Bark Europa: Last days


The mix of people on this ship has been incredible. Together we speak at least 16 languages, and I may not even have counted them all. Everyone has a different background, their own reasons for being here and their own wisdom. There has been so much to talk about and to learn from everyone. And maybe even more, so much to laugh about. I have laughed so much. I think we all – me, the permanent crew and the voyagers – feel incredibly blessed for the positive vibes day in and out. I would need another lifetime to gather all the wisdom on board. For example, from Enguerrand, the bosun on this trip. I should have filmed him for a day (which he would never have allowed me to do) as he is explaining one thing to another to an endless line of voyage and permanent crew members waiting with a question. And then the non-sailing related topics we have expertise on all together is endless: from cheesemaking to airplanes to tree-maintenance; it is all on board.

But there is no more time to learn everything I would want to learn to have every conversation I would like to have. We are close to land. To Argentina to be precise. It was visible for the first time yesterday and has been material for jokes – for example discussions on who is most desperate to get on land and what they would be willing to do to get off the ship first. In reality, as this trip is almost reaching the end, days are suddenly too short. The word “mañana” was possible for a long time. I’ll read that book tomorrow, I’ll make that photo tomorrow. At sea, time seemed endless. There was always plenty of it. Exactly what some voyagers came for: really wind down, relax and get bored. And then suddenly that was over. On the misty days we were wondering if we would still see sunlight this trip. On days without wind, if we would still sail this trip. Then when the sun came back, a crowd went up to still take that last picture. And when the wind came back, the main deck was suddenly flooded with people wanting to help to set the sails.

Nature seems wanting to make it difficult for us to leave the ship. I have not seen so much bioluminescence in my life as yesterday evening. To make the experience more absurd seals were swimming around us, lighting up like glowing dragons. It almost feels like the ocean was giving a little show to say goodbye. The next afternoon a group of Commerson’s dolphins swam with us for over an hour. They were jumping out of the water, showing us how much fun being a dolphin can be. Then if that was not enough for one day, one of the prettiest sunsets we have seen this week. Former blue watch opened their biergarten (as they refer to it themselves) to experience it “like in the olden days”. It was the last time they did this while we were sailing.

It kind of hurts, having to say “the last time”. And these days have been full of it. The last time I have put the manta trawl out. The last time we maybe hoisted that sail. The last time some of us furled that sail. Thinking about all the other ‘last times’ I will experience these last days gives me a knot in my stomach. Thinking of all the things I won’t be doing anymore gives me a knot too. You would think we would be ready by now, but we are not. This is our home now. It is not the same as getting on the bus or an airplane. This ship has been our little universe, our little bubble. The people on it have been our lives. I am a sentimental person, so I foresee a lot of tears on my side saying goodbye to all these magical encounters.

 It is hard, but it is time. Last times are normal. Saying goodbye is normal. The true sailors on this ship know this all too well. We experienced a great adventure and will now go on to the next. We had a toast to our journey, a toast to the company and a toast to the future for we may of might never meet again.

I am off now to enjoy some of the remaining last times. Greetings to you all, so long and thanks for all the fish.

Bark Europa: Life in the deckhouse


There is this magical place called the deckhouse. Just like the ocean changes all the time, so does the atmosphere in the deckhouse.

In the morning, it is empty until ten – coffee time – when it’s suddenly filled with people crawling out of their beds for a drop of this magic potion and, probably regarded as even more important, the cookies. Then on a rainy or stormy day the next moment of life is around lunch. At this time, it is more of an acrobatic show with people trying to get their plates, cutlery and drinks safely to a table. I always like to be early so I can have a good seat to observe this, and I am sure others in turn enjoy observing my acrobatic endeavours as well.
We have been at sea long enough now for most of us to realize you cannot carry all this and soup at the same time. The overly confident will meet the bartender, who will sweetly tell them she will prepare a bowl while they already bring their plates and drinks away.

Most of us also learned (sometimes through making mistakes first) that you cannot fill your cup fully and that you can definitely not leave it on the table unattended. We have been very lucky with the weather on this trip; the ocean allowed us to get used to life on a ship slowly. Days with a very rocky ship have been scarce and only few cups have fallen over. Then after lunch the deckhouse becomes lively. Most people are awake now. This is the time of chess tournaments or other games, painting, workshops, knot-practicing, lectures, reading books and chitchatting.

