‘Are you ready?’
The Captain shouted as he gripped The May Rose’s wheel as it sailed into the harbour.
‘You must be ‘Rhys’’.
It was eleven in the morning on a Sunday in August and I was about to set sail on my first trip aboard a tour ship.The gleaming ship had just arrived in the harbour and was due to depart in about an hour. The reason the May Rose had only just arrived was that there had been a storm and the ship had been stranded in a dock in Ireland.
‘As ready as I will ever be,’
I replied apprehensively. I felt that funny, wobbly feeling in my stomach like the sensation people get after they’ve been sick. I wobbled along the deck towards the Captain, concentrating putting one foot in front of the other.
‘How old are you and where are you from?’
The Captain asked me smiling gracefully.
‘14 ⅓ and from South Africa.’
I answered feeling a knot in my throat. The Captain looked at me lowering his glasses and smiled knowingly. He had a grey beard, a heavy Irish accent and a twinkle in his eye that made me feel welcome.
‘Right.’ said Jack sighing.
‘You do know how to sail?’
He questioned with a concerned look that made me gulp and tightened the knot growing in my throat. I nodded. Then, looking impressed, he said,
‘Welcome Rhys who is the newest and youngest member of the crew. Welcome aboard ‘The May Rose’. You may call me Cap. That’s what everyone else seems to call me!’
Cap said chuckling. The sun was shining and the birds were singing again. I felt the knot in my throat loosen and untie almost instantly as Cap, gave me a second smile. An even more welcoming smile than the first if that were possible!
‘There are 10 other sailors working alongside you and me to get this ship to Greenwich. However they have all been with me since Ireland, I’m positive you’ll fit in fine.’
Cap explained as he took me around on a tour of May Rose.
‘Toilet, dorm, dorm, dorm,’
Cap said tapping doors as we strolled along a corridor.
Cap halted by a door.
‘This is where you will sleep and, you will share with Sakie. The second youngest member of crew who is 17 next Saturday.’
After Cap knocked he entered the little room to find ‘Sakie’ at a desk writing.
Sackie was small, thin and from Malaysia however his English was impeccable. As soon as we entered the room Sakie turned around and smiled.
‘Hi you must be Rhys!’
He, like Cap, had a warm, soothing smile. I was shocked. How did he know my name? Had we met before? He recognised the faltering look on my face and laughed.
‘Cap told me I would be sharing this room with a younger ‘Rhys’ and I assumed that was you.’
I sighed, relieved that I shouldn’t remember him from anywhere. After we had talked for a while Cap ‘left us to it’ and announced that we should come up onto deck in 15 minutes.
After Cap left I had time to examine to the room. I found it was small. Only lit by a desk candle and a candle attached to the wall. The ‘dorm’ had a bunk bed. The top bed was loaded with bags so I assumed the bottom was mine and, after leaving my small bundle of possessions by the door I had 10 minutes of daydreaming to do just lying on my bed. When it was time to make our way onto deck Sackie and I clambered up together.
When we appeared on deck. We found the harbour was full of people. All waving flags of different nationalities. I could see Clara, mum and dad in the front of the clan of people waving and cheering. After a while a smile grew on my face. All these people were cheering me and the rest of the crew. Sakie and I decided to join Cap at the front of the boat. We could see everyone more clearly. The crowds covered most of the streets and went back across Falmouth for what seemed like miles but wasn’t really very far.
Suddenly a clock struck midday. Cap announced it was time to go and went to the reel. He gave everyone jobs, Sakie was in charge of hoisting the anchor and my job was assisting him. All the other boats also started to set sail and some blew horns.The Crowd, plus mum, dad and Clara got further and further away until they gradually disappeared into the distance.
After about half an hour Cap gave us a new jobs. I was directing the sales. This was hard work but I felt very important. At about 8:30 pm it was time for half of the sailors to have supper. The others would have supper when we had finished. When I got back onto deck and swapped with Sakie it was almost pitch black except for the lanterns lighting up the edges of the boat. And, at 10:30 it was time for the sailors that had been on duty to go to sleep while more dorms of sailors that had been asleep started their long nights shift.
As soon as I got back to my dorm I lay down on the bed drained of energy and fell asleep before the candles had ran out.
The next morning we were woken by a fog horn. It was about eight thirty and Sakie and I dressed, went to breakfast before emerging on deck to take over shift. Cap, as we then found out, worked different shifts to everyone else. He worked through half of each shift so, this meant he worked from 5:00pm until 00:30am and 5:30am until 10:30am.
Although The May Rose had travelled for almost a day, the ship was still surrounded by the rest of the tour ships, however each about a mile apart were just visible in the distance.
After two days working shifts on The Mary Rose disaster struck. The Chef had managed to give himself, the captain and everyone who had eaten the chicken at dinner last night (7 other people) food poisoning. This meant that there were only four people to do twelve people’s jobs. The sailors along side me working were Sakie, Mitch (who was from Spain, about 26 and didn’t speak much English) and luckily (seeing as Sakie and I were only rookie sailors who had only one day of training before coming aboard,’ The May Rose’) Freddie, who was a fully trained sailor/fisherman from Wales.
Whilst the other sailors all tried to recover in their rooms the four of us allocated jobs for each other depending on our strengths. I was in charge of cooking, (pasta only) steering the ship (on rota with Sakie) and navigating. Mitch was in charge of cleaning as those were the only Spanish words the rest of the group knew, (clean is ‘limpio’). Freddie was the new ‘Cap’, head of the engine and working out things like new shifts. Sakie was in charge of the Sails, look out and (with me) on the steering rota.
The next three days were quite tricky. If someone asked me to describe them I don’t think I could manage it. They went past in a blur that seemed like forever when we were working! I spent six hours sleeping out of each 24 hour period and, as the days progressed, everyone became weaker and weaker. On the second day at lunchtime the ‘emergency pasta’, as Freddie called it, was all eaten and now although we knew we would arrive in Greenwich the following evening.
Luckily, the next morning Cap, the real Cap, and thankfully the cook were feeling better. It was like a giant weight had been lifted from our shoulders because the one thing Freddie wasn’t he told us very good at was getting ships into harbours plus, none of us could cook anything but pasta and we had run out the day before. I was so relieved and tired when we arrived at Greenwich harbour that the first thing I did when I got off the ship was sleep in mum and dad’s car as they drove me home. I had mixed feelings about my experience aboard a tour ship: hard work and satisfaction.