Eight Days at Sea
A personal log from aboard the ARA Libertad during Americas' Sail '98
By Francis Zera
- Standing at the starboard railing, facing Savannah's Hyatt Regency hotel, I watched the Libertad's crew busily transforming the ship from a dockside tourist attraction to a seagoing vessel. Bilingual informational signs were removed, the ship's nameplate taken down, lines stowed and the gangplank raised. There were a few family members and friends of the crew gathered on the dock to say goodbye. I've seen that tableau from the shore many times, but never from the other side. It was a very lonely moment, departing on a week-long voyage with 300 people I'd never met, most of whom spoke only Spanish.
- 10:40 a.m.
- We just passed Tybee Island, after all nine of the ship's guests had been ordered to the bridge for a safety lecture and to receive a life preserver, a whistle, dye marker and strobe light. About a dozen dolphins swam near our bow for a while before heading for open water. At the cry of "delfines," cadets lined the rail, cameras and video recorders in hand.
- 11:55 a.m.
- The order to raise all sails was given, but not by voice. The officer in charge of the sails used a bosun's whistle, a small whistle capable of producing several shrill, carrying notes. A series of different notes were used to direct the activity on deck. It seemed to be much more effective, and dignified, than shouting. It took the synchronized efforts of dozens of sailors to raise the sails, and the exercise went off without a hitch. The Libertad carries 27 sails, and all were flying within minutes. It was quite a sight, especially from the deck. It's almost hard to believe I'm here, sailing on one of only 51 tall ships in the world. And in a race, no less.
- 12:30 p.m.
- The Americas' Sail regatta begins. The competition was a "predicted log," which meant a ship's crew must attempt to calculate the exact time it would take, under sail, to reach a predetermined point. The course ran 40 miles to the southeast, bringing us nearly in line with Brunswick before we would change course for New York. Our predicted time to cross the finish line is 6:56 p.m.
- 1:15 p.m.
- Lunch in the officer's mess, a space that doubles as the wardroom and as a reception area when Libertad is in port. The noon meal was wonderful. The crew also took my vegetarianism in stride. I mentioned it once, quietly, to Fal, and I was never again presented with a meat-based dish. Plates of delicious steamed vegetables arrived instead.
The meal was served in courses. First, beer or wine and spring water. Then a plate of rice with vegetables, then beef (more vegetables for me), then dessert. Dessert was an apple, which was served on a plate and eaten with a knife and fork. Fruit is often eaten with utensils in Argentina. I had never tried to eat an apple like that before, especially at a table that was 12 degrees from being level due to the tilt of the ship under full sail.
- 2:23 p.m.
- We passed the Simon Bolivar, which started the event 20 minutes ahead of us. No one is sure what their predicted time is, but our guess is she expected to take a long time and had to slow down in order to match their predicted arrival.
- 4 p.m.
- Russ and I, along with fellow guests John LeBrecque, a NASA scientist, Carlos Yañes, a representative of the Argentine beef industry and Pablo Baques, a Web designer and promoter were assigned to spare racks in the ship's infirmary. It turned out to be a choice spot, quiet and air conditioned.
- 6 p.m.
- I've just discovered one of the harsher realities of life aboard a naval ship - water rationing. The faucets and showers only work during certain times in order to preserve the ship's fresh water supply. Libertad carries two desalinators that make potable water out of salt water, but they make less than the daily consumption. To ensure that the 70,000-gallon tanks don't run dry, we have water for five minutes between the four-hour watch changes, for 15 minutes at 7:10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and for 30 minutes at 6:30 p.m.
- 7 p.m.
- We've passed the light tower marking the end of the course. A enthusiastic-sounding announcement in Spanish was followed by cheers and applause from the crew. We had passed the mark just 40 seconds short of our predicted time. It was an incredible feat, considering all the variables: wind speed, currents and tides. Now we turn north and head for Glen Cove, N.Y.