Then after dinner things get interesting. You will never know what happens in the room now. It could be filled with songs and live music -guitars, banjos, violins, whistles and ukuleles have all been present so far.

This is also the moment of movie nights with popcorn, conversations or thrilling poker games. At midnight there is the change of shifts and suddenly there are people everywhere; the hallway stuffed with people putting raingear on, sleepy faces with coffee in their hands trying to wake up for their next shift, or going for a warm bowl of soup.

The middle of the night is one of my favorite moments. This is the time of weird conversations, funny stories and nap time – given away by the sounds of snoring and feet sticking out of the benches. Sometimes, after 2.00 at night, I find people sitting spread out over the room just blindly staring in different directions with no apparent interaction or active brain cells present. I wish I could explain to you how funny I find this, but this is one of those moments you just have to experience. This is all until enthusiastic crew-members come in to announce sailhandling; a welcome distraction for some, or a moment where sleepy souls try to hide (“The trick is to not make any eye-contact” I have been told).

Some of us never want to go to bed, because you never know what could happen (emphasis on ‘some of us’, I think many are also very attached to their sleep). One might just miss that group of dolphins, that nice conversation, the thrilling storm or beautiful sunrise. Every hour of the day is a new experience and everyone has a different trip. I know I will be up again tonight for the eclipse of the moon. To then see it disappear into the ocean as the sun rises, all under the watchful eye of the stars still flickering in the purple sky.

What will you be doing?

Bark Europa: The final stretch in the northern hemisphere


The last days have been all in the theme of making connections. Firstly, connecting with each other. Next to all the sailing activities there has been plenty of time to talk and get to know one another. Someone even mentioned that all the stories shared between the voyagers are among his favourite moments. Next to that, the practice of sailing shows us everything is connected. When you want to hoist a sail, it is not just about pulling lines: all lines are indirectly connected to other lines, that have to be attended at the same time. Sailing is working together closely, and learning how all the parts of the ship are interconnected and work together.

One of the shifts on board is “the Helm”. At the helm, you steer the ship. As easy as it sounds, it has been a process for everyone to get the hang of it. The ship never moves in a straight line, but responds on the wind and the waves. Accordingly, it takes time to get to know the ship and estimate how to correct for the direction of the wind and waves. Dirk, one of our voyagers, noted that sailing has tought him to look beyond the destination, beyond staring at the compass only. He has been on board now for a month and says he notices he looks around more to observe the waves and the wind. He feels more rooted, gaining more overview over the ship and all that the forces influencing it. 

Disconnecting to the buzz of normal life has brought space for new things and thoughts. As we are all slowly settling in and calming down, we tend to have more space to let our environment really connect with us. And as we look around, it becomes visible how much life there is. Sometimes we feel like we are alone on the ocean, with no building or ship in sight. But we have been visited by many animals varying from butterflies and birds hanging around on the ship for a day to a group of flying fish accidentally jumping on the ship in the middle of the night.

Many animals seem to be interested to see what is happening and come to take a closer look at the ship. This morning a group of orcas was spotted just a meter away from the railing, a unique and exciting sighting for everyone awake. One of the most magic moments was a night full of bioluminescence. As the bow of the ship cuts through the waves, it triggers bioluminescence which can still be seen as a long trail behind us. To top it off, a group of dolphins played in these bioluminescent waves.

Life just seems to keep on giving, not just with wildlife, but also with great food, great conversations and even occasional self-made music. It is hard to imagine what else could be heading our way, but since we are all utterly content in the present, we don’t really think about it. What we do think about, is our level of Spanish for when we do reach land again. The first Spanish afternoon has already been organised and everybody was welcome: those who speak 3 words of Spanish and those who master the language of using hands and feet. I am sure we will have learned to sail by the end, but I will have to come back to you on the Spanish part.

Hasta luego!

Bark Europa: Life underneath us

Since we left the coast of Tenerife and the proximity of the Sahara, dust has cleared from the sky. The foggy clouds around us have made space for a clear blue sky with some occasional clouds. This makes forgreat photography, especially during sunrise, sunset and moonrise. In a span of 24 hours, we come across endless variations of blue, pink and orange.In the doldrums the water became flat as a mirror, reflecting the light beautifully. On clear nights we can finally observe the stars. We are lucky to have Ali on board, who knows many Arabic stories on the stars and constellations.

