Norwich resident Peter Offord, whose grandfather FJ Offord, first set sail on a Lowestoft smack at the age of 12, signed up for a day’s sailing from the town’s harbor
Sailors are superstitious about sailing on a Friday, but any doubts they might have had were quickly dispelled when Captain Karol methodically guided us through the safety procedures.
We were in Lowestoft harbor and signed up for a day of sailing aboard the Excelsior fishing smack. He explained to us the man overboard, the life jackets, the fire, the sinking, the abandonment of the ship, the engine failure and mentioned the many pumps on board.
The first task, after we let go of the jetty, was to lift the bowsprit by pulleys and hoists, a huge length of timber that added about 20 feet to the length of the ship and we pulled in unison to the maitre d ‘crew.
It was a simple task in port, but as we were leaving the port and getting ready to raise the mainsail and jib we encountered rough seas and heavy swells.
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Safety jokes rang hollow as the strong northerly breeze hit us, blowing hats and a man’s glasses falling apart on the deck as the spray fell on the bow.
We the guests had no experience of sailing on a 1921 Lowestoft smack, but under the orders of the young skipper Ollie (who had avoided Uni for the navigation) Charlotte the Mate and Seaman Nye and led by the skipper, we have quickly learned.
Charlotte climbed onto the wobbling boom to deploy the mainsail and once it was raised and the vessel stabilized, the skipper shut down the engine. The Excelsior was facing the wind on the port tack and the horizon stretched in a limitless curve as the coast descended aft.
We stabilized on the moorings of the boat and had the opportunity to chat. For a while the pulse of the sea became our pulse.
Among us was a retired Chartered Surveyor, a couple from Essex and a father, son, son-in-law and friend from Southend.
A guest told me that he had experienced a revelation after being a workaholic and a drinker “because that’s what you did after a hard day of transplant”. His eyes had opened to nature, he said, since he had given up alcohol and now planted trees, which rewarded him in a deeper way than his previous existence.
There was something physical and immediate, which awakened vigilance and gave the opportunity to reflect, working on this century-old oak ship.
It was designed when “Application” applied yourself, or a paper form to fill out, and not a small application on a smartphone. A telephone was a candlestick-like instrument on which an operator would ring and put you in contact with: “You are now finished calling”. “Running gear” referred to cables, pulleys and hardware, not Lycra and sneakers.
The multitude of on-demand streaming platforms and channels we are now immersed in, connecting us to events from the North Pole to the South Pole, from Patagonia to the Seychelles, from Birmingham, Alabama to Birmingham, UK, n ‘ did not exist.
We are full of information: floods and storms in New York, celebrity outfits and explosions, pandemics, space flights, bat caves, stock market crashes and commercials for electric toothbrushes; The great deals our friends have made are shared on social media, along with pancake recipes and cat memes that win a thousand times over.
We have such sophisticated search engines that they tell you what you want before you know you need it.
A hundred years ago, tweets were strictly for birds and Java was a remote island in Indonesia, not a computer programming language.
On Excelsior, the fishing was done with a net and not by a hostile entity on the “net” after your money.
Much of our interaction is virtual, connected but separated by a screen, with little time for processing.
Experiences like the Excelsior Sailing reconnect us with an immersive and more direct physical experience. The action is focused on the sense of purpose and leadership, teamwork and direction; a rare experience in our world of continuous surfing on the digital sea of information.
The Excelsior Trust is a charitable organization that provides life-changing sailing experiences for young and disadvantaged people, schools and business groups, as well as unique sailing opportunities for individuals, while preserving and enhancing now one of the UK’s most historic ships www.theexcelsiortrust.co. UK