Being captain for three days

Position: 48° 06,0’ N, 022° 15,9’ W
Date: 04.04.2021

“Good journey, the ship’s handed over” said our captain Detlef to me and pressed my hand. It was the last afternoon before we wanted to leave the Azores. But let me tell the story from the beginning and wind back one and a half months:

It was a bit more than a week before we planned to enter the port of Horta and it had already been fixed for a while that we pupils could take over the ship for the last three days until we would reach the Azores and navigate it there without GPS, only using the sun and the stars.

And just like the last time when we were handed over the ship on our way to Cabo Verde, we could apply for all positions from boatswain over watch leader to any other special positions we could imagine. And this time there were not less of them: Ultimately, we had a ship’s cook, two confectioner pastry cooks and a ship’s jester.

Well, for me it was clear from the beginning in Kiel that I want to take a leading position during that special takeover, so my application as a captain had already been finished before it was actually possible to submit it.

So about midday three days until Horta, the whole ship gathered in the mess room and our captain Detlef explained us that handing over the ship under those stormy conditions outside would not possible and it would be adjourned.

A month later the time had come to leave the Azores heading north-eastwards to Germany which meant we regathered in the mess room and I as the new captain got a sheet of paper with tasks that needed to be finished within two hours before the ship could be handed over. The nautical tasks like checking the weather forecast were handed to me and the two steersmen and the the project leaders were dealing with the organizational tasks. So, after these two hours, we presented our results to the rest of the crew and now I would like to come back to the beginning of my blog: Detlef handed us over the ship and wished us a good journey.

A short time later, we rang the ship’s bell for an all hands on deck manoeuvre. In contrast to the first time when we had taken over the ship, the crew receded into the background much further: We heaved the anchor, started the machine and left the anchorage mostly on our own. In the beginning, our captain functioned as a pilot who mainly just told us in which direction to leave the harbour. Afterwards the watches set their sails and the ship headed towards north-east.

From that time on, everyday life on board started; for me and the steersmen it was a bit different than usually: Instead of going to watch and having free afterwards, we were busy the whole day long studying weather charts, deciding which sails to set or when to use the machine. In addition, since we did not have any access to the electronic navigation tools like the GPS, we relied on measuring the speed by throwing food waste over board and stopping the time it needed from bow to stern. Furthermore, it was necessary to take the angle between the sun and the horizon multiple times a day to calculate our midday position.

All in all, I cannot remember ever having learned so many different things from analysing clouds over starting the machine to all the organisation being necessary on a 50 people ship and when the return of the ship came closer, I had mixed feelings about it: On the one hand, it was relieving to not being responsible for the ship all the time and not needing to care about all the work that needed to be done to bring the ship back to Germany, on the other hand it was the end of a grateful experience I definitely do not want to miss anymore.