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David R Cunningham – My Tall Ships Story


Last Year, the Tall Ships Race 2015 advertised that it was coming to Belfast in July 2015. Applicants were invited to apply to be considered to take part. Sailing experience was not necessary. Last autumn 400+ people applied for 90 funded berths to represent Northern Ireland in the Tall Ships Race 2015 from Belfast to Alesund, Norway, a thousand miles away.

Sponsored by Belfast City Council, the selection process began. This included application forms, interviews and team building exercises. The lucky 90, of which I was one, were notified just after Christmas that they were successful. Then the fundraising and sea worthiness training began. The training which was run by Ocean Youth Trust Ireland (OYTI) in conjunction with Sail Training International, included Sea Survival, basic sailing skills and Power Boat handling both theory and practical.

I was lucky to then be sub selected to take part in filming for BBC Northern Ireland promoting the festival that was going to take place. Before the ships reached Belfast the Trainees were allocated to different ships. I was assigned to the Bark Europa a Dutch Tall Ship which was built originally as a German light ship in 1911. Due to the fact I am an individual with Asperger Syndrome, I was allowed to take a mentor with me and chose Mr John Robb.

When I and 6 other Trainees joined the Europa in Belfast I was full of energy, excitement and nerves! When we left Belfast I was unsure what to expect. After a few days and after I got over the seasickness I began to enjoy the trip more.

Sailing on a Tall Ship is a feeling like no other. When you climb the masts and look out and see nothing for miles around it is both scary and exhilarating as you get a feeling of adventure. On board when you were on watch you had two main duties lookout and Helm. Lookout consisted of standing at the bow and reporting any ships or buoys you saw. Helming on the other hand involved you sailing on a heading that was set by the crew in the wheelhouse or sailing by the apparent wind direction. As well as that sometimes the crew would give you odd jobs like maintenance or cleaning to do. So as well as being able to “steer” the ship I learned how to “tar a rope”! There were lots of fun times too.

After 10days at sea and travelling over 1000miles, relying on the power of the wind, we arrived in Alesund, Norway. We had a lovely experience there. The traditional Crew Parade and Party were spectacular, as were as the views of the Norwegian scenery. The Norwegian Fjords are beautiful in July and upholds Norway’s title of the “Land of Myth and Legends”.

During the trip I gained several new friends and learned lots of new skills along the way. Overall I had a great time on the ship and saw plenty of wildlife thanks to our warning system in the shape of our ship’s dog Sirius. He barked when any Whales or Porpoises came nearby!

I was proud to be able to represent Northern Ireland in this magnificent international event. An experience I will never forget.

David R Cunningham 13A


2015 07 05 TS A03

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