On Friday June 11, John & Jenny Williamson took a trip on the graceful Russian sailing ship Mir on a scheduled crossing from Douglas to Barrow where she was due to appear at the Barrow Maritime Festival over the weekend of June 12 -13.
As you will read, they had an enjoyable trip but perhaps the Russian food was a little different than what might be expected on a voyage to or from the Isle of Man!
The food on board was ethnic Russian, and not to everyone's taste. The cadets on board were having no problems at all with it (and actually thriving on it, considering the amount of physical effort which went into a days sailing). Breakfast was a sort of fishy liver pate, best described by one of the UK passengers who had already been on for a fortnight as "kit-e-kat".
Lunch was a fairly filling fish broth, with chunks of fish, followed by a sort of pork schnitzel - mostly spicy breadcrumbs, with very little meat, with a sort of multiple veg boil-up or fry-up.
Afternoon Tea was a sort of spiced up sausage meat, sliced and then (I think) boiled, to be eaten with sliced bread. We didn't stay for dinner - timings meant we had to rush off for the train, but the invitation was there!
We were shown to a cabin that we could use while on board - a 6 berth cabin for the 5 passengers, with facilities down the hall. Fortunately, the weather was good, (and there was so much going on to keep us occupied) so we did not need to visit the cabin again.
We spent the morning watching the crew working the sails, both up in the rigging, and on deck on the ropes, working very much as a team, but with time for a laugh when the work was done. When we started off from Douglas, quite a few sails were set, but it was soon apparent that we were going far too fast, and a number of them has to be taken in again. This was an upside for us, as we had the opportunity to see how all the work was done, with periodic adjustments to add or reduce sail to keep her on schedule. The crew comprises 50 (or so) full timers, and about 90 cadets.
After lunch, we were given an escorted tour of the ship, including the engine room - 2 very fine looking Sulzer diesels to power the one screw when required, supplemented by an auxilliary diesel which runs throughout the passage for electricity, etc. We also saw the wood panelled aft cabin used for entertaining dignitaries, one of the cadets' 6 berth cabins, the galley, the crew's TV room, the carpenter's workshop, and the sail maker's workshop. The sail maker is the one crew member who has served with the ship since she came into service in 1987, and he is the oldest crew member.
The bridge visit was followed by the hands on opportunities to go out along the bow sprit to the very tip, to climb the rigging, and to take the helm. We "chickened out" of the climbing, even though safety harnesses were supplied. Watching those who tried it persuaded us that this was a wise decision.
The ships double wheel is huge, and turning it enough to make an impression on our direction was quite challenging, although we had some quite sensitive dials to show us the bearing and rudder inclination. (When the engines are running, they can take control of the rudder using power via a console on the bridge, so the wheel does not have to be manned for close quarters manoevering)
We took 2 tugs to manoevre astern and to turn off No 3 berth in Douglas, with "Lonan" on the bow, and "Wendy Ann" on the stern. In Barrow, we berthed on the East side of the Ramsden Dock Basin, with "Avanti. C" on the bow, "Albicore" on the stern, and with pushing assistance mid-ships from "Furness Abbey".
All 5 of the tall ships which had been in Douglas Bay had been scheduled to leave for Barrow at 09.00, but 2 had already departed when we arrived in Douglas at around 07.30. We were the last 09.00 (5th) to depart, at 09.58. (When was the last time 5 passenger vessels had the same departure time booked from Douglas ???)
We were on sail from Douglas fairway until 16.41, when the Sulzers were fired up. We took the Barrow pilot at 17.06, and we were finally berthed at 18.53.
We had so much time in hand to get to Barrow on our booked time of 17.15 at the pilot station that we had very little sail up - with a good wind behind us, we were doing 6 -7 knots with only two sails up, so what could we have done with all 26 ? We reckon she could have overtaken the BEN-MY-CHREE - she does have claims to be the fastest tall ship in the world. Captain Timoshkov apologised to us for not being able to show us what she looked like when "fully dressed".
Our verdict is that this was a thoroughly enjoyable day out, with opportunities afforded to see more of the ship and become more involved than had been available on the short afternoon or evening out cruises from Douglas. (We even came away with certificates confirming that we had successfully served our sailing apprenticeship on the vessel - a numbered certificate, signed by the master, issued to passengers making significant voyages - in our case calculated as 61.7 nautical miles).
We look forward to seeing the tall ships, and the Mir in particular, back in Douglas. The intention is to repeat this event in future years, but to try to go for a really big one (target of 50 sailing ships) for the TT centenary in 2007.