In May 2014, 32 young people from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland took part in a 7 day youth exchange on a tall ship, the Morgenster. Two Foróige members were lucky enough to take part in the sail, Kirsty Hayes and Cormac Whelan. Kirsty (16) from Co. Cork has composed an article about her experience.
A week living on a tall ship alongside 31 strangers is bound to present its challenges, but late night watches and close living quarters made strangers into one big family. The adventure began for the Republic of Ireland participants in the Dublin Port Centre at 12:00 on Sunday 25th of May. From here we piled our mountain of “unnecessary” luggage into a small overheated bus and began a 3 hour bus journey to Belfast. After a stop, a suspected missing person and some interesting introductory conversations we arrived at our destination. We took our bags and wearily boarded the ship down a narrow steep metal stairs, not designed for hauling bags the size of a small car.
After taking our time to look around the ship, we were divided into our cabins and then our “watches”. Our sleeping arrangements for the week were by far the most interesting. The living room was the sleeping quarters for all 10 Red Watch members (3 girls, 7 boys). The first night was entertaining to say the least. A late night trad session in the living room forced the Red watch to keep their eyes open for an extra few hours, much to the dismay of some (including me) who wanted nothing more than to get a good night’s sleep before setting sail the next evening. Eventually, after lots of drama and shouting (most of which was done by me) the Red Watch got to sleep. The next day we got the opportunity to walk around Belfast and see what it has to offer. After much preparation and anticipation, the boat set sail at 19:00 on Monday 26th of May, with all hands on deck for the take-off. Did you know that boats have loud sirens for when leaving dock? Well I didn’t, providing entertainment to all seeing the boat off from the dock with my terrified screams. Finally, the adventure had begun!
My watch took control of the boat at 20:00 for our first 4 hour shift and we clicked instantly. We had climbers who had no problem climbing to the top of the mast to fix sails, no matter how stormy the sea, rope pullers, the tanks of the watch who could pull the ropes no matter how tough, navigators who steered and kept track of the boats path, and last but definitely not least, the kitchen crew.
Night watches definitely became bonding sessions on the boat, the dark and cold conditions brought everybody closer (literally, body heat was an essential). Wearing 3 pairs of trousers and several layers on top was a critical part of night watch survival. My pink blanket became a very popular item to steal, it was in great demand. Late night toasted sandwiches became a must. Luckily they had top class chefs in Caoimhe and I, who by no choice of our own, provided the snacks to the watch each night.
There was plenty of talent on board the boat to keep us entertained for the week. Our culture exchanges and group bonding activities were great for getting everybody involved. From learning the Belfast slang like “Lee Marvin” meaning starving, to trad sessions and sean-nós singing, the level of talent on the boat was second to none! My favourite talent on board the boat however, was the stories told by Turlough, one of the other trainees. He sure knew how to keep his audience captivated.
My involvement in Foróige linked in with my time on the boat. The leadership and teamwork skills I have learned in Foróige helped me greatly on the boat. We used some of the team building games from my time on Foróige Reference Panel to bring everybody on the boat closer together. I was privileged to find out about the sailing exchange with Irish Sail Training through my involvement in Foróige, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made to apply.
Climbing the mast of the boat was one of the scariest but most exciting parts of the trip. The saying “third time lucky” definitely rang true for me. On my 3rd time attempting to climb the mast, I finally made it to the second platform (with the help of 2 poor boys who dealt with my breakdowns up the mast), and it was one of the best feelings sitting so high up being able to watch the sea pass by around you. It was also a great opportunity to take some fabulous ‘sky pics` and selfies! The amount of selfies taken over the week would put anybody to shame; from shower selfies (!) to mast selfies, we had them all.
Sleep was something lacking in the boat (for most anyway). Up at 7:30 each morning and back to bed at gone 12 at night, tiredness became normal. Sneaking a nap in somebody’s room while they were on watch was the only way to grab a break, unless you were willing to sleep in the living room amongst the hustle and bustle of boat life (not so impossible when you’re so tired you could sleep standing up).
Stopping off in the Isle of Man and Warrenpoint were great adventures. The tall ship was unable to dock in either place so shuttle rides in the speed boat back and forth from both places were on the cards. The Isle of Man was certainly not what I expected! It was far from the quiet semi-deserted island I had imagined it would be. We walked and explored the island, before heading back to the boat. The island was full of fancy, loud, fast motorcycles preparing for the TT races and there was excitement all around.
For our last night, we docked in Dublin. We got the opportunity to go out and explore the city which was great fun. When we got back to the boat, you could see how close everybody had become; we were like one big family. A movie night was planned but the movie was abandoned halfway through for some banter on deck. The goodbyes the next morning were emotional to say the least.
The memories and friendships made on the boat are ones I’ll never forget. I would like to thank Sail Training Ireland for giving me an opportunity of a lifetime. There is nothing I would change about my time on the boat and the skills I learned will certainly be carried with me in my later life. One week, one tall ship, 32 teenagers and the adventure of a lifetime.