Year 12 student Joe Jackson spent the summer on the Atlantic Ocean on the final leg of the Tall Ships Race 2009 from Nova Scotia, Canada to Belfast.

Joe applied to gain a place on the ship Europa after becoming interested in sailing after a family sailing holiday in Greece and this interest was developed after an introduction-to-sailing course in Anglesey.

Prior to his voyage he said: “I knew about the Tall Ships race having seen it on TV and thought it would be a great adventure to sail across the Atlantic.”

The crews were finalised in February 2009 and as one of the youngest crew members, his parents were questioned to see if they felt he could cope under such difficult conditions away from home.

Joe was one of 48 trainees drawn from around the world and was awarded his “competent crew theory and practical” certificate after completing the 2,350 nautical miles.
His ship, Europa, came second in its class (Class A ship with 30 sails) and third overall.

On arrival in Belfast, around 750,000 people crowded to the docks for the biggest event ever staged in Ireland. To gain an insight into life on the ocean wave, Joe has written
the following report:

"It was awesome. The trip of a lifetime. I was very nervous when I first got to Canada and boarded the ship but within minutes I was part of the crew and we really gelled together. We were the most diverse crew in the race in terms of age (15 – 70) and number of nationalities (13). I made some great friends from all over the world and we experienced the full range of weather conditions as we crossed the Atlantic; from being becalmed in blazing sunshine in the early stages of the race to fighting through a storm lasting for 3 days, with force 9 winds and waves hitting us that were bigger than a house. It was really scary but exhilarating and the best part of the trip. I saw lots of sea life - whales, hundreds of dolphins, flying fish and giant sea turtles to name but a few. I really enjoyed climbing the rigging, a bit scary at first though you soon got used to it. You needed a head for heights but one of the best bits was sitting on the yard up in the skysail at the top of the main mast when the ship was in full sail and flying across the waves.

I liked sleeping on the deck at night in the good weather. It was pitch black out in the middle of the ocean but you could count all the stars, which were crystal clear and you could see Jupiter. It wasn’t all sitting on masts and stargazing though. Much of the time was spent working really hard, pulling ropes, setting sails, cleaning, cooking and taking the helm which sometimes needed two people in rough weather. We were grouped into 3 ‘watches’; red, blue and white - the colours of the Dutch flag. I was on ‘white’ watch and all the watches were very competitive with each other. We worked on a fixed rota and if you weren’t on watch you were either sleeping or learning about sailing.

It wasn’t luxury living. I shared a very cramped cabin with five other lads and slept in a tiny bunk with a small cupboard for all my stuff. We did eat well though and the ship’s cook baked fresh bread 3 times a day and knocked up some great food but I still lost over a stone in weight in the 24 days I was at sea. I loved every minute of it and it was hard leaving the ship in Belfast after all the festivities and adjusting back to normal life. I have kept in touch with a lot of the crew and the ship’s captain, Captain Klass, a huge Dutchman with full white beard. They have told me they would take me on as a permanent crew member when a vacancy arises and it’s an offer I think I’ll take up at some stage in the near future!"