We’ve all learnt a lot on this trip about the weather, finding winds blowing in the right directions, and then setting our sails to make the best use of those winds. Captain Richard taught us about areas of high and low atmospheric pressure, and most of us had already heard of the Azores high. Winds circulate clockwise around highs in the northern hemisphere, so we set off from the Canaries with winds blowing from the north-east which let us sail on a north-westerly course. That was OK for the first couple of days, but then the wind shifted to the north and north west so we had to hand our sails and motor.
After a great couple of days on Faial and Sao Jorge, all we had to do was sail to Southampton! That meant sailing roughly north east, but we couldn’t go straight in that direction as we’d have been trapped in the centre of a high with very light winds. We needed to go north first. Luckily the wind was blowing from the south for the next few days, but that introduced us to the next lesson. Tall ships don’t sail very efficiently with the wind directly behind them – they roll and go slowly. It’s better to have the wind fifty or sixty degrees to one side of the stern.
So we sailed north east for a few hours, and then north west for a few hours, and then north east again, and north west again… And with each change of direction we had to “wear ship”, which meant bracing the yards round and furling and re-setting the fore and aft sails. We got very good at it! We also learnt to “goose wing” the main course (the bottom sail on the main mast). Goose winging means clewing up the windward side of the sail to make it almost triangular, and allow the wind to get to the fore course. Each time we wore ship the goose winging had to swap sides, so we got very good at doing that too!
After several days we were finally far enough north to be able to head towards the English Channel without the risk of being becalmed in a high pressure area. The wind came round to the north west and north, and we needed to head roughly north east. We set the spanker (the large fore and aft sail on the mizzen mast), and set about learning a new skill – sailing by the wind. We weren’t steering a compass course any more, we were steering to keep the wind coming from a direction of seventy degrees off the port bow – or sometimes even sixty degrees. Lord Nelson is very stable sailing on the wind like that – often several minutes would pass without the wheel being moved. But it was important to keep concentrating – if you did let Nellie turn too far to port, the wind would get behind the sails, the ship would stop, and then you couldn’t steer at all!
So altogether lots of new skill learnt and old ones practised and refined – definitely what it’s all about!
Mike, Aft Port