Thursday, 1 December, back in Hamburg

The water stretched out in front of me is no longer the wide ocean, only the inner-city lake in Hamburg. Still, even two days later at my desk after my trip on the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT, I can feel the rhythm of the rocking waves. It’s not an unpleasant feeling – it happens every time I take my own boat on a sailing trip up to the Baltic Sea. But this time, it’s special. Like an echo of the distant Atlantic reverberating in me. Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three – slowly my desk rises and falls in the same gentle rhythm. For fifteen days, my waking life was led by the rhythm of the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT. So deeply relaxing in an equally relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by a crew and guests who were just as relaxed. Sixteen nations were peacefully united on one boat.

That rocking feeling might come from my habit of blogging on unsteady seas. The fact that it ended last Friday earlier than planned with edition 13 was not because broadcast options were unsteady. Smoke was detected on board and a small fire, so Capt Heiner Eilers decided, along with the shipping company, to haul in all the masts and turn on the motor for the last miles on course for St. Maarten. On high seas and the SEA CLOUDs in particular, safety is the highest principle.

It wasn’t a huge deal. But during that brief moment when it wasn’t clear what was going on, the entire crew’s prudence, commitment and professionality showed through, as if under a microscope, like it did every day during my stay on the ship. The crew calls itself “the family” – and the family encompasses well and truly everything, from the machine room to the laundry, housekeeping to the kitchen, the reception, spa area, restaurant and bar, all the way to the deckhands, the officers on the bridge, and the captain. These people made the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT’s Atlantic maiden voyage as unforgettable as the once-in-a-lifetime experience of crossing the ocean by sailboat. The heart of the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT beats in time with the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. And the soul of this unique tall ship shows through in its crew. Respect!

Day 13: Atlantic Ocean, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

Daring figures, fearsome characters – the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT has fallen into the hands of pirates. Okay, to be more precise, the buccaneers didn’t actually board the ship from the outside but came from the crew area and quickly found supporters among the guests. With their shanty choir, the crew really went all out this time. Not only in their imaginative masquerade as pirates, but also with their music. The captivating cheerfulness of the crew had its consequences – for an entire evening, the chic windjammer turned into a pirate’s nest, raucous and full of fun. Once again, the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT showed that it has true class and takes a completely different approach than conventional cruise ships. On those, such events are staged for the guests – on board our tall ship, however, guests and crew celebrate together. On a windjammer under full sail, in the midst of the Atlantic, and not a soul within hundreds of kilometers – can there be anything more fabulous?

Day 12: Atlantic Ocean, N 20° 29.1′ W 049°43.0′, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

First one, then two, then three and four … The number of guests on the Sea Cloud Spirit is increasing – and that more than 700 miles from our destination. In the middle of the Atlantic, nearly a dozen sea herons [SHy1] have joined the ship. At first, individual animals were spotted. To the dismay of the crew (who keep the deck meticulously clean), two of these birds, about 60 centimeters high, had settled in comfortably on the sundeck overnight. And somehow, word seems to have gotten around. Shortly before noon, nine more birds curved in. Where are they coming from? Where are they headed? The birds couldn’t care less about giving us answers. The spectacle is part of the diverse sights and impressions around us. We are approaching the Caribbean. Occasionally, a tropical rain pelts down on us. Not that it would disturb anyone. Within minutes, the sun is shining again with temperatures just below 30°C. What will we see next? Whales and dolphins are probably on everyone’s bucket list. There were already some hints – dark backs, white fountains shooting up in the distance. Or was it just waves shimmering around us in all the shades of blue in the world? The next few days will tell. Hopes are rising …

Day 11: Atlantic Ocean, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

They are always friendly, helpful, and cheerful – day after day, the crew members of the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT contribute to the wonderfully relaxed atmosphere on the windjammer. During the Atlantic crossing, they are outdoing themselves. Their latest surprise coup: Last night, the crew band played for the guests. The quintet of Filipino crew members was born on a (good) whim. They regularly meet in the mess hall on the crew deck to practice. And now, greeted with much applause, the on-board pop group celebrated its premiere. Choosing the Sinatra classic “My Way” as the song to start the concert with, could become the motto of this voyage. To cross the Atlantic on the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT, to be alone on the ocean within a radius of many 100 miles, to glide under sail towards our destination – that is truly “my way”: An individual, very personal course towards deceleration, an expedition to discover the benefits of slowing down – that has everything a classic needs.

