A Trip of Firsts
It’s not everyday that you deliver cargo under sail across the channel, nor everyday that you sail in the company of dolphins as they leap in the bow wave. This trip was to be one of firsts, leaving me inspired and in awe of the ship, the wonderful owners and the incredible ethos attached.
The Grayhound sails proudly under the care of Marcus, Freya and their five year old son and I was lucky enough to have been invited into their home for one of their cargo delivery adventures across the channel, from Cornwall to Brittany. Another day in the office for them, where no two days are ever the same.
Penzance to Plymouth
Setting off from Penzance we were bound for Plymouth where we were to load the last of our cargo and await a weather window to allow us to cross the channel. The wind direction and strong gales the day before meant that the waters were rough with huge rollers and a messy swell, we had a favourable south westerly which helped us quickly on our way. If I was a sufferer of seasickness, this would be the time to realise. Luckily for me, I didn’t suffer the same fate as some of my fellow crew members who slowly, began to green up at the gills.
There were nine guest voyage crew, a deckhand Rachel and first mate Jelte, not forgetting skipper Marcus, his partner and resourceful cook Freya, and their son Malachi. Marcus and Freya usually welcome up to eight paying voyage crew on each cargo trip at a substantially discounted price of £690 for a week. The price reflects the involvement you all have in sailing the ship and helping load and unload the cargo, you are part of the cargo’s journey making these trips inherently special and unique.
We made it into Plymouth at around 9pm, gliding in silently through the gates into Sutton Harbour under moonlight with the beats of the nearby nightclub sounding across the night. A stark comparison to our more unusual Friday night.
Grayhound can take five tonnes of cargo in her hold, loaded up between the bunks. The guest crew sleep nestled between the boxes laden with organic Cornish and Devon ale and cider. Not only were we involved in the delivery of some very important produce, we were witness to the ageing of a barrel of fine French Whisky from Black Mountain.
Black Mountain Whisky
The black barrel strapped on deck has a telling aroma and looks perfectly at home on-board. It sails wherever Freya and Marcus decide to journey rocked with the movement of the ship come rain, shine or heavy swell. The B
lack Mountain Whisky barrel had been with them since the first cargo voyage of the season in April and this was to
be its final journey in the company of Grayhound, a quiet respect between ship and barrel.
We were lucky with the weather and early Saturday morning it was all hands on deck to load the cargo and sail out of the Plymouth to begin our channel crossing with favourable winds. Land was still in sight as a pod of dolphins approached and happily played with each other in the bow wave. An experience I had never before had the pleasure of and it had me pondering the wonders of the oceans and the effect we all have on our beautiful planet.
I was in awe of the work Freya and Marcus were achieving and the shift in interest towards sustainable fair transport, more and more ships are signing on t
o deliver cargo and engine-less deliveries to really limit the effect trade has on the environment. When you sail on a cargo trip, you feel like a contributor to that movement, you are helping to save tonnes of unnecessary CO2 emissions. and what’s more, you are part of the journey.
Marcus is a superb skipper, his attitude spreads calm and its impossible to hold onto any stress you may be holding from the usual daily grind for long. Being at sea does help to have that effect too, but with Marcus’ relaxed attitude and only a couple of “house” rules- no jumping or shouting- means all of the crew quickly get into the rhythm of the sea, with just the waves and the motion of the ship.
It wasn’t long before nightfall set in and our channel crossing turned into something more, sailing with the light of the moon and under the company of the stars. We had been organised into watches by this point and before it was time for me to surface into the night air, I had lay completely content in my bunk listening to the comforting creaks, squeaks and sounds a wooden ship sailing through the night. There is something utterly tranquil about sailing to the sound of the waves through the darkness. Occasionally we came across passing ships, but otherwise it was just plain sailing across the channel. I watched the sunrise and the dawn break as the visibility increased and the minutes ticked by. It was soon time for me to return to my bunk for a four hour nap before my next watch.
The Chenal Du Four.