Next to the beauty of the physical, we still very much enjoy the animals we are surrounded by. For example, our hitchhiking friends “Claudia Bunt & Thomas of the Foremast”. It has been spectacular to see them catch flying fish straight out of the water or to observe them from up close, which we luckily can if we climb up the masts. Since then, our bird army has expanded to a flock of 7, all from different species. Some of them enjoy the possibility to occasionally sit on our masts for a little break, something we enjoy a little bit less.
Especially those of us who 
have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when the birds did their number 2. Furthermore, we recently got a very good view of a group of bonitos swimming along with the ship at incredible speed. As could be expected, there were some who wanted to have an even closer look, so the fishing rod was taken out of the closet. Two bonitos were successfully caught, closely observed and later eaten in a delicious salad.

Regarding fishing, we have also been fishing for science. We have a net on board which we can use to catch plankton, and a ‘manta troll’, which we are using to research the abundance of floating plastic. Next to the research on plastic, we find a lot of life in the nets as well; the diversity has been incredible. At night, we found fish capable of bioluminescence, common for species that spend their days in the deeper darker twilight zones of the ocean. For some of the voyage crew this raised a lot of questions: what else is living underneath us?

understand a little better what is going on below the surface, I organised a lecture on the deep sea. Next to deep sea fish, we also found a lot more plankton in our nets at night.
The difference has been 
mind-blowing and can be explained by the phenomenon diurnal vertical migration. Many species live at depth during the day (varying from 200 to 800 meters) and swim to the surface at night to feed. In terms of biomass, it is the largest synchronous migration in the world. I find it amazing we can see this first hand during our trolls.
It is quite 
special in any case; for an organism that is 2 mm long, a 200-m migration is the rough equivalent of a 200-km swim for a human! To be fair, they are good swimmers. But still: why do they do this?

voyagers can tell you all about the possible hypotheses when they get home. And when they get home, they will probably also tell you about Neptune’s visit. I will not give anything away in this blog, but we I can say we have crossed the equator. 

More on our adventures in the southern hemisphere will follow soon!

Bark Europa: The Spaghetti Monster


Previously I mentioned that the crew has set out to master the Spanish language; however, a more pressing matter is learning the language the crew is speaking. While they claim to speak English, it can better be defined as “Sailor”, as their jargon is unique and unlike anything I have encountered on land. 

Some members of the voyage crew have dedicated themselves to learning the names of the lines and their locations. I think we all feel some sort of pride when we remember a new line, but then the next step is to also know what to do with the lines. Some can by now comprehend theinstructions, often given in “Sailor”. Yet outside these select few, the majority of us are on a slower learning curve. This leads to humorous interactions as the permanent crew is ready and the learned crewmen run to their stations meanwhile the rest of us stare blankly at the 240 ropes hanging from above. Distractions arise easily as crew members are caught in chatty conversation standing around lines that need to be pulled. This occurs to the occasional impatience of the permanent crew as many tasks must be completed in quick succession of one another. However, do not worry, they are always very kind when we have no clue what is going on or make mistakes.

An additional side effect of sail handling is the vast quantity of rope which accumulates on the deck. These piles of tangled rope have come to be known among the crew as the “spaghetti monster.” With an overwhelming number of ropes to be sorted it has become necessary to learn how to properly stow the ropes and keep the spaghetti monster at bay. At first, the arrival of the spaghetti monster was overwhelming but I can proudly inform you almost all of us have become worthy warriors who can swiftly defeat the chaos of lines on deck.  We are getting more comfortable with sailing, but also on the ship. We now understand the routine, where we can find things and have settled in. Voyagers are getting to know the members of their shift better and conversations are slowly going more in depth. The adrenaline levels have been falling and it is not an uncommon sight anymore to see people taking naps all over the ship. It is also not uncommon to see a book on their lap which they were attempting to read. We have found peace. And occasionally,  adrenaline levels rise again, when we climb. Almost everyone has attended climbing instructions and some can be regularly found somewhere in the masts helping out by furling sails or assisting in maintenance tasks. But we also go up for fun; to get a good view and shoot some nice photos.

