Back in 2007 I was involved in setting up a radical sailing collective called Learning the Ropes. About a dozen of us put some money in a kitty and in March 2008 we bought a 22 ft Kestral called Mary for £700 which came on a mooring in Exmouth. I have sailed in her three times and I reported on two of the trips in the Learning the Ropes Blog. The basic idea of the collective is to share knowledge and gain experience on a small boat with the aim of getting more people and money together to buy something much bigger which could then be used as a means of sustainable transport by the collective and a vehicle for promoting social and environmental justice. There is a lot of overlap in terms of both membership and philosophy between Learning the Ropes and Bicycology, another collective which I have been involved with since it formed in 2005. On the last weekend of July a crew of four sailed Mary down the coast to Brixham to visit the brigantine Tres Hombres. Apparently the crew of Mary were welcomed on board by the very hospitable crew of the much larger (32 m) Tres Hombres and some inspiring discussions were had about sustainable transport, lubricated no doubt by a bottle of something from the 35 ton capacity cargo hold. It is a bit of a trek to Exmouth for me and I was busy so I didn’t go but I learned that Tres Hombres would be visiting Great Yarmouth for the Maritime Festival and decided to see her there. In the meantime I enjoyed looking at these photos taken in Brixham.
I hadn’t used my motorbike much this year so I decided to give it a run and set off on Friday afternoon for an uneventful 100 mile ride to Norwich where I had arranged to stay with a friend. When I got there she phoned a friend of hers who was also interested in going to the festival with her grandson, so on Saturday morning four of us set off for Great Yarmouth by car. It was only about 20 miles and we had no trouble parking fairly close to the South Quay so we arrived at the festival reasonably early.
Paying £3 and getting your hand stamped entitled you to go aboard both visiting sailing ships multiple times, and we started with Tres Hombres. I spoke to a Danish crew member called Ivan and asked if he had been onboard when my friends visited in Brixham but he hadn’t and he didn’t think anyone else there had been either. I had a good chat with him anyway and he pointed out some interesting features like the windlass for raising the anchor and the recently installed figurehead. Some cargo items were laid out for sale on deck and it is not often you get the chance to buy stuff transported from Barbados by sail so I bought a bottle of hot pepper sauce and one of something I had never heard of called Mauby syrup (which is diluted to form an interestingly flavoured drink). I notice from the festival programme that the Tres Hombres was towed into port by the local RNLI. Does that imply she has no engine? I know that much bigger ships obviously used to manage without engines but these days most people seem to think it is foolish not to have one even on a boat as small as Mary. I have just looked at the specifications and they don’t mention anything about an engine, though in addition to two wind generators and a towing generator (presumably a water turbine on the end of a rope that you toss overboard) there is a 6 kw diesel generator fed from a 750 litre bio-diesel tank. Another thing I forgot to ask about was the age of the vessel. I thought she might be quite old but in fact she was built recently as a prototype vessel for pioneering modern sailing cargo transport and first put to sea in 2009. The main drivers of a return to sail would be rising fuel costs and the threat of climate change, and with the advent of satellite communication, global positioning systems, accurate global wind forecasting and the computing power to automate passage planning, it has become more practical than ever before. The more I learn about Tres Hombres the more I see it as a genuinely significant cutting-edge project (though I am sure there are plenty of other people working towards a similar vision). Just as I was about to go back on dry land a woman caught my attention and it turned out she was one of the Learning the Ropes crew who had visited Tres Hombres in Brixham. She was helping on board and will be on the way to Rotterdam now.
OK, that is enough about Tres Hombres. We also went aboard Mercedes, an even bigger 50 m brig (a brig and a brigantine are both twin masted sailing vessels but whereas on a brig both masts are square rigged, on a brigantine only the forward mast is). There couldn’t be much more of a contrast between the two vessels. Mercedes is a modern steel hulled sailing vessel equipped with a fairly luxurious lounge, bar and restaurant. She can take 140 passengers on day/evening cruises and, being longer, has a higher maximum speed than Tres Hombres (16 knots as opposed to 12). Mercedes does have an engine, an 800 hp unit which gives her a maximum speed under engine of 12 knots.
There was one other vessel that visitors could go aboard, Lydia Eva, the last steam drifter to be built at Kings Lynn boat yard. If we had stayed longer I would have had a look but despite my engineering background she did not interest me nearly as much as the sailing vessels. Apart from the ships there was also maritime music and I enjoyed listening to a number of groups performing shanties and other nautical songs. We had only paid for four hours parking so we had to leave just as the South Quay started getting crowded. After a fairly cool morning the temperature was rising and the sun even threatened to break through so after a late lunch back in Norwich I set off on the ride home. Well worth the trip I would say.