- We woke up about 8 a.m. On deck, the sailors are raising the five jibs that fly from the foremast. For working the sails, the petty officers are divided into groups and assigned to a mast, where they perform the necessary work to raise and lower the sails as well as maintenance. They have nicknamed themselves the tigers on the foremast, the ravens on the mainmast and the turtles on the mizzenmast. Each group sports T-shirts with their own logo. A sailor explained to me that the tigers are fierce, the turtles are slow to raise the sails, and the ravens are black from the exhaust smoke from the smokestack, which is just forward of their mast.
- 10 a.m.
- We're just south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., about 70 miles offshore. Sitting near the bow, I see my first flying fish. When startled by the ship's passing, they leap out of the water, into the prevailing wind, and "fly" for surprisingly long distances, up to a couple hundred feet.
- 11 a.m.
- I climbed out onto the bowsprit to take some photos. It's an awesome vantage point. Perched nearly 40 feet out in front of the ship, it felt like I was flying between the sea and the sky.
- 2:30 p.m.
- We've been using the ship's engine, rather than the sails, since last evening. With the engines going, the ship doesn't have the same feeling of being connected to the water and sky, but the masts reaching for the sky with their furled sails still makes an awesome sight.
- 4:48 p.m.
- I just got on deck from a trip up the foremast. What views! I only climbed up to the base of the first platform, about 50 feet up. Russ, ever in search of the perfect photo, climbed nearly to the top of the mainmast, and stayed there for nearly an hour.
- 9:30 pm.
- Dinner with Captain Godoy. The meal was delicious, and the conversation thoroughly enjoyable. After dinner, everyone retired to the wardroom, where there was scotch and Cuban cigars. Several officers had guitars and other instruments, and there was an impromptu sing-a-long. Songs ranging from Frank Sinatra's "My Way," to "Piano Man" and traditional Argentinean folk songs were performed.
- Another beautiful morning. Lt. Pablo Fal took several of us on a tour of the ship. The facilities were impressive. On board, there is a surgeon, a doctor, a dentist and a biochemist. A cabin is dedicated to the dentist's office, one to an exam room and a lab. We saw classrooms, the officers' quarters, the remainder of the berthing areas, common areas, kitchens and storerooms.
- 1:30 p.m.
- Lunch at the captain's table. The officers took pleasure in explaining the origin of each course and condiment, whether I had some or not. The first course was a potato and meat pie, followed by lots of fresh vegetables. Dessert was "special cakes" from Argentina that look like small Moon Pies but with a light caramel-like filling called dulce de leche, or milk jam. At the end of the meal, there was tea and coffee. Executive Officer Javier Valladares explained the different kinds of herbal teas and their health benefits. Boldo is for after eating and is made from herbs; Manzanilla is also good for after dinner and is made from a flower (I believe it's chamomile). Tilo is from a flowering tree, and is calming. I've tried them all, and they're delicious. The Brazilian coffee is wonderful - smooth and strong, not bitter like American coffee.
- 2:30 p.m.
- The wind came around to the west last night, as predicted. We've got all the jibs and staysails up, as well as six of the upper square sails. A square-rigged tall ship is designed to sail with the wind, and doesn't do well when the wind is coming from the bow. Due to our tight schedule, when we face a headwind we drop the sails and start the engines.
Currently, we're about 70 miles off the coast of Pamlico Sound, Va., and making a very fast 13 knots under sail.
- 5 p.m.
- Calisthenics. A physical education instructor from the Argentine naval academy is on board, and is trying to whip everyone into shape. We ran laps around the deck for 30 minutes, and did a series of isometric exercises.
|9 July, Argentine Independence Day, 7:45 a.m.
- A dress formation was called for a ceremony to commemorate independence day. Speeches were given by the commander of cadets, the crew cheered and sang the national anthem. It was a very powerful ceremony.
- Russ and I were invited to share mate with a group of cadets near the foremast. In turn, we offered them a PowerBar, some Goldfish crackers and some cookies we had brought. The simple act of sharing seems to have begun a friendship.
