A Real Account of Life Aboard The Tall Ship ‘Gorch Fock’

September 18, 2015 0

On Wednesday we published a story about the tall ship Gorch Fock visiting Dublin and we were delighted to receive an email from former Gorch Fock Sailor, Michael Brzoza.  Michael was on board the Gorch Fock for two tours in 1980 and kindly offered to write a story for us detailing what life islike on board the Tall ship.  Thanks Michael for this fantastic insight into life on board a tall ship

The Gorch Fock is moored in Dublin harbour until Monday 21st September when it will once again take to the open sea…

Life on Board Tall Ship, Gorch Fock…


It was at the end of March 1980, when my manager at the Marine Aviators (fly navy) asked if I’d like time to go to sea. I agreed, and two weeks later I came aboard the sail training ship Gorch Fock. It was exciting to have “commissioned” in such a large 3 Master and on the same day was the training going for sailing crew. There are 3 groups on board.  One is the core team who have solid positions on board and remain on board for a few months, even years. The second group are the trainees, the officer cadets. The seamanship learning aboard is both theory and practice. While the cadets below deck attend courses  or solve inspection tasks , the 3rd group , the sailing crew sail the ship alone .

At this sailing crew I had reported me. In the first days we got a boat plan on which all belaying pins could be seen with designation. This we should know by heart within a few days. Not only the exact name, but also the position where there was this nail. There were belaying pins made of brass, steel or wood, depending on the load of the individual. Shortly before the start of the first trip each was examined whether he had also mastered his job. The knowledge of the position and name of each document nails is very important for all, what should be proved later in practice at sea. How quickly realized all the names on Backboard were also encountered at starboard side, which facilitated learning already by half. The solving of the wrong rope (rope) on a false document nail can be deadly for yourself or your comrades.

Michael Gorch Fock 1980-2008The process on board is easily controlled. The division of the guards takes place in four groups port 1 and port 2, and 1 starboard and starboard 2. Each group is four hours watching daily. Each group consists of about 20-30 people. After the fourth station is a so-called peasant night. That means once from 8pm until morning by 5:30 am to sleep. Often sailing manoeuvres must be driven at night, in which all hands are needed.

Then it says : “All hands on deck !”

On the first day we get to know the ship. What is an upper deck? What is a framework or foremast? In the next few days, the aloft is practiced in the rigging. Each entert on voluntary, no one is forced. Some cannot wait and are already in dizzy height of over 40 meters. Gradually, I dare ever higher, but it will cost to overcome if one looks down. What no one had considered by us by then is the fact that the ship is moving at sea strongly to the left and right.

gorch_fock_german_tall_ship_in_dublin_18sep15_5The positions of each individual in the rigging were released after a few days and now we went specifically to the tasks that had to be done every one to his position.  A repeatedly listening spell our superiors was: “One hand for you a hand for the ship.” Compared to today, we were equipped only with a simple Life Band. A thick rope for each individual which is taped around the belly in case one went off in the rigging. Today, however, there are professional dishes, making sure not to work in the rigging. He also changed the distribution of food. Today it comes to how a modern cafeteria where everyone takes his tray and hires on the issue. In my day, there was still steward, two a guard who went to Tin buckets to the galley and had to pick up the food for the entire station. Afterwards they had to pick up the dishes and wash. After one week, followed by two new comrades.

After waking in the morning at 05:30 am, it goes to the hammock patterning. This must be neat frap hammock on the middle deck the watch keepers be presented.  Is it ok it can be stowed below deck. If  not an immediate rectification , often with a needle and thread required.  From before it is known that a good frap hammock for a long time to swim very well. Then the rush starts on the sink, waiting is often announced here. After breakfast, the normal working day on board starts. If port has 1 sail guard, then from 08:00 am to 12:00 pm. After that normal service as deck coating, perform repairs, etc. At noon there is a lunch break that anyone can unless he has  guard duty.

gorch_fock_german_tall_ship_in_dublin_18sep15After we had met the ship theoretically it sailed  off. For some, it was a serious departure from the girlfriend or parents. Already on the second day at sea, we quickly realized the Skagerrak , it was all theory what we had learned in the 2 weeks training in the port. The wind blew strongly and the Bark went through at an angle. I thought that was great, because for me that is sailing on a windjammer. We finally reached the first stop of our trip, Funchal in Madeira .

