something new. Like sailing - summer holidays are the perfect time to master the art of catching the wind!

Join Sam on her first ever sailing experience across the Atlantic Ocean on a traditional square-rigger.

“You’ll rip the flamin’ t’gallants off!’ yelled the first mate, startling me out of a dream-like euphoria induced by the elemental powers of raging winds and heaving seas. I hastily swung a few spokes to starboard, and gradually the ship came to course, easing the strain on the rigging and topgallant sails.

Captain Cook cloaked in darkness
The Milky Way snaked above the towering sails, with the Southern Cross directly aft. Cloaked in darkness, the silhouettes of my watch mates had become the intrepid sailors who had sailed with Captain Cook two centuries ago on their voyage of discovery. The mate’s urgent cry, and the raw physical effort required to ‘luf up’, which is to bring the ship to windward, tore me out of my mind's wanderings.

At midnight, the ongoing watch took over and I gratefully hoisted myself into my hammock, feeling cold and exhausted. Finally, the realisation that I was at sea gripped me as I lay in my swinging hammock listening to the creaking of the ship and the peaceful snores of sleeping crew.

I leave the Tavern of the Seas in a hull of gleaming Oregon
I fell under Endeavours spell when she sailed into Cape Town. She was a hive of noise and activity as the robust, tanned crew were furling her twenty six sails up in the rigging. With her hull of gleaming Oregon, freshly tarred rigging, and immaculately painted surfaces, she is aesthetically pleasing and as magnificent under full sail. I was smitten! A generous invitation resulted in me 'jumping the pier head', instantaneously bound for the Canary Islands. We left the Tavern of the Seas in grand style with the ship’s cannons blazing and doing over nine knots, sped by a gusting South-Easter that enfolded Table Mountain with cloud.

It took a few days before we landlubbers fell into the routine of a ‘ruffy tuffy’ sailor. Apart from helming and sail handling, we were kept busy scrubbing, polishing, tarring, and tallowing, gradually mastering the traditional skills required for maintaining a square-rigger. In between such duties, we revelled in the simple pleasures of reading, playing chess, quiet reflection and friendly chitchat.

Glowing dolphins on my night watch
Schools of dolphin would race up to us from the horizon, attracted by our bow-wave, performing spectacular leaps whilst riding the bow. The seemingly endless feats of the flying fish amazed us, and there was great excitement when we passed whales, a Leatherback turtle, a Manta ray and huge schools of hammerhead sharks. At night, whilst on bow watch, we were entranced by an array of kaleidoscopic colours caused by phosphorescence stirred up by the plunging bow, and by dolphins playing beneath its moving waters.

Days and nights merged and the temperature dropped daily as we climbed the northern latitudes. Each evening, more of the Northern sky would be revealed, the Big Dipper and Polaris now shining brightly, with the Southern Cross lost below the horizon. Cool, dry winds from the northeast blew Sahara sandstorm dust upon us, producing vivid sunsets and coating every exposed surface.

The odyssey ends in high spirits and a heavy heart
Tenerife was my last port of call. The two months of my odyssey had passed all too quickly. I stuffed my tar-stained clothes and sleeping bag, stiff from salt, into my rucksack with heavy heart. I was going to miss the cheerful jibes of my new-found mates, the wind in my hair, climbing up the rigging as the ship plunged and rolled, and the sight of the vast expanse of ocean from aloft. Standing alone on the deserted pier, watching Endeavour sailing north upon a shimmering path of morning light, my spirit felt similarly free and enriched.

Want to be a sailor? Have mega fun and master the art of catching the wind before venturing into blue water. Courses on offer for land lubbers range from ‘competent crew’ where you can become a useful deckhand to the ‘Zero to Hero’ courses where you go on a crash course to become a qualified skipper.
Check out these useful links:
"I have a sea rescue emergency..." Call the NSRI on 082-911
Before you venture out to sea on anything that floats check out the NSRI Safety Tips
South African Sailing Academy
Inland sailing - Pretoria (Tshwane) Sailing Club and Benoni Sailing Club
Durban - Professional Yachtmaster Training
Port Elizabeth - Algoa Bay Yacht Club
Cape Town - Ocean Sailing Academy, Good Hope Sailing Academy, Yachtmaster Ocean Sailing School, Capital Sailing.
Langebaan - Atlantic Yachting Sailing School & RYA Training Centre
Get inspired! Check out Izivunguvungu, which means “sudden strong wind” in Isizulu. This cool sailing school for underprivileged kids was started by Olympian sailor, Ian Ainslee in Simon's Town - these "lighties" are on fire!

Where can I sling my hammock? Swing into a cabin in Langebaan, near the harbour in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth or Durban. If you're after a bit of fresh water sailing then bunk down in Hartbeespoort Dam or Pretoria.

Text: Samantha Black
Photos: Girls - ©Richard Dennison, Endeavour - Samantha Black

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