We're getting closer to Long Island. We have passed through the middle of the Montauk, N.Y. commercial fishing fleet. We also saw eight minke whales, which are relatively small as whales go, but very beautiful creatures.
- 4 p.m.
- We also just saw one of the most amazing natural displays I've ever seen. Nearly two dozen dolphins raced along at the bow for nearly 15 minutes, leaping out of the water and, well, frolicking in the waves. We were under sail, with the engines off, making just 4 knots. We made such good time over the last few days with the favorable winds that we need to slow down in order to pick up the Long Island pilot on schedule.
- 7:30 p.m.
- Dinner. As it's independence day, we had a wonderful cake for dessert and toasted with champagne. It was very festive. It also seems that we're no longer guests, but part of the ship's company. We talked, laughed and shared language lessons for hours.
- We just picked up our Long Island pilot for the nine-hour trip across Long Island Sound.
- 11:30 a.m.
- It's been foggy all morning, and it's beginning to clear. We can see the Connecticut shore to starboard and Long Island to port. We're preparing for a barbecue on the stern deck for lunch.
- 1:30 p.m.
- The officers' barbecue is of epic proportions. Linen tablecloths, good china and lots of Argentine meats and sausages cooked over coals from quebracho, a red wood from Argentina brought aboard especially for barbecues. After dinner, the captain and executive officer presented each guest with several beautiful books about Argentina and a certificate commemorating our voyage.
- 3 p.m.
- Small boats have been following our progress since the fog lifted this morning. The crew takes it all in stride, waving at passing boats and the many news helicopters from New York City that have started to appear.
Our trip is nearly over, and I must admit to a sense of sadness.
- 5:15 p.m.
- We just dropped anchor off Glen Cove. The Libertad is the center of attention, being the largest ship in attendance. We're making preparations for tomorrow morning's parade of sail and the arrival of local dignitaries. Sails are being furled for display, flags hoisted, brass polished, wood varnished and fittings painted. The ship smells of fresh paint and freshly scrubbed decks. The Bounty and the Rose are already tied up at the floating docks in the harbor, but we're anchored offshore to make a grand entrance in the morning.
- Parade of sail into Glen Cove. Hundreds of boats filled the harbor and thousands of people were in Glen Cove to watch the event. The parade lasted about an hour. Many of the spectator boats were sailboats, and the white sails against the bright blue sky and water made the harbor look like a work of art.
- 12:30 p.m.
- We're tied up at the floating docks, built by the city of Glen Cove especially for this event. Six tall ships are here, with the Libertad, Bounty, Rose, Kalmar Nyckel, Mary E. and Halve Maen at the docks. In the harbor are the Qunnipiac, the Phoenix and the Clearwater. The cluster of masts is quite dramatic.
- 3 p.m.
- At the welcoming ceremony at Morgan Park, we listened to speeches by local dignitaries and heard about the events in Glen Cove. The entire community looks like a carnival. More than $1 million in private donations funded the events.
Preliminary attendance is estimated at 200,000 visitors. By the looks of things, that's going to prove to be a very conservative figure.
- 7 p.m.
- The Woolworth Estate Gala. A $500-per-couple fund raiser, the gala was held at the palatial Woolworth Estate in Glen Cove, in the midst of the setting for "The Great Gatsby."
- 9:30 p.m.
- There was a wonderful display of fireworks over the harbor. From our shore-side vantage point on a hill in Morgan Park, the ships' masts were silhouetted against the colorful explosions. It was quite a sight, and there is another display scheduled for tomorrow night.
- Our last full day with the crew. Many of them had shore leave, so we saw them throughout the day in a variety of places. Most headed for Manhattan the first chance they got.
- Goodbyes have been made, presents exchanged, and we're ready to leave. For a crew used to the comings and goings of many people, our departure is delayed by repeated wishes for a safe trip and by requests to stay in touch. It took six days to get from Savannah to New York aboard the Libertad, and the time flew by. The three-hour plane ride home, however, seemed to take forever.