From the Azores to the Netherlands
Swan fan Makkum - April, May 2002

Swan fan Makkum
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In the plane's descent I could see the Swan fan Makkum through the starboard seat window. It was a wonderful experience to meet her like this, coming down from the skies in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The runway was short, as the Islands ports, both air and sea, were only as small as the Island itself, relative to the infinite ocean, a fact which obviously made a timely touchdown higher a priority than a smooth one. I could only agree, since both in front and behind this one runway was nothing but ocean.

After finding my way to the harbour and having met with both our, and some of other ships' crew, as well as the owner of the most relevant local bar (Peter Sport, of course) and extensively dining and drinking, I felt completely at home within 12 hours after my arrival.

The next couple of days in Horta, Faial, Azores were mainly spent scouting the island and town by car and by feet, some shopping and souvenir hunting, and further commuting between the internet café, the bar and the ship. One afternoon we visited the island of Pico by ferry, half an hour across from Horta. On the ferry a firm swell was noticeable, after there had been some strong winds during the past two days.

On the last day, the ship's crew left its mark on the dock with an impressive picture of the Swan, surrounded by the national flags and the names of the different crew members.


Day 1

Immediately after undocking we set sail and headed north-east. Although there was not much wind, we could decently sail at first, but coming out from in between the islands, the earlier noticed swell was still very present and this, together with the declining winds made us eventually take down all sails and run on the engine.


Day 2

Movie:Rolling /w Jurgens & Monica Water on Deck

The 2,5 to 3 meter swell made the ship "roll like a bitch" - as one of the female crew members remarked. Water was running over the deck and through the roundhouse from port to starboard and back. At times it was a challenge to keep our feet dry. Also not everything on board turned out to be as tightened as we thought - most astonishing was the coffee machine taking a plunge onto the pantry floor, which was scary for the idea that might it not work anymore, we would not be able to make any coffee - for ten days!! To our luck however it was still working, at least now and then, and at times when it seemed to deny us its service, we had alternative, more primitive ways to make coffee.

Day 3

Movie:Perfect Sail
Happy Hour

In the morning the wind is back and we're sailing again with a steady 4 Beaufort from the south. While the swell from the north is still strong, I can only hope we will keep enough wind to keep the ship on one side so I will be able to get some decent sleep, which I haven't for three nights in a row.

Although the ship is steady I still do not sleep much during the afternoon (I'm on the 8 to 12 watch) because everywhere on the ship people are working and making too much noise for me to shut my eyes for more than 15 minutes. Later one of the girls helps me decide that when you don't pass out under just any circumstance, you are not really tired. I choose to agree. Thank you Monica.

Around five o'clock I learn something new - on board this ship we have a happy hour every day! Every crewmember is "allowed" two beers or other drinks at the end of the afternoon. As a paying passenger these limitations don't really apply to me, but since I'm in for the sail and the works of it (except ships maintenance!) I go along. Ring the bell, count your blessings!!

Then there was this sunset in a clear bright sky and YES, I saw the "green flash". In this case it was a very tiny small, but bright green dot right on the horizon right at the moment the last "pixel" of the sun was disappearing. Some of the crew blamed it on my sunglasses, but luckily there were others who saw it, too.

In the evening the wind gets a little stronger still and this night I sleep like a baby.

Day 4

The Whale Distant
The Whale Closer

When the ship rolls far to one side I bump against the side of my bunk and wake up from a bizarre dream of an endless landscape completely filled with nothing but windmills. Almost every morning when waking up in this half sleep half awake state of mind, there is an enlarged awareness of the physical scale of things; the infinity of the ocean in contrast to the insignificance of the ship and the people including myself on it, - for a brief while it takes my breath and I feel a fear that then changes to humility and surrender as the only possible way to deal with it. There is nowhere to go. In the middle of infinity there is total freedom and total imprisonment at the same time.

Yesterday Richard, the captain showed me how to shoot(?) the sun and stars with a sextant, which is a lot easier then I thought, but the difficult part is all the calculations that come after that, all necessary to draw a reliable conclusion from it. I believe I did understand the principles of it - at least for a few seconds.

We see dolphins on a regular basis, now. They swim along for a while mostly under the bow of the ship and then disappear into the depths again. Ships, other than our own are rare; maybe once in every 24 hours at the most we notice a light or a silhouette, miles and miles away. The morning watch is quiet and uneventful.

Then during lunch, without warning or expectation somebody says in a calm but firm and undeniable voice: "Whale!". Instantly and without any hesitation or need for verification, but also without any great rumour, everybody jumps up and runs onto the deck in the quietest thinkable excitement. In the distance we see its spray, it is still far away and there is time to go back inside and get my camera. I run to my cabin and back and when back on the deck it is still approaching us, swimming with enormous speed and precision timing to cross just in front of our bow, making me wonder why it does that. As if it had a need to cross in front of us in stead of behind. Was it intimidating us? Defending its territory? It did not stop or turn, just kept swimming in a straight line and then disappeared. This was the first time ever in my life I've seen one.

During the afternoon I slept like an ox. Not only the distinction between one day and another seems to be fading, but also that between morning and evening, day and night and even wake and sleep.