Day 10: Atlantic Ocean, N 20° 28,0‘ W 042°34,0, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

Neptune came by. Together with his consort, the sea god boarded the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT exactly halfway through the Atlantic crossing. Everyone who travels through the realm of the ruler of ocean waves, radio waves and microwaves must submit to his power. The ritual looks martial – but is pretty much the biggest and funniest event of the trip, especially for the crew. Cleaned with scrubbing brushes and soap, thereafter kissing the feet of the ruler’s wife, baptized with sake by Neptune himself, submerged under a large water hose, once shampooed with eggs, and then finally accepted into the people of Atlantic dwellers – children’s shiny eyes at Christmas are nothing compared to the enthusiasm especially of the crew members. Only Captain Heiner Eilers got off more or less lightly – in contrast to his officers. In exchange for the promise of free beer for the crew, he even got his ship’s key back at the end of the ceremony…

Day 9: Atlantic Ocean, N 19°49,3‘ W 039°25,3, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

Halftime celebration on the Atlantic. The SEA CLOUD SPIRIT has completed half the distance from Las Palmas to Philippsburg. 1300 nautical miles under sail lie behind us, 1300 nautical miles ahead of us. Bob Marley is playing from the loudspeakers on the Lido deck. “Cause every little thing gonna be alright.” Captain Heiner Eilers has just taken stock with noticeable – and justified – pride. Since he commanded “full sail” last Monday, he has only run the engines for support on two nights. Otherwise, we are solely driven by the wind. Okay, we veered off course by about 60 miles; but on the weather map the captain and avid sailor had spotted an elongated wind field with the northeast trade wind blowing at 6 to 7 Beaufort, bringing us to a steady speed of about 9.5 knots. Pure sailing. The typical trade wind clouds are forming in the sky. Their western side is blown out by the wind showing us the way towards the Caribbean. We cross downwind, which only happens on square rigged sailboats. If the air current came directly from astern, the sails of the cross mast (at the stern) would literally take the wind out of the sails of the main mast in the middle of the ship and the foremast at the bow. For this reason, the yards are set at a slight angle – “bracing” is when the yard nock (the outer tip) on one side points further forward than the one on the other side. In order not to drift too far from the course, the yards have to be “shifted” every few hours, i.e. turned to the other side. This morning a bird made its rounds around the masts as if to check the correct position of the sails. It was probably a Cory’s shearwater, a species native only to the Atlantic Ocean. For this afternoon more visitors have been announced: Neptune and his three mermaids will baptize the newcomers to the Atlantic and welcome them into the circle of “blue water sailors.” Until then, Bob Marley and his music will keep the guests company.

Day 8: N 23°27.2′ W 033°005.5′, Atlantic Ocean, about 360 miles south of Cape Verde Islands

The Sea Cloud Spirit is heading west at 9.1 knots (approx. 10.4 mph). She is still 1,682 nautical miles (nm) – about 1,936 miles – away from her destination. Nevertheless, it is already apparent that we are getting closer to the Caribbean. The water temperature is 77.5°F; the air temperature is 79°F. For the first time, flying fish have circled the ship. They are slightly larger than swallows. Completely unexpectedly, a school of them rises from the tides; flies about five yards just above the waves and then plunges back into the water. The fish are fast, no chance to take pictures of them. Meanwhile, on board life has fallen into its usual routine. With patience and his typical good humor, boatswain Martin Pacatang, the head of the deck crew, holds a knot tying course for the guests. Knotting a bowline, i.e. a tight round sling, with one hand? For Martin, that’s no problem. To the layman, it looks like magic. But Martin explains to the guests that it is simply a matter of knowledge and skill. However, this is not the only reason why the Filipino is one of the guests’ favorites: His calm manner, his constant attentiveness, and the way he leads the deckhands – that’s what inspires confidence, especially with regard to safety on board. And on top of that, with his unshakable friendly smile Martin creates a good atmosphere out here on the Atlantic. Both among the guests and with the crew.

