Day one of the transiency was spent visiting the EZS Zeevaarschool in Enhuizen, one of the few places anywhere to offer professional sailing competency certification. They offer two main courses, running larger and smaller sailing ships, the Grote Zeilvaart and the Kleine Zeilvaart (also in English) which run off season, from October through March. In addition, they offer a Bosun Course, a short course (6 weeks) intended to impart the skills needed to run the innards of a sailing vessel, the one who knows everything without being the skipper. Rope, rigging, safety; repeat. It is noteworthy that a considerable number of the Zeilvaart courses (running in parallel) were women, it was precisely 50% of the bosun’s course.
Unsurprisingly, a considerable part of the first day’s effort was an introduction to rope work. Traditional vessels are nothing if not a rat’s nest of lines and more modern vessels are only slightly less ropey. It is interesting that, no matter how long one does this stuff, there are always new things to learn, from a new, simple whipping technique to a sailor’s short splice and the best grommet that has ever left my fingers and fid. One of the interesting things about this process of making things from rope is the creation of value from a combination of time, skills and some simple hardware, in stark contrast to the ever present spectre of expensive, stainless, industrial, irreparable, invisibly deteriorating boat hardware.
After lunch, I had the pleasure of having a longer conversation with Cosmo Wassenaar, the head of the school. Interestingly, the school is run more egalitarian than a pirate ship; everybody gets paid the same. It is not a money spinner, but it is independent and has run for over three decades. Over that time, it has continued to be a place of learning for intended skippers and mates on commercial sailing vessels. As such, it has a possibly unique perspective on the state of the field.
The presence of sail cargo as a theme in students’ thinking has been increasing, from nonexistence about five years ago to being relevant for around a quarter of all students this year. As the Dutch have a vastly larger classic sailing fleet, it should be no surprise that this school exists in the Netherlands, and as the largest currently operating sail cargo vessel, Tres Hombres, is situated in the Netherlands, there might be a connection. Talking about certification and regulation, it necame clear that the vessle operating under TOWT in France and the Grayhound in Plymouth are using the “classic ship” exception to be able to do what they do. Cosmo claims that these and other countries could do this, as they deal with perhaps a few dozen commercial classical sailing vessels. The Dutch, in comparison, have hundreds of commercially operated classic sailing vessels and as such there is a strong need for regulatory systems for these vessels. It is perhaps to be expected that, with the current expansion of sail cargo projects, these regulations will start to be used in other countries, which may or may not be a good thing. If a single vessel were to flounder in this early stage, the regulatory backlash might be strong enough to sink the whole industry before it even got beyond the startup stage.
Cosmo also shared his planned, but currently unrealisable sail cargo project for the inner seas of the Netherlands. Fresh organic produce from Friesland would be delivered diagonaly across the IJselmeer and Markermeer to Amsterdam. The market who would receive the produce had offered to pay around 500 Euro above standard delivery rates for the marketing privilege, while Cosmo’s estimated costs were about triple that. However the plan has not bee laid to rest, a number of factors could still make the project feasible. Lower vessel rental costs are one simple factor, but the reduction or transfer of crew costs is probably the most significant. There are a number of possible sources. The school would be able to offer training on board for the students. Whether this costs more or is included, is up to the school. For the summer season, the vessel could take advantage of one of the bastions of sail training, the use of shipboard life as a place to develop “character.” As successfully used in such examples as Noah and others (see this for one example among many), groups such as recently released inmates, the unemployed and at-risk youth have benefited from such activities. This would allow the project to spread its costs around, as the Tres Hombres does with their cargo / training / showtime split of income streams, to perhaps a cargo / training / social split.