While we focussed our attention on learning to sail, we made speed towards Cape Verde. After having no land in sight for a week the lookout was finally able to report “land ahoy” to the skipper on deck. What began as a dot on the horizon slowly grew into a long chain of barren islands. We dropped anchor off the coast and spent the afternoonswimming beside the ship. Standing seven meters above the sea, the bowsprit of the ship provided the perfect high dive. The more advanced swimmers among the crew were able to wow us with acrobatics and impressive dives, while the rest competed in cannonball and belly flop competitions. After our afternoon on the water, we set the sails and turned towards the open sea. The evening concluded with birthday party for our crewmate Sarah as we watched the islands sink back into the horizon.

Life is good.

Bark Europa: Making connections

We have crossed the equator. We satisfied Neptune with our sacrifices and I can now enjoy even shorter showers with less hair to wash or brush. To even please Neptune more, self-written songs and acts have been performed. Our efforts have been received well and rewarded with good wind.

Our first day in the Southern Hemisphere was celebrated with a visit to the islands of Fernando de Noronha. I woke up extra early to get a first glimpse of the islands, and the shape we encountered on the horizon was unexpected.It can be described as beautiful, but I think weird, Jurassic Park-like or the movie set of Indiana Jones would more accurately describe the scene.

Next to the island we dropped anchor for a swimming stop. For a few hours the windy rough ocean was forgotten and we had a glimpse of a normal holiday. Nothing to worry about; no towels flying away, no sails to attend to. Just swimming, sunbathing and some snacks. Except that nothing about this ship is normal. We attract a lot of curiosity in the form of little boats, kite-surfers and a zodiac completely stuffed with officers, just in case they could not check on us with only two. All was good and in the late afternoon we set sail again, on to new adventures. Without our bird friends, who probably found a new home at the island. No more photos of these beautiful birds, but also less deck washing to do.

Next to being proficient relaxers, we also got a long way on the sailing part; we know the names of all the sails and can find most of the lines. Many are also proficient climbers and when you look up high in the mast, it’s not only experienced crew you’d see there. The main reason we can now find almost all the lines is thanks to the famous pinrail-chace. During this race, the team knowing most lines could win eternal glory. There are apparently many competitive spirits on board, as you could find people studying all the pins (and the lines that are made fast on them) days, nights and hours and even minutes before the race. This competitive spirit is also used for the extensive games of chess being played on board. When asking people how their day was, it can happen that the answer would be “Very good, I beat [insert name here] today”.

But back to the pinrail-chase; because group spirit is an essential part of being a sailor, one extra point was awarded to all the teams that dressed in their team colour for the occasion. This was also the only point the team of new crew members managed to finish with. I would like to tell you in my defence, as this was my team, that the judge at the start of the game already announced that he was not going to be fair. The third team probably agrees with this, as they came in after us. But I must say it was all very exciting with every team (ok, maybe except mine) taking the lead alternately. It was not clear who would take the win until the last thrilling assignment. Of which I will not give more away, so that no reader will have an advantage in future games. 

Another reason for us starting to feel like we are almost worthy sailors is that we have days where we can practice a lot. As in: we hoist a sail, to bring it down an hour later, to then shortly after hoist it again. And this is not because the captain or mate are trying to annoy us or keep us busy, it has more something to do with the wind not making up its mind in what it wants to do. Luckily it occasionally also behaves exactly as we would like to. These are moments we can bring out the gorgeous stunsails. They do not only look beautiful on pictures; it is also quite something to behold in real life.

Not too long ago I helped with the furling of some jibs at the bow in the night. There were some lights on, to help us work. This lit up the sails behind us, including the stunsails. It was a magical sight I will not forget any time soon. We have been gone a month and I keep rediscovering the ship; as the wind changes, so do the sails and their angles and as the sky changes, so do all colours on board. No day is the same.

Marretje, Researcher

Bark Europa: Last days

The mix of people on this ship has been incredible. Together we speak at least 16 languages, and I may …

Bark Europa: Life in the deckhouse

There is this magical place called the deckhouse. Just like the ocean changes all the time, so does the atmosphere in the …

Bark Europa: The final stretch in the northern hemisphere

The last days have been all in the theme of making connections. Firstly, connecting with each other. Next to all the sailing …