The voyage continues

The voyage continues

This is the second of a two-part column.

Even among tall ships, arguably the most beautiful vessels afloat, the Danmark is a special ship. And a three-day passage from Boston to Halifax early this month was a special voyage, and not just for me.

As the Danmark left Boston on the rainy morning of Aug. 1 and began its methodical trek eastward across the Gulf of Maine, it was clear this was going to be a rewarding voyage. There was one reason for this above all others: The officers and crew were itching to get to sea. In due course, I came to understand why.

Until a few years ago, the Danmark had been a purely government ship, owned and operated by Denmark's Maritime Authority. That changed when day-to-day management was put in the hands of a maritime school, Martec.

The change was important. Al-though the ship would still be owned by the government, train cadets and represent Denmark around the world, the government had decided to limit what it spends to support it. In other words, the Danmark was being commercialized; Martec would have to find new sources of revenue to support the ship.

So by the time the Danmark finally left North America in mid-August after visiting Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore, New York, Boston and Halifax, it had been host to 44 private lunches, dinners and receptions, not counting public visiting hours, with the officers and crew attending every one. Though exhausting, the crew does not object to these events, which were hosted by Danish companies including Maersk Sealand. But it meant that a few days at sea would be a welcome change of pace.

How welcome was quickly evident. Barely three hours into the voyage and with Boston harbor still visible, Capt. Kurt Andersen ordered the propeller silenced and all sails unfurled, a rare moment for a full-rigged ship. The ship would remain under sail power alone for the next 55 hours as a favorable wind shifted from southwest to northwest. Off Cape Sable Island on the southwest tip of Nova Scotia, conditions had evolved to the point of perfection.

That presented an opportunity. The time had come to go on maneuvers. It had been five years since conditions were such that the Danmark could do what for a pleasure yacht is almost an afterthought: come about. Yet with a clear day, a moderate and steady breeze, and no risk of being late for Halifax, it was time to revive the tradition.

First officer Lars Christensen spent a half hour explaining the complicated maneuver, which would require the muscle of every one of the 79 cadets as well as most of the officers. As the ship begins its turn into the wind, the strength of dozens is required to shift around the aft mast sails in a single, swift motion. Having been braced around, the sails will assist the rudder in pushing the ship around. A short time later, the foremast and mainmast sails will be shifted, and the ship will assume its new course. It went so flawlessly that the captain saw fit to try it again, giving the impression that the ship was sailing in circles.

It was a proud moment for a ship that has had many. At any U.S. tall ship parade, like the one in 2000 to celebrate the millennium and in 1986 for the centennial of the Statue of Liberty, the Danmark is second in line behind the Coast Guard's Eagle. The reason dates back to World War II. The Danmark was in Jacksonville on a routine training voyage when Denmark was invaded by the Germans in 1940. Its cadets dispatched to serve on free merchant ships, the Danmark served under the stars and stripes with its Danish captain and crew training some 3,000 U.S. Coast Guard officer cadets. A number of those veterans rejoined the Danmark for celebrations this past July 4 in Washington.

So convinced was the Coast Guard of the value of sail training that in 1946 it jumped at the opportunity to take as a war prize the German training ship Horst Wessel, which has since sailed as the Eagle.

The evening following the maneuvers, the last before Halifax, the seas were calm and the horizon was awash with the spouts of dozens of whales. A fitting end to a memorable journey.

Peter Tirschwell is vice president and editorial director of Commonwealth Business Media's Magazine Division. He can be contacted at (973) 848-7158, or at ptirschwell@joc.com.