2836 Kilgraston School Welcome Top

Pupils battle 60 foot waves in transatlantic adventure

Published Wednesday 13th of May 2009 09:00:16 AM

Fran Reid, of Dauntsey's School, reports: 'After facing storm force 10 and 60 foot seas, bruised and battered, Jolie Brise sailed proudly into Belfast at the end of her 7,000 mile Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge 2009. The first glass of champagne was poured over the side for King Neptune, the second over the deck, the third was drunk by the Skipper, the fourth by the First Mate, and the crew shared the rest of the bottle (fortunately it was a magnum!)

Jolie Brise crossed the finishing line of the final leg of the Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge at 9.12 pm on Friday 7 August 2009. The crew then sailed through the night reaching Ballycastle, County Antrim, early the next morning, 18 days after leaving Halifax.

It had been an arduous crossing, though the worst of the weather was saved for last few days.

On Tuesday 4 August Race Control suddenly lost contact with Jolie Brise. The Headmaster, Stewart Roberts, also realised that the Skipper had not reported the boat's position at the scheduled time. He contacted Toby Marris on board who reported that all was far from well; a weather system had stalled over JB causing storm force 10 conditions with seas topping 60 feet. A freak wave had hit the boat ripping off the top mast and throwing crew members out of their bunks. Within a few moments all hands were on deck coping with some of the worst conditions ever experienced by Jolie Brise.

The crew described the experience in their journal as follows: 'Days 19 and 20. On Tuesday we were finally hit by gale force 10 winds, which led to massive 50-60 foot waves, making steering and life on board very difficult. Fortunately, because we were going downwind, we were able to surf down many of the waves. At around 2 o'clock we were hit by an enormous freak wave causing us to spin into a crash gybe. The boom swung into the backstay causing the top mast to break off. It was all hands on deck to try to recover the damage. The top mast was eventually brought down on deck. It was quite spectacular to witness, but we were assured by Toby that this used to happen in the past - in fact they used to race with a spare topmast on board. Down below we tidied the mess caused, and most of the crew retired to their bunks. On further inspection, we have discovered a large crack in the bow sprit, causing us to be very cautious so as not to ruin further cruises on the boat this summer.

Unfortunately this was not the end of the day's excitement. The waves continued to build and helming became very strenuous. A series of huge waves hit the boat, resulting in people flying about down below, life-jackets inflating on deck and, most importantly, an end to supper. We then completely lowered the main sail and after a brief heave to, we continued sailing on the storm jib alone. To brighten the mood, three pilot whales swam past us. Throughout the night the wind died down until this morning when we re-hoisted the main on its second reef. There is now quite an upbeat mood on board as the worst of the weather is over, the sun is out and there are less than 300 miles to go until the finish line. On board we are now enjoying some luxuries such as washing up in hot fresh water and making preparations for when we get ashore in Ireland.

This afternoon Jolie Brise sailed into Belfast at the end of her journey of 7,000 miles which had started on 3 May 2009 in Vigo.'

Many of the Tall Ships had arrived earlier in the day and were already safely berthed. As Jolie Brise made her way up the River Lagan to her mooring on Queen's Quay, all the ships in the fleet greeted her with long blasts on their whistles and there was much cheering on the quayside, and not least from the crew's parents. Belfast was set to welcome over half a million visitors to the Tall Ships Festival, the biggest spectacle the city has hosted in many years.

At the prize-giving Jolie Brise gained three awards: prizes for coming second in her class and for the youngest crew, and the Crowther Memorial Shield for the skipper, first mate and crew, who demonstrated outstanding seamanship.'

p.s. And what did happen to the cracked and split top mast? The crew cut it up in to small sections and sold them as souvenirs to visitors at the Tall Ships Festival in Belfast. They made £430, helping defray 'expenses' whilst in port!

p.p.s. Dauntsey's has just won a 'Commended' in the Independent School of the Year 2009 category of the fifth annual Daily Telegraph-Aviva 'School Sport Matters' awards. This campaign was initiated five years ago to celebrate all that is good and exemplary in school sport and physical education. The awards are designed to recognise dedication, commitment, team-work and the core belief that sport in the school environment, setting a pattern for life, does matter. In other words, the foundation for sporting success is developed at school. The winner of the category was Oakham School in Rutland, while Millfield School in Somerset won 'Highly Commended'.
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