When the following night fell, the conditions had dramattically changed. As I came back on deck the wind had picked up and we had begun to make our way up the Chenal Du Four, almost straight into the wind. This trip was my first experience of sailing a Lugger and the rig set up continued to impress me.
The original 1776 privateer was built as a revenue lugger with purpose to patrol and chase smugglers. She was designed to be a fast ship, in fact there came a time where the original three masted luggers were banned from being built by the government in an effort to halt the smuggling trade, one of the main reasons due to their speed! Freya and Marcus together have built a sympathetic replica, taking into account as much of the original shape and design on deck, down below the layout reflects minimalist family living with a spacious cabin/play-den for their son. What they have achieved is truly remarkable and the character of the ship reflects their hard work, dedication and welcoming approach to everything and everyone. A very happy ship with a very happy family.
We edged up wind through the passage of lighthouses signalling danger seemingly all around. It was difficult to get your bearings in the pitch black and passing fishing boats appeared quite suddenly through the night. Keeping watch with straining eyes and setting the sails with each maneuver meant everybody had an important role to navigating safely up the notoriously difficult channel. This trip contradicted all of my instinct on the best course upwind, as wearing ship/jybing is not a violent maneuver on Grayhound or indeed many other ships and square rigged vessels, as the yards move less. As we approached the edges of the channel, we bore away from the wind, there was a silence before any action took place and everybody was in position, ready to take up the slack, or pass the sheets over in a well coordinated swift movement. You really don’t know a ship until you have sailed it in the dark.
Grayhound has a big tiller, but small block and tackles on each side which make it easy to steer whilst standing a couple of feet away. You can look down the deck and check the sail trim and get a better view ahead. I have to say that I prefer sailing with a tiller, to me it feels more natural and you can feel the motion of the ship with much more ease when compared with a wheel.
We anchored at 6am in Camaret and it was here that my watch ended, we glided into the bay and although I should have been tired, the action of the last four hours meant my mind was still very much awake. Half an hour or so later, as the town began to wake I rolled back into my bunk and slept like a baby until lunch. We spent the day exploring the town of Camaret, the obligatory pint in a local bar and then back to the ship for another tasty dinner served up by Freya.
Our passage from Camaret to Douarnenez was fairly straight forward from here, we set off the following day bound for a bay very close to our final port. We set more sails this time and together learnt about hoisting the T’gallant’s and Topsails with help from Rachel, the deckhand on-board.
“Pile of Peas”
We sailed on and headed through the famous les Tas de Pois (literally “pile of peas”) so famously photographed during the French Brest Festival of which Grayhound was very much actively apart of. This passage was a welcome rest from the busy channel crossing, with some of the braver and warm blooded of us taking a dip in the sea as Grayhound bobbed about gently.
Douarnenez and the Unloading of Cargo
When we awoke the next morning, the calm waters and gentle swell had very much left us behind and we found ourselves anchored in an un-sheltered bay with a good force 6/7 building. We quickly made our way to Douarnenez where we would wait for the tide to allow us through the gates and onto Grayhound’s berth.
What a lovely surprise it was to find two other sail cargo tall ships, Nordlys and Lun II and to tie along side them finishing this part of the adventure with a welcome drink. Not before every sailor across the three ships helps to unload all of the cargo into the store of course!
Farewell to the Crew and the Ship
One part of the cargo voyage was complete, but Grayhound would soon load up with French wine and other cargo ready to set sail back across the channel. Unfortunately, I had to make my way home leaving most of the guest crew to continue on with the return leg. With a feeling of a job half done and somewhat deflated after having such a fantastic week, I headed up to the bus station where I would then travel by train to Paris. From Paris, I joined the Eurostar and it wasn’t long before I was in the busy, loud and bustling city of London, such a far cry from my experience over the last 7 days. My journey with Grayhound was over for now, but the lasting impression was profound and I can’t begin to thank Marcus, Freya and Grayhound enough. I can’t wait to set sail with them again.
It was unfortunate that I missed the offloading of the whisky barrel who’s journey on Grayhound had also come to an end.
I’m sure some other lucky barrel will be soon scenting Grayhound’s decks for the busy 2017 season ahead.