Day 5

The ship is rolling again. During the night I tried to sleep somewhere from half past one till four and then decided it wasn't going to happen. Went to the bridge where I sat with the 4 to 8 watch and watched the sun rise.

Later we have a perfect sail with nice NW to N winds. I teach Jojanneke some knots and I sleep again in the afternoon. It's Irish Connie's birthday which we celebrate during happy hour. Somebody pops up a tray of Heineken!

At midnight the ocean is flat. No wind and hardly any movement in the water. Hadn't I seen it with my own eyes, I would not believe this huge ocean could behave as quietly as this. Time and distance are no longer what they were. The emptiness of the ocean is beyond measure or scale. Where you are is where you are. When you are going to be where remain two questions. But not now. Today touches infinity.

The distinction between time and place dissolves in the here and now. It is only in the projection of a future or a past that we can separate them. Infinity is in the here and now. Total freedom. Total imprisonment.

Day 6
Coral Island

I wake up at 07:00 hours. We're running on the engine. I have slept like a piece of concrete. Our watch was uneventful. Thinking back to Connie's birthday celebration I feel a closeness to the people on board this ship - which has or needs no explanation. Guess it all has to do with travelling the seas - each and every one for their own reasons, or no reason at all. "Making mileage", as K., the captain of the Coral Island had put it - one of these evenings, back in Peter's Sport café. That explained what the crew of a yacht like Coral Island and a sailing vessel like the Swan have in common. When I first saw the Coral Island, I was under the assumption that not only the owners, but also the people crewing it, were to be living in a different world from ours and that we would never be able to connect. To learn how wrong I was, took me less than a night of drinking talking (nevertheless, the owner's identity was never unveiled, under any circumstance).

At midnight I realise we must be past halfway now. (That is, halfway my trip from the Azores to Europe. Others on board have been her since the Caribbean and then others have gone over from Europe to the other side first - so of course it is all very relative).

Day 7

This afternoon I slipped on the middle-deck and landed in the waters in the lee-ward gangway. Lucky I didn't hurt myself. Earlier I watched passenger Siegfried slip in an upright position and land with his shoulder against the "verschansing" with a loud bang, which was a very painful sight. We have good NW winds.

Day 8

17.00 Stronger winds now. On deck I am perfectly OK, but in my bunk I can somehow not surrender to the movements of the ship, as if I keep trying to control it.

00.00 End of my watch. We passed Lands End; in the Channel now. Around 23:00 we were on a collision course with a passenger ship, maybe a ferry, which did not respond to our repeated VHF calls and did not noticeably alter course or speed. It was just at the top of winds and seas - probably a 8 to 9 Beaufort. It was a spooky and scaring experience, when Richard had no choice than to bring the ship to a halt ("bijliggen") in these conditions and the other ship, a little over a mile away from us did not seem to move anymore either. The chief engineer had been given orders to start the engine and had done so. It was like a deadly game of "chicken" at sea… For a few seconds I started to imagine lively what it would be like when we would fail to avoid each other and two ships this size would collide under these conditions. My heart was pounding. Eventually there was a change in the two ships relative positions, but when that happened, it was still unclear to me how exactly the situation was solved; whether the other ship finally turned (to port!) and quickly moved away behind our stern, or whether we carefully picked up some speed again, passing in front of the other - and once regained speed, swiftly left her behind. In either case once we got passed each other, the other ship disappeared within a remarkable short span of time. One can only guess what went on over there.

Day 9

Nine Beaufort in the Channel! Sensational experience. Tried to capture the sensation on photo and filmclips, but that is hardly possible. Sailed in to Weymouth with pilot on board. Weymouth has just enough space for us.

The evening we find the local pub(s). To my surprise it feels quite normal to sit in a pub, after nine days at sea. Not that much to adjust to, at all. Except that I drink way too much and end-up with a terrible hangover the next day.

Day 11, 30-4-2002 - Koninginnedag

Spent the day in Weymouth library, dining room, shops and bar with one of the other passengers. It's a great day, I feel very much at ease. When we return to the ship we get notice that we will be leaving 18:00 hours. My company for the day is disembarking, taking a plane home. Living in the fast lane…

Day 13


Brel mp3

We approach IJmuiden. Once we get the GSM signal, everybody is on the phone. Friends and family come to the sea locks to have a look. When we reach Amsterdam the party is on. At night, a couple of us go into town and have another drink and a dance - it is a revealing experience to see my home town through the eyes of a sailor. It's really a lot like Jacques Brel's song "Dans le port d'Amsterdam".

Jurgen ...

Connie, Connie, Ryan, Erik, Jojanneke & Monica

I want to greatly thank all crew and other Swan fan Makkum staff, for making this possible, thank you for your passionate drive. Thanks to other passengers for your good company and also yours passions for the sea and traditional ships. Untill we meet again - whether in Amsterdam, Kiel, La Rochelle, the Azores, the Caribbean or whatever harbour on whatever shore we may roam.

With gratitude,
Hans van Dijk



P.S. What I learned from this little web exercise: I failed to portrait a number of people, sorry for that. Also, a next time I will take many more pictures of details and rather trivial objects that support the story, like for instance the coffee machine, the ships bell and so on. And finally, the navigation from the story to the pictures and back is not quite perfect. Any comments and suggestions are welcome by e-mail.








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