We had hardly left Funchal we were surprised by yet another storm.  Now came one of the longest stages, the journey across the Atlantic to Boston USA. For 4 weeks only water, no matter in which direction you looked. And every morning a beautiful sunrise, every night an equally beautiful sunset. It has already become routine, and I quickly realised that one needs little in life.

gorch_fock_german_tall_ship_in_dublin_18sep15_2Smart phones were not available anyway as these were not invented until years later.  Instead, Mother’s congratulations were sent by telex to the home. There were also messages except by telex every Saturday the Bundesliga football results on the bulletin board. Life on board has many limitations, but you learn quickly that there is a world out here. One needs no news, or television. It’s so peaceful here at sea, porpoises, whales, just enjoy nature and the sea. The purpose of this training is also practice fellowship and to recognise one’s  own limitations and weaknesses. Quick one realises what one can achieve on board only in the group setting.

Each at his post is important and only together as a team we reach our goal. At the same time one misses his privacy. It does not exist, one is constantly with 220 people on a boat and there is no “escape”. During the crossing to the USA there was an Atlantic Sports Festival. Here the engine was started up (we called him Jockel) and the guards could compete in different sporting disciplines. Also a variety of everyday life on board, it was a lot of laughter and even elected the Mr. Atlantic.

gorch_fock_german_tall_ship_in_dublin_18sep15_6After three weeks we reached Hamilton in Bermuda. Since the port has no more free space as there was a US American luxury liner moored, we were dragged into the British navy yard. The Englishman welcomed us. Here we had free 3 days so take off to the beach and a refreshing swim. I remember at the Horseshoe Bay. For below deck it was  about 40 °C and the wooden floor was wet. We went to Boston. On the day when we should reach the US East Coast, I stood as a lookout on the forecastle. I felt like Christopher Columbus a little, suddenly the watch was a vapor cloud on the horizon, then the tips of the skyscraper, which had to be America.

Here a Windjammer meeting took place. Many tall ships from around the world had come, from South America, Europe and Asia. We were already a day before arriving in front Reede and many Americans came with their motorboats approached us and threw us Heineken beer cans through our portholes. But most of them fell into the water … The parade the next morning was very exciting, because we had to set sail and everything went a little hectic. Many small boats had approached so closely that it was not safe to keep the boat  safely on course.

10-dm-schein-von-1963Later, after the 4th and 5th Windjammer parade everything was normal and seasoned like here in Boston. The shore in Boston was like a VIP meeting. The Americans wanted to buy our sailors caps, but even better was our 10th-DM bill with the  Gorch Fock printed on the back and with an original board cancellation of our trip all the doors were open to us. This bill was highly sought after.

The crossing back to Europe was declared Windjammer race. To make the Gorch Fock even faster for the race, ballast was removed. The fresh water tank was reduced by half.  Now was voted on board. Either 1x a week ofshowers every day  or fresh coffee on board? The majority opted for the coffee. Well, below deck in hammocks in stuffy air, it is important now not to. Middle of the Atlantic was announced wash day. Today, there is on board an industrial washing machine and a dryer. Our washing machine was a mop and soap in combination with salt water. Luxury that time was not yet on board.

Today, there are espresso machines, Wi-Fi, DVD’s, projectors, air conditioning, etc. I still remember when we reached the Orkney Islands, a Navy boat came alongside and behind the boat at sea. It’s crew gave us a picture of the ship and signed by the Scottish commander. We gave in return a photo of the Gorch Fock also autographed by our commander Capt. Helmut Wind. The race ended at the level of Kristians and Norway and a few days later we reached the home port of the Gorch Fock, Kiel.

gorch_fock_german_tall_ship_in_dublin_18sep15_3Again we joined  the occasion of the Kiel Week, a windjammer parade on the Kiel Fjord instead. Everything had prestigious names was represented as a Windjammer. Kruzenshtern, Danmark, Dar Pomorza, Christian Radich, Sörlandet etc. After a few days it went on the second trip to Karlskrona in Sweden, in Denmark Frederikshavn to Amsterdam and Bremerhaven.

Everywhere we were greeted warmly, because it seems Windjammer is  still a magical attraction for many people around the world. They are the last of their kind who have yet to be sailed with muscle strength and there are fewer because of the maintenance of such a sailor requires a lot of money.  But eventually my time of leave-taking had also come. It was not easy for me to leave after this adventure the ship again.

As the Gorch Fock training set sail a few weeks later, I was at the pier and had tears in his eyes, because as it says in the Gorch Fock Song:

” I ‘d still love to .. there! ” Even today I am from time to time on board the Gorch Fock and also have contact with other tall ships ( USCG Eagle or Kruzenshtern ) on which I was allowed to ride ever. This adventure Windjammer will never let me go…

Michael Brzoza,
former Gorch Fock sailor