Day 7: Atlantic Ocean, an board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

Isn’t it boring to sit on the ship all day and not see any land for 14 days? That’s pretty much the most common question the guests heard from friends and relatives back home before the start of the Atlantic crossing. The answer is an unequivocal NO. Right around the clock, there is always something to do or see. Some fellow travelers have just spotted flying fish. Others are already on their second or third book on the sixth day at sea. And those who really want to do something other than relax – do sports. The fitness center on the sundeck is busy already, first thing in the morning. Shortly after sunrise, runners and walkers populate the promenade that leads once around the ship on the Lido deck. The length of the track is 150 yards times two – and completing it several times a day is an excellent idea. What was Captain Heiner Eilers’ warning to his guests on the very first day of the voyage? He said: “Chef Marjan Dressler is the most dangerous man on board.” From breakfast over lunch to dinner, and then on to the late-night snack at the bar, he and his team fire one attack after the next on the travelers’ waistline. But let’s be honest: Who could resist when chefs Pavle and Ramonn offer freshly roasted duck and delicious grilled monkfish as well as a wide variety of salads, soups and magnificent desserts on the sun deck? In the end, the only thing that helps is exercise and more exercise. Unless one is wise like the captain. How he had prepared for the Atlantic voyage, a female passenger wanted to know. Heiner Eilers’ answer: “I’ve been dieting.”

Day 6: Atlantic Ocean, N 23°06.2′ W 030°04.6′, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

The SEA CLOUD SPIRIT pushes westward across the Atlantic at an average of 6 knots – not quite 7 mph. The sound of the waves rushing past the hull suggests a much higher speed than the unhurried bicycle pace at which we are rolling toward the Caribbean. Rolling is the right term in a figurative sense – at sea, rolling means that the ship leans a little to the sides in the swell and then straightens up again at a leisurely pace. Being gently rocked just like in a cradle determines the wonderful rhythm of life on the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT – from the beautiful sunrise under sail to the picturesque sundowner, the passengers obviously enjoy every minute. However, it is also thanks to the many people in the background who look after the well-being of the guests that life on board is so relaxed and restful. Since March for instance, Ronald and the other members of the seven-man team from the Philippines have been keeping the cabins impeccable several times a day; and the group, led by Reynaldo Hamili, will not return home until the end of January. But for all of them, one thing is certain: “We’ll be back.” 

Day 5: Atlantic Ocean, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

The shipboard routine sets in. That’s what they call it on sailing ships when life takes on a fixed rhythm and things take their usual course. On deck at sunrise, walk a few laps around the ship, early morning exercise, breakfast, and then on to the sun deck. Shipboard routine has nothing to do with boredom. The rhythm of life is determined by the Atlantic swell. 21,22,23 – for three seconds the wave slowly lifts the ship; 24,25,26 – just as slowly it sinks back into the wave trough. The beat seems to correspond to human nature, relaxation spreads across the ship. Reading, looking out over the water, enjoying the blue sky, reveling day and night in the now summery warmth. Pure release. Entertainment is offered to those who are interested. Chef Marjan Dressler has just taken a small group of guests on a tour of his domain. The smells are enticing. At noon there will be a barbecue buffet; in the evening roast goose will be served; the birds are currently braising at low temperature in the convector. The kitchen crew on board is a small troupe that obviously knows how to work magic. “What’s so special and a big difference to the large cruise ships is that I’m given free reign here,” says Marjan Dressler. The menu is not determined by the concept of the distant shipping company headquarters: “Here, only the taste and the reaction of the guests count,” emphasizes Marjan Dressler. That corresponds to what’s most frequently heard on board: the wish expressed again and again by the crew with a friendly smile for the guests: “Enjoy!”

