The Kenosha Tall Ships Festival/Tall Ships Great Lakes Challenge 2019 presented both a great honor and a great challenge to the crew of Red Witch.

It was incredible to lead the Parade of Sail, which included a tall ship that I’d admired as a kid, Bluenose, and other extraordinary vessels including Niagara, Pride of Baltimore II, Picton Castle, Denis Sullivan and Appledore IV.

And it was an honor to stand on a stage and share breakfast with the captains of these esteemed vessels.

Yet the festival also presented a great challenge, as we scheduled 15 sails in three days with a maximum capacity of 49 passengers. We provisioned Red Witch to serve approximately 730 passengers.

In advance, we surmised that our crew would work 12-hour days in relatively hot ambient temperature, significant humidity and without much cloud cover to mitigate exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

We knew that these factors would lead to fatigue. Especially considering that every 90 minutes our deckhands raise Red Witch’s four primary (lower) sails five times each of three days … not an easy task to do even once. The mainsail weighs in at 200 pounds (plus a 200-pound main gaff boom), and as the foresail weighs approximately 150 pounds (plus 200 pounds fore gaff boom).

To mitigate some of the wear and tear, we invited former crew members to work half a day apiece. Deck Manager/First Mate Mike Meyer and Second Mate Noah Olsen joined us.

Deckhand is a position that no one will ever master. Why? It requires turbo-multi-tasking. Deckhands must simultaneously monitor passengers (observe their safety), surrounding boating traffic (“stand on watch”), attend to the sailing rig at the command of the captain (raising, lowering, sheeting in and sheeting out sails), attend to passengers’ needs (beverages, etc.), maintain the vessel’s systems and carry out other commands of the captain.

The vessel’s safe passage depends upon deckhands’ efforts and the captain’s decision-making ability. My primary concern as captain was that deckhands could become exhausted.

Former Red Witch crew from Chicago helped current crew half-days on Thursday and Sunday, and former Kenosha crew members helped on Friday and half the day on Saturday. Nonetheless, I could see that our deckhands were beginning to fatigue each time they had to lift our sails 45 feet aloft.

And then a small miracle occurred. On Saturday afternoon, following our third sail of the day, a tall, lanky young man in a Bluenose T-shirt approached and asked if we might have room so he could experience a sail aboard Red Witch. He said his name was Thomas and that this was his second season as a crew member aboard Bluenose.

Fortunately, we had only 48 passengers on the 5 p.m. sail, so Thomas joined us. I invited him to sit near the helm so he could see the techniques we employ to pilot Red Witch. He shared that Bluenose’s deckhands take turns at the helm and that he was at the helm when Bluenose docked in Kenosha harbor.

After Red Witch left the dock I asked Thomas if he’d like to help raise sail. His face lit up and he quickly walked to a position port amid ships near the mainsail halyards (lines used to raise and lower sails). Mike (170 pounds) and Noah (150 pound) were all too happy to hand one of the halyards to Thomas, a 220-pound Nova Scotia regional team rugby player.

Red Witch’s mainsail has two halyards — two deckhands must concurrently lift the mainsail and main gaff boom by hoisting on the main throat halyard and the main peak halyard. Thomas raised the main peak halyard while Mike hoisted the main throat halyard.

Later, Thomas told Mike that raising Red Witch’s mainsail was “exhausting” but he loved the physical challenge. Bluenose’s sails are so large and heavy that they must be raised and lowered using a hydraulic drum system (like an anchor windlass). I then offered the helm (i.e., steering wheel) to Thomas and he piloted Red Witch for the remainder of the sail.

The next day, on Sunday afternoon, Thomas again showed up to help us raise sail. He brought another Bluenose deckhand, Josh. Red Witch crew had a great time learning about Bluenose through Thomas and Josh. And we enjoyed learning a bit about life in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, through their shared stories.

Incidentally, the original Bluenose, built in 1920, was named in honor of Lunenberg fishermen — who frequently worked with a substance that left a blue tint on their faces … hence they were known as “bluenosers.”

Red Witch thanks the Bluenose crew for helping us physically survive the final afternoons and evenings of the festival. During our conversations, I learned that Thomas graduated from McGill University (an excellent school in Montreal), had studied education, played rugby on the Nova Scotian regional team, and intended to become a professional captain as his lifetime career.

I shared that we built a mini-me version of Bluenose named Jakab — which piqued Thomas’ interest. He also said that Bluenose would depart Kenosha Harbor at 10 a.m. on Monday.

So, following the final sunset sail on Sunday, at 11 p.m. I drove Thomas to Milwaukee to see some of its beautiful architecture and attractions and our other boat, Jakab — a 1908-designed, scaled-down approximate replica of Bluenose (but with a modern Marconi sloop rig rather than a traditional two-masted gaff rig). Between Kenosha and Milwaukee, he was surprised to see how much Wisconsin has to offer.

Prior to Bluenose’s departure on Monday, I went to wish its crew a safe trip east by northeast. Incidentally, Alan, its director of operations, expressed thanks for taking care of a couple members of the crew and then paid a great compliment to Kenosha. He said that prior to visiting Kenosha, Bluenose had offered dock tours in Toronto, Buffalo and Cleveland, yet he shared that Kenosha surprisingly generated the greatest number of dock tour guests aboard Bluenose — and he mentioned that Kenosha is a wonderful town!

Our thanks and Godspeed to Niagara, Denis Sullivan, Appledore IV, Picton Castle, Pride of Baltimore and Bluenose. May they experience fair winds and following seas throughout the duration of Tall Ships Challenge 2019 and have a safe return to their home ports.

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