What A Blooming Libertad

Sails partly furled and framed by flags of the world, the Argentinian naval training ship Libertad (liberty) took a well earned rest in Santa Cruz before rounding off its 46th world tour. Built in 1961, it puts new generations of crew through a gruelling six month voyage, this year there were 13 port stops including Portsmouth.

I didn´t need a press gang to drag me on board the 103 metre long vessel, it was open house for the four day stay over in the Tenerife capital but most of the crew were taking shore leave. There are 27 officers and 187 petty officers, and 61 cadets including 14 ladies – sadly I never got to meet any of them. The young skeleton crew welcomed small groups on board, they even piped us onto the deck, they had clearly done plenty of polishing and scrubbing so it really was ship shape.

As someone who struggles to do his shoe laces up, I am always impressed by the neat coiling of the many ropes, the three masts feature 27 sails so they have to have perfect recall of what links to each cross beam. It was top deck only for the tour, well it is a navy vessel and has some rather delicate and potent equipment. The four 4.7 mm Hotchkiss canons stood proud on each side, and a wall mounted axe and hammer harked back to more basic operations when the ship was first commissioned. Just because it was sleek and functional, it didn´t stop the inclusion of some impressive art work around the steering column and compass.

As luck would have it, another ship was moored nearby, the French navy´s La Gracieuse P687 patrol ship was taking on supplies and not receiving visitors. It didn´t seem intimadated by its larger and more powerful neighbour. One ship that definatelt wasn´t about to get a welcome in a Canarian port was the British MV Cheshire,loaded with fertilizer it had burst into flames off Gran Canaria and had taken several days and much concern before it could be made safe.