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It's Midnight...Frenzy Breaks Out Below Deck as an Alarm Call is Sounded

In April, The Baptist Times booked a tall ship for five days - and invited 40 youngsters to sail it. It was the adventure of a lifetime, reports William Allchorn, a chaplain on the trip

I emerge middeck to bright lights and shouting. It's icy; an assault on all my senses, as a two-six-heave - a co-ordinated pulling effort - is needed on the main sail. It's not easy, but we manage it, and the ship is back on course.  Suddenly we can take in our surroundings: a cloudless, starry night above the meeting of the English Channel and the Celtic Sea.

Adventures on a tall ship 14 MThis was one of many awe-inspiring moments aboard the Stravros S Niarchos, a two masted brig run by the Tall Ship Youth Trust, as a 48 strong Baptist crew took to its helm. Our mission? To learn the rudiments of sailing from the permanent crew while maintaining this 200ft, £5m vessel in a five day, mid April sprint from Southampton to Cardiff. I would be joining my fellow intrepid chaplains and young people through the expedition's thrills and spills with my reporter's notepad and pen at the ready. It was hard to know exactly what lay ahead.

We joined the Niarchos, then, as strangers, but would need to work closely together.  Everyone has a part to play on a tall ship.

Only a stones throw away from where the Titanic had set sail a hundred years previously, our first port of call was a warm welcome from Captain Roy Love and his second mate, Nikki.

Separated into blue, white, and red watches, we were given a crash course in seamanship. The main principles sound deceptively simple, but there was much to learn - and quickly: tugging on ropes, steering at a constant bearing, knowing how to prepare the sails, not to mention all the accompanying jargon flying around. Most importantly, knowing how to get safely on and off the rigging - that combination of sails, masts and rope which moves the ship, and 100ft at its highest point - was essential.

It was during this last exercise that I met Ben Aiton, a 16-year-old agriculture student from Upper Beedle Baptist, West Sussex.

'I knew that the journey involved conquering fears,' he said.

'I'm most scared going up the rigging. I hope that the suspense created by the hectic timetable will take my mind off it.'
Adventures on a tall ship 14 M
Fully trained, we set off from Southampton Water the next morning. As we entered the Solent, however, it was not long before an apparently common but suspicious-looking red and white object approached us from the sky. This coastguard helicopter, as it turned out, was meant for us and left the entire watch transfixed as its crew practised routine airlifting drills.

It left quite an impression on Ben. 'My most memorable moment was the Coastguard landing a crew member on our stern,' he said.

'I was at first surprised then amazed as the blades came within what looked like inches of the mast.'

After the dramatic spectacle event of our first watch, then followed the more surreal second.

Picture the scene: woken on the third day for the midnight to 4am watch, we had two lookouts on the port and starboard side of the bridge peering into the inky black surf, while someone else attempted to steer the 150 tonne vessel.

'My highlight had to be the stars and clear night's sky,' said Charlotte Burroughs, a law student at Durham University. 'I looked up at God's amazing creation and really felt His presence, that He was in control!'

All was not plain sailing aboard the Niarchos. Westerly gales and force seven gusts on the penultimate day saw the Captain utter a word that instils fear into even the most inveterate sailor: 'Aloft!'

You quickly find out aboard the Niarchos that such struggles are not in vain, however, and form some of the most satisfying work aboard. As the boat rocked we peered down from the yardarms at a 100 feet below us, what looked like pins stood shouting words of encouragement as we folded and fastened the sails.
Adventures on a tall ship 14 M
This experience was matched only by another moment that will stick in my mind for a long time: feasting on sausages and burgers with worship songs wafting from the ship's mess when we anchored at St Michael's Mount, our only stop, but a great consolation on a trip of a lifetime.

Arriving at our final destination and spending our last night together in Cardiff Bay, it was time to get some feedback from my fellow sailors.

'I sailed on a tall ship 10 years ago and this one exceeded my expectations compared to the last,' said Beverly Lewis, chaplain and youth worker. 'It was great to see the young people grow in their self-esteem by being valued through, like us, overcoming their natural fears associated with going aloft.'

'For me it was just trusting in God to deliver me through difficult situations that made my trip,' said Jack Evitts, an A-level student from Bognor Baptist. 'Every time I climbed those 100ft sails, I prayed to God. If I know He's near me there's nothing that can bind me, not even fear itself.'

Departing for my coach on the final day as I planned my next voyage, then, I found the words of trip organiser and former Baptist Times editor, the Revd Mark Woods, bearing heavily on my mind.

'I had two voyages on the Stavros Niarchos,' he said.

'It was obvious that this could be much more than just an adventure holiday. By all accounts there have been some life-changing experiences.'

I couldn't agree more.

William Allchorn worships at Christ Church Baptist Church, Kings Langley, and is studying for a Masters in Parliamentary Politics at the University of Leeds. He is also a two-time intern at The Baptist Times and helped market the Tall Ships holiday to Baptist youth pastors last summer.
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