Engine-free sailing in modern day

In the middle of the spring 2021, I was (still) waiting for Norway to open its borders for the holders of work permits, so I could finally move there and start my work.

In May, I pulled the trigger on securing a spot aboard one of the very few engine-free cargo sailing ships – brigantine Tres Hombres.

On November 1st, I moved to Norway.

On the late evening of November 7th I threw my two backpacks onto my assigned bunkbed and met my crusty crew to the sound of beer caps popped off the bottles and the warmth of the hot food in my belly.

Below is a brief and somewhat abstract account of the journey that I was asked to write for the Fairtransport blog (I urge you to go there and read other entries from different people).


Take a good look at her.

The curves. The canvas. The tempting lines.
The salt, whispering from the crevasses in the weathered wood. The wind, the memory of which is trapped into the folds of the harbour furl.

Tres, enjoying a sunny and calm weather at Douarnenez (France) port, before getting barrels of local, organic, sustainable, family-run wine.
Feeling fresh in the Atlantic
Getting ready at the home port of Den Helder (Netherlands)

She is Tres Hombres, Tres for the crew. Trusty, steady, free.

What most might not realize is that she is so much more than an engine-free sailing cargo ship. Sure, carrying rum, wine, gin, chocolate, and coffee, Tres sounds badass enough. Her true power, however, lies in bending time and transforming space.
She navigates dimensions and realities with the same grace and ease that she does the waves.

Those stepping aboard soon feel the simultaneous pull of the gravity in one direction, and complete freedom from it in another. Like surfing a wave on a humongous windsurf board.
In the one sense, the seeming downgrade in lifestyle conveniences common in what
we agree to call the developed world comes crashing down like saltwater splashing
you from behind while you’re scrubbing the pan after the dinner, in the dark, in the cold seawater, while the world around you rocks back and forth.
Never stable, never entirely clean, all the while clad in layers of slightly damp “warm” clothes.
You know, The Reality.

Pumping the bilges of the sea water is a daily morning routine.
Scrubbing the dishes after each meal is a shared responsibility

The Reality of realizing that no other life form we know has showers with hot water switched on with a turn of a valve. Or a bed that could fit six people, but only one sleeps in it.

The Reality of weightlessness in space and time, head up, gaze tracing the neuro-net
between the stars, back to the immediacy of compass and steering,
when the line between where the ship ends and you begin, blurs, like the horizon
stitching the ocean and the sky. The ship becomes the means through which
you become a complete, inseparable part of the entire world, galaxy, universe.
It is indeed, a transporting vessel, true that.

The Reality that despite our nature and nurture, we are all more similar
than we are different, that deep down we all crave love, understanding, and belonging.
Tres is capable of doing just that. It doesn’t matter where you step on and off.
Remember, she bends time and space. Where and when doesn’t matter.

Sixteen of us started this journey together in Den Helder, four stepping off in Douarnenez, more joining in Baiona, and so on. Already it feels like parting with family.
Speaking of which, a few days in, with the watch routine setting in, the friendly bickering between the crew sparkled here and there, adding to the whole family vibe,
no less than grinding more coffee beans than needed (and with a hand grinder no less!) so that the other watch doesn’t have to do it; or taking the load off the cook’s shoulders for a day, or taking one for the team scrubbing the toilet, or rushing to cast off the correct line when in the heat of the moment a less experienced one mixes them. That’s love and respect.

Raising glasses at Douarnenez, France
Hauling a line is a team task
As well as loading the cargo…
As well as eating croissants at a port…
…or on board 🙂

When you trust someone else – a complete stranger in the case of Tres – to have your back, to keep watch while you sleep, bake the sourdough bread that you kneaded and put into the pans, you cede the sole control of the situation, thus becoming part of something larger than yourself.
That’s your belonging.

My bunkmate Ivo raising to task of steering in rough seas, and raising his eyebrow.
Bosun Hanjo making sure all is in working order…and putting on his best modelling looks.
Captain François being captain…
…of multiple vessels 😉

When you and your crew member dangle bent over a swaying yard, folding the unyielding sail desperately and fruitlessly trying to convince it to furl
(“Argh – for satan!” – a classic Danish sail coaxing spell), hear the same response from the sail: “I’m just not meant to furl, hon”, that’s understanding.

Nadine and Daan on the yard, repairing the sail.

And there you have it.

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