It may have been a dummy load but the explosion and smoke from the canon of the Shtandart triple mast frigate felt real enough as the bundle of spare rope was propelled two miles across the sea. Our barefoot Captain Vladimir Martus chuckled at our reactions, it’s all part of the daily life for him and his regular crew of seven, usually boosted by up to 30 trainees.
The creak of the ropes and pulleys, and the lap of the water against the ship was more than I had hoped for when popping to San Miguel marina for an on board tour. As the crew and guests were about to depart I was hauled aboard for a six hour voyage out past Costa del Silencio, Las Galletas, and Palm Mar. The ship is a beauty, built in 1999 in St Petersburg it’s a replica of a 1705 original built for Czar Peter. The oak body, larch planks, and pine masts, tallest 33 metres, stretch to 34.5 metres long and 6.95 metres wide.
As we swept out of the marina the well drilled young crew sprang into action hauling ropes and lowering the vast 660 square metres of sail. As the sails billowed with the captured wind it felt like I had been transported to another age, the sea was fairly calm and a firm turn of the wheel put us on a steady course. This seemed a good time to find out more from the 47 year old captain.
“I took to the sea at 14 in St Petersburg, did some wind surf racing and got interested in replica tall mast ships, traveling as far as the Baltic Sea and round the Cape. This is the furthest west I have been, we spent most of winter in Holland then Bilbao and down to Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.”
It’s not just the look of the ship that is a replica, they used traditional timber and basic old fashioned carpentry skills with Vladimir leading the way. “I cut down some trees in Russia and Holland, it’s not easy to find the right materials. We do all the repairs on board and teach the crew and volunteer trainees to learn a range of skills from setting the sails to learning to tie all the ropes and steer the ship. It’s all about helping people to mature and become better people.”
He wasn’t kidding on those ropes, besides the spaghetti junction of ropes on deck I peeped into the storage area and there was enough to confuse a troop of boy scouts. The sleeping quarters are best described as minimalist with hammocks slung up in any spare corners. There was also a party of four German journeymen carpenters on board, they tour Europe exchanging their skills for travel and accommodation and had been busy renewing planks and adding new tar to fill gaps.
Maybe I have seen too many sea faring swashbuckler movies but firing the canon was a highlight for me. Rolling the 6 pounder (3 kilo) canon into place by the small porthole a member of the crew lit the gunpowder fuse and kaboom off it went. Apparently in the old days a one kilo load in a canvas bag was so volatile no one was allowed any metal when they went in the storage area, even a spark from a key could blow them sky high.
At a suitable distance out there was more frantic sail setting and we took a break down in the galley where a fine spread awaited us complete with tots of rum. Back up on deck the sails were furled away and the two engines kicked in for a slow journey home. Whales and dolphins danced in the water ahead of us and curious pleasure craft came up close to check us out. It was a great experience and a pleasure to meet such a friendly and dedicated crew. Shtandart is taking on paying trainees for a series of cruises based from the Canary Islands, to find out more check the website www.shtandart.ru\en