So what exactly have I been doing with my time as we sail Draken Harald Hårfagre? Well to start with, the first challenge was just learning the parts of the ship and their Norwegian name. Even familiar terms like port and starboard become babord and styrbord, just enough to catch you out if your ear isn’t properly attuned or your concentration starts wandering.
It does this often, as there is just so much new information and observations to take in, although after a few days aboard ship I’d become familiar enough with many of the new words to pick them out of orders and conversations. I’ve been assigned to the foreship (forskip, sounding like it is spelled in Danish or more like forsheep in Norwegian) to work on the halsen as part of a team of four, controlling the bottom corners of the sail and moving between babord and styrboard tack. But more about that in a later post.
The biggest job on Draken is raising the sail, which requires the involvement of all the crew. It can also be the most dangerous, as it involved lifting the massive yard (rå, the letter å sounding like oh) into position about 20metres above the deck, tilting and pivoting it (kaiing) out from underneath the shrouds (vante) once it is raised to half-mast to lie across the beam of the ship. The rå itself is a solid spruce log, around 17 metres long and half a metre thick, and together with the thick, heavy silk sail weighs around 1.2 tonnes.
On the command “Sette seile”, my team and the other watch team leave halsen and head to the back of the ship to take up positions on the sparkespille, a basic windlass that takes 10 – 12 people to turn, by pushing, pulling and throwing their weight onto the spark (wooden posts that slot into the drum to lever it round) to wind in the drag and raise the rå. At kaiing height, which takes 10 minutes of full-on physical effort to reach, the order is given to fit the stoppers to the sparkespille, and the halsen team become the kaiing crew, dragging the tip of the rå downwards by pulling on the braces (bras, ropes attached to the top corner of the sail) and the edge of the sail itself, working it under the six vante, no mean feat as we muscle it , then releasing it out again slowly to continue raising the sail.
Back to the sparkespille, it takes almost 10 minutes or so to fully raise the rå and unfurl the sail. A sharp pull on ropes called gordinger releases slipknots that held the bottom end of the sail tucked up close to the rå, and yards and yards of silk spills out, catching the wind, ready to take a tack.