Day 4: Atlantic Ocean, N 22° 53,1’ W 024°1’47, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

What an impressive sunrise. Early risers on the Sea Cloud Spirit are rewarded every morning with a new spectacle in the sky, always different. When you then look at the crew of this unique ship, the radiant events in the sky take on the symbolic meaning of a glimmer of hope. 81 people currently work in the crew. They come from 16 nations – and get along splendidly with each other. No matter whom you ask of the crew members about the reasons for this fantastic team spirit, the answer is always the same: “We’re a family.” In a family, you stand by everyone in the circle and, as a matter of course, also by your guests. This includes giving the on-board safety an extremely high priority. Even though some of the crew have been on board for many months, there is a new major safety exercise on every voyage, the so-called “crew drill”. As seriously as everyone takes this program, there’s always also a bit of fun: “Aren’t they cute, our Teletubbies?” was the comment from the crew when three deckhands slipped on the survival suits. It looked really funny when they hopped across the deck and practiced squats. But that’s what it’s like on a ship where the overriding motto is “Safety first.” 

Day 3: Atlantic Ocean, N 24° 20,0‘ W 020°03,6‘, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

This is it! All sails are hoisted, the course is set. 2,600 nautical miles lie ahead of us. At 10 a.m. UTC  (11 a.m. Central European Time), Captain Heiner Eilers had the crew hoist all the cloth the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT has to offer. After the first 350 nautical miles, which the ship had to cover under motor due to lack of wind, the northeast trade wind has now set in and is blowing constantly from the north-northeast at 4 to 5 Beaufort. Just as it once took Columbus to the New World, it now carries us towards Philipsburg/St. Maarten. Our course is roughly 261°; for the next fortnight we will follow it diligently sailing “straight ahead.“ The instant when the captain had the engines stopped was magical. Alone on the wide ocean. Gently rocked by the long and peaceful Atlantic swell. Ever since the sails have been billowing in the warm trade winds, eyes are shining among the guests and crew alike. This is the moment everyone has been dreaming of, waiting for. The “Crossing“, the “Trax“ – or whatever you want to call this extraordinary journey – has begun. When will we arrive in Philipsburg? Doesn’t matter. When did we leave? Already forgotten. What did you do yesterday? No longer important. What will you do today? The same as tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that: Relish, savor and enjoy!

Day 2: Atlantic Ocean, N 026°32‘ W 16°57‘, on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

Bye bye, Las Palmas. Around two o’clock in the morning, the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT set course for the Atlantic. Elegantly, Captain Heiner Eilers had steered his ship backwards away from the pier and in a wide arc out of the harbor. Only just before, the last two guests had come aboard after a flight delay. Despite the late – or rather, early – hour, they were greeted in style with champagne by bartender Fabian – chapeau, what a commitment! Whoever was back on deck to see the sun rise shortly after seven in the morning, was rewarded with early-bird breakfast and an impressively beautiful sunrise. A glowing balloon rising from an endless expanse – why are such spectacular moments only to be had at sea? A day that starts like that can only be good. Our ship is still heading south. The idea is to get as close as possible to the northeast trade wind, the captain explained in the morning. It would actually make sense to run under motor for a while longer. But at noon comes the surprise: We are setting sail! A great maneuver by the crew, who despite all their hard work still have time for a friendly smile and a photo. Maybe the sails will have to be taken down again overnight. But then, the word will be: Under sail off to the Caribbean. Our course is set. 

Day 1: Las Palmas/Gran Canaria, on Bord the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT

A welcoming glass of champagne served by bartender Hauke. The obligatory maritime distress drill, perfectly explained and accompanied by cruise director Sabine and chief mate Daniel. And the incomparable feeling of standing under the high rigging of the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT that, brightly illuminated, that seems to touch the dark sky over Las Palmas. The first few hours on the new three-masted full-rigged ship from SEA CLOUD Cruises already offer a blaze of impressions. For those who have already sailed on this tall ship once or several times, it is like coming home. The familiar ship, a first relaxing moment on the Lido deck after the outward flight in the busy plane, above all the warm welcome of the crew, who remember previous guests as a matter of course. This also rubs off on those for whom it is their first time on board the SEA CLOUD SPIRIT. The atmosphere is open, friendly, and warm. And this is just the beginning. 16 days of a unique journey lie ahead of us. 16 days on the Atlantic, sailing in the footsteps of Columbus. Can there be anything more beautiful? The next days will tell. But the prelude already gives an idea of what the whole story will be like…

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