Sail Training Voyage on the Stad Amsterdam

It was a rainy, cold and windy day, April 22nd in Boston, when I boarded the Stad Amsterdam for a two-week, square rig clipper training sail to Ponta Delgada in the Azores. Ever since the planned participation of the New York Yacht Club, in a race on the ship to Plymouth in early 2015 was cancelled for lack of participants, I had been looking for an opportunity to sail on the Stad Amsterdam in a way to sail and learn. When I saw the ship at its berth in Amsterdam on a visit to Holland last year, I decided to inquire about this trip and signed up.


Arriving at the harbor at the Marina Park Drive I saw the ship in a misty glow at the end of a wet glistening pier and wondered if I had made the right decision. When I approached the ship pulling my duffel bag along, one on the crew members unloading the ship’s garbage, fortunately noticed me and helped me board the ship. There Captain Moritz Kuhlenbäumer and Hospitality Manager Kobus Christianen welcomed me onboard, offered me a drink and introduced me to some of the other passengers and the crew. After dinner and introductions by Moritz and Kobus on details of the trip and safety on board, I went to bed early for a good night’s sleep. The following morning leaving port it was still chilly, but the rain had stopped and we were all on deck to watch the activity at the dock from the stern of the Campaign Deck. The ship had to make a 180 degree turn when leaving the dock, causing the City of Boston float by in a fitting farewell. 

the mid-19th century frigate Amsterdam
The Clipper Stad Amsterdam was designed by the Dutch Marine Architect Gerard Dijkstra who modelled her after the mid-19th century frigate Amsterdam.  She is not a replica though as the design includes the best characteristics of some well-known clippers of the last hundred years, such as the famous clipper Cutty Sark. Also her hull and lower masts are  steel, and the top and topgallant masts are aluminium. The Clipper’s length is 76m, her beam 10.5m and total tonnage 723 BRT. The main mast reaches 47 meters above the waterline and carries 6 square sails, the fore mast carries 5 and the mizzen mast 4, for a total of 15 square sails. She has 10 fore-aft sails that include 3 jibs, 6 staysails and the spanker which is the most aft sail on the ship. Under light winds when running, 6 more stunsails can be added, by extending the course and top yards of the fore and main masts, bringing the total sail surface up to 2200m2. With the extension of the stunsail booms, the Main Course Yard has a span of 36 m or more than half of the ship’s LOA.

For the practical sail training portion, I signed up for the Quarter Master’s Kyle de Lange’s Blue Watch from 8 to 12, forenoon and evening. I soon found out that sailing a tall ship is no sinecure and requires a delicate balancing act between the forces of nature and the ship’s capabilities.

rolling, pitching and yawing

Changes in wind force and direction kept us busy raising, striking and trimming sails. Moving from sheet to leech, bunt or other lines of the almost 250 lines of the running rigging, to be pulled, belayed or coiled, sometimes in the dark of night and on slippery decks, was something I had not expected. It took a few nights to get used to this and to remember the locations of capstans, bollards and other equipment and structures on the decks to be avoided. The safety lines set up by the crew on the decks were a great help in moving about securely and safely, while the ship was rolling, pitching and yawing. 

Cutting through the 2.5 to 3-meter waves at speeds of up to 15 knots at winds of 25 to 30 knot is an exciting and unforgettable experience. It also gave me a much better understanding of the forces of wind and water, the tasks of mariners and the risks they are exposed to.
In his nightly briefings Captain Moritz kept us up to date on the progress made, the planned course and the many factors on which he based his decisions. Using some 7 or 8 different charts Captain Moritz would discuss a dozen or so forecasted conditions such as wind direction and force, the location and direction of depressions, ocean surface conditions, the gulf stream in particular and other factors. 

Avoiding the icebergs

Initially we took a south-easterly course to avoid the icebergs, which this year had travelled in greater numbers and further south, but also to reach the sooner rather than later. We reached it on day 3, which gave the ship a 1 to 2 knot speed boost, and from there set a basically easterly course. Captain Moritz told us that the differences between the planned and actual course we noticed was the consequence of unexpected changes in weather conditions, which required us to often change  course, since the shortest distance is not always the fastest or safest.
Contrary to some other tall ships I sailed on, we used sail power whenever we could and used the engine sparingly and only when speeds fell below 4 or 5 knots, endangering a timely arrival in Ponta Delgada. To cover the total initially scheduled 2192 nautical miles, we needed to have an average speed of about 7.5 knots. Sticking to the schedule is very important for an operation that has so many firm commitments throughout the year, but Captain Moritz told me that the Clipper has never missed being where she needed to be, in her many years of sailing the oceans.

The training on the trip also included sessions on navigation, meteorology and sail handling on a Tall Ship, excellently and patiently lead by Eef Willems, a teacher at the Dutch Enkhuizen Nautical College. Nautical education is a long-standing tradition in Enkhuizen, dating back to the 16th century. Then sailing ships departed from this, at the time, important city to sail the world’s oceans.  Lucas Janszoon Waghenaer (1534-1605) was already giving lessons in nautical education there. The 75-year-old sextant I brought did not work well, but using one available on the ship I spent some time taking readings, but much more time in doing the somewhat complicated calculations and plotting of the results. I did not remember this as being so difficult!

A great team
The interaction between the crew and the passenger/trainees was an unique aspect of this sailtraining sail. We all intermingled, had our meals together in the Long Room and spent many hours together in the watches. Watching the crew work and exchanging experiences gave me insight in the life and work of sailors on a Tall Ship, something that would not happen taking a trip on an average cruise ship. What was also special was the experience that by joining a few people on a rope pulling team, one can use just the forces of nature, to affect the course of a large object, such as the Stad of Amsterdam. All in all, my voyage was a wonderful and very worthwhile adventure. 

Harry de Waart
New York City
May, 2019

Photo credit: Fleur Nooteboom

about the author

Mr De Waart - Guest

Mr De Waart was one of our guests who sailed with us from Boston to the Azores. He joined the Practical Square Rig Seamanship Sail Training Course in cooperation with the Enkhuizen Nautical College together with other sailing enthusiasts.