Some weeks totally blow your mind. When I look back over the last few days it’s difficult to believe it.
My week turned upside down when I got a call on Sunday.
“The Tres Hombres has arrived in Cornwall early. Do you want to go sailing?”
Within 24 hours I had boarded a coach to the Cornwall gathering up Alex, Jamie and Leo to join the adventure. We joined the good ship Tres Hombres in Charlestown, a stones throw from St Austell. The ship was anchored just outside of the harbour. We met Andreas, the current Captain and one the 3 ‘hombres’, in the harbour bar and immediately swapped tales and stories of the Caribbean, rum trade and history of the ship. Although we had not met before, it instantly felt like we were old friends.
The Tres hombres is a 32 m Square rig Brigantine launched in 2009 as a ‘fair transport’ sail trading vessel. SV Tres hombres sails out of Den helder in the Netherlands. However she is registered as a sail cargo & sail training vessel in Sierra Leone with her port of registration rather aptly being ‘Freetown’.
I admit I have quite a serious crush on this ship since visiting her last year in Great Yarmouth. With her mustard painted deck houses, square sails, black hull and red trim she cuts a fine figure.
Alex and I have been invited to join the next voyage of the Tres hombres in October so this mini voyage along the West country coastline was the perfect opportunity to get to know the wider team and finalise our plans together.
We were quickly ferried out to the ship by Freya, 2nd mate aboard the Tres hombres. A friend of Andreas, a Cornish Sea weed fisherwomen called Caro also joined us to make up a crew of 5 visitors. Caro helped with the Tres Hombres build several years ago. It was delightful watching as she explored all the nooks and crannies re-living the stories of the build and memories of the artists that had contributed to the ship.
A quick round of introductions were made before the crew got to work releasing the jib sails and hoisting the anchor. The crew didn’t waste a second in jumping into harnesses and scaling the rigging. I looked on a little daunted as I imagined climbing up to unfurl the Royal on the high seas.
A tour of the ship followed. The smell of molasses, cocoa and spices in the cargo hold was sensational. Our bunks are in the fo’c's’le which is shared by 8 crew.
Once the sails were set we were cruising a steady 6.5 knots on a bearing of 110°. The hull of Tres hombres is a former German Minesweeper and was apparently chosen for her efficiency through the water.
Then the first watch were called for supper. Alex and I prepared a mushroom and leek stroganoff with a salad with leaves sourced from The Severn Project. The Severn Project is a horticultural social enterprise based on former wastelands outside Bristol and employs people struggling with drug addiction to provide them with a pathway to recovery.
It was a beautifully clear evening with a full nights sky of crystal clear stars. Memories of my ocean crossings with Irene came flooding back. Nothing beats the skies at night while sailing. I eventually crawled into my bunk exhausted after a day of travelling, determined to wake early for the sunrise.
Jamie woke me at 5am. In excitement I instantly sat bolt up right hitting my head on the ceiling. Doh!
Then scrambled onto the foredeck to see the bright red perfect sphere of the sun just as it breached the horizon. The winds were light but we were still making good headway passing start point to Port; the lighthouse flashing rhythmically on the shore warning of the treacherous rocks below. This is my all time favourite coastline. My childhood was spent sailing in Salcombe, walking around Bolt head (the sleeping dragon) and swimming on the beach which I only know as the stony beach below West Prawle. A little further along the coast we passed the lost village of Hallsands, which disappeared into the swell one fateful night in 1917 during a storm.
Gradually as watch rotated I got to speak to each of the crew members and learn their histories aboard Tres hombres. Alex and I nominated ourselves for lunchtime galley duty to give Rob, the chef aboard a rest. We had brought with us a selection of ingredients that we thought crew might be missing. Like fresh butter, fresh cheese, yoghurt, salad, and fruit.
French beans, mangetout, asparagus salad with toasted hazelnuts and chilli orange dressing.
Pasta in garlic olive oil with sun dried tomatoes from the Azores and fresh goats cheese
Fresh coleslaw with lemon pepper and pineapple
In the afternoon the wind disappeared and we found ourselves drifting in seas as clear and flat as glass. Our ideas of making Brixham before the pubs closed evaporated in the balmy sunshine. The crew lolled around like sleeping lions while we barely made 1.5 knots. To pass the time Alex and I decided to bake a cake. With no recipe books aboard we set to work inventing something tasty.
Ready! Steady! Cook!
Flambéed banana cake with coconut
In the galley we found a large bunch of little sweet bananas hand harvested in the Azores which we flambeed in 75 grams of butter with a healthy slug of Dominican Republic Rum and heavy handful of coconut. The cake batter was prepared with 1 cup of butter, 2 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour and 4 eggs plus a large pinch of cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. We added the banana mix and then dusted the surface with a mix of sugar and cinnamon, just before placing in the oven which (I think) was around 200°C!
Approximately 30 minutes later the galley was filled with a heady scent of cinnamon and baked sugar. The cake was a roaring success and devoured within minutes of distribution.
Shortly after fuelling up on cake, we launched the rib to get some shots of the ship from the water. As we did the wind returned to fill the sails. Jamie, Leo and I went out with Freya to collect the footage. With all the canvas up and the sun setting she looked iridescent mirage. I had to pinch myself to believe my eyes!
As we returned to ship, the Captain dived below decks and pulled out a ‘Fair Transport’ bottle of rum for the crew sundowner. Tres hombres own brand of Rum is sourced from producers in the Dominican Republic and is based on fermented Molasses aged in Oak barrels for at least 8 years. The result is a delicious dark rum smooth with an aroma of cocoa and citrus. We all assembled around the hatch to toast the day as the sun set. All of us blown away by the magic of the sunset and the day of unexpected radiant sunshine.
“I can no longer joke about British weather” quipped Martin.
We arrived the following morning early in Brixham anchoring just outside the harbour opposite the yacht club. As we packed away the sails we watched as the fishermen returned to port laden with fresh seafood. Alex, Jamie and Leo made ready to leave and return to the city. As a final toast we enjoyed another glass of rum.
I stayed aboard for the day pottering around deck, sunbathing on the hatches and helping to prepare lunch with Freya, the 2nd mate. Freya has been on Tres hombres for 8 months and was eagerly awaiting arrival of her mother who is joining the ship for a week. Freya told me her stories of living on boats in Amsterdam and her childhood on the water. Her father is a captain so the lifestyle is in blood.
Freya showed me her sketch book filled with short stories and scenes experienced as she sailed through the Caribbean. My favourite was her sketch about standard ‘Dullphins’. I’m still at the stage of extreme excitement every time I see them but perhaps this is a the test of a true mariner. The day you lose the instantaneous squeal of seeing dolphins at the bow is the day you have earned your sea legs?! I really hope that isn’t the case!!
In the evening the ship was joined by the crew of a neighbouring Brixham trawler called Leader from the Trinity Sailing Foundation. The young crew aboard had been working through the winter to renovate her and prepare for a full summer programme of charter and sail training.
I eventually boarded the coach at Midnight, my portal out of Narnia, to be swept back to the grimy city streets arriving at dawn. Invigorated, sun kissed and excited about the coming grand voyage to Brazil.