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Diary of a Tall Ships student

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Published on 30 July 2018

Ellie Lyall on board the Lord Nelson
Ellie Lyall on board the Lord Nelson

Ellie Lyall was chosen as the University of Sunderland’s Tall Ships Races 2018 ambassador.

Here, the Journalism graduate recounts her life on The Lord Nelson through a diary she kept during the voyage between Sunderland and Denmark.


Friday 13 July

So today I joined Lord Nelson. My parents came to see me off and were able to come in while I got settled into my bunk. My dad was particularly thrilled about that, bless him. After a few quick photos we said our goodbyes and I met the other girls in my bunk room. They all seem really nice. Definitely an interesting mix of people. I'm a journalism graduate from Sunderland, but the girl opposite me is about to go to Oxford to study ancient architecture. And the woman in the bunk below me is from Sydney, Australia. I've also met the people on my watch, but since I'm on mess duty I'll not be spending much time with them until after lunch tomorrow. But it means I'll get a normal night's sleep tonight as they have an overnight harbour watch.


Saturday 14 July

What a day. On my first voyage with The Lord Nelson last year I couldn't make it up to the first platform. This morning, I had not only reached the platform but I went along the yards too. Absolutely smashed my expectations all before lunchtime. I finished my mess duties today, so I'm back on the watch duties too at 4am tomorrow morning. We set off from Sunderland for the Tall Ships Races. We left at about 3pm-ish and didn't stop setting the sails until about 7pm. We had to squeeze in a short space of time for dinner and then get back at it so we were on the right course. Very pleased I brought gloves with me. It has been such a busy day and we've gotten so much done. It's about 8pm now and I'm just having a cup of tea on deck watching the other tall ships sail by. Amazing views. I've never seen anything like it before in my life. But I can't stay too long. I'm going to have a shower before heading off to bed. Got to be up early.


Sunday 15 July

The weather was gorgeous today. You would have thought we were on a Mediterranean cruise rather than in the middle of the North Sea. Unfortunately the sparse wind meant not much progress could be made today in terms of sailing until it picked up early evening. On the positive side, I had the chance to enjoy the sunshine on the deck, watching the waves, chatting with some girls who were on my watch and reading some of my book. It's so interesting how people from different backgrounds can just come together and talk to each other, when they wouldn't normally at home.

Because of our early start for our 4am-8am watch, I found myself almost nodding off as I was reading because it was so relaxing. But once the winds picked up at around 5pm we were back working on the lines for the sails, fully rested and refreshed, although rather sweaty working in that heat.

After dinner (lamb Sunday roast with Mediterranean vegetables - top notch), we had our watch from 6pm-8pm. We’ve been keeping a lookout, but there were no signs of any dolphins yet unfortunately.

Once we were done there we all went down to the bar for a drink and a game of cards. It did take us a little while as there were a few of us and we had to learn the same rules. Although I still managed to make a few mistakes, I actually won a game of sixes, twos and eights. So proud of myself. It was such great fun, we couldn't stop laughing the whole time. Here's hoping for just as nice a day tomorrow.

Monday 16 July

We had made excellent progress in the Race during our watch overnight - managed to put ourselves in eighth place. So because of that, once we trimmed our sails a bit more that morning we had some downtime after lunch (which again was amazing - chicken pasta salad). So we hunted out a game of monopoly in the bar.

What started as a fun, casual way of killing time soon became an intense business battle of the wits as people began trading properties. Most of us were teamed up but one of the girls on another watch played alone, but she dominated the board. The whole affair lasted for four hours. It was such a good laugh and it feels so nice being able to put the phones aside for the voyage and play a good old-fashioned board game.


Tuesday 17 July

Unfortunately we didn't progress as well as we had previously due to low winds, so we were back down to 15th place. So this meant that everyone was up half an hour early to trim the sails before breakfast in the hopes of gaining some extra speed. We were told on the radio that the whole race would end at 4pm, and the ships positions would be recorded then. Since our watch was 12:30pm-4pm we really felt the pressure. But we were only going between 1 to 2 knots so unfortunately we didn't get much more distance squeezed out before 4pm. Still though we felt pretty special being the last watch of the race. Once the engines had turned on we all decided to have a bit of fun and do a Lord Nelson grand national on the upper deck, where we timed crew members to do one lap of the race riding on the fenders like a horse/bouncy hopper (Which were aptly named Seabiscuit and Red Rum). In the end the permanent crew won overall, but it was great fun for everyone.


Wednesday 18 July

With the engines on since 4pm yesterday, it’s full steam ahead for Esbjerg. We made it to Denmark just before lunchtime. I was on the mooring lines at the stern using the hydraulic drums - it can get very dangerous there so we had to listen to orders very carefully. Once we had finished there we had some soup on deck in the sunshine. After lunch we had a short meeting with the first mate and we met our ship's liaison officer before heading on deck to help with the assisted climbing. Seeing my watch leader, who has spastic paraplegic and has needed a wheelchair since he was three years old, climb himself up to the very top of the fore mast reminded me that this is what Lord Nelson and JST is all about: breaking down barriers and making people realise they are capable of doing more than they thought.

Once dinner was out of the way, me and a few others had a wander about the whole of the event site. We treated ourselves to some crepes (which, thanks to my new French friend Thomas, I learned the proper pronunciation of) and then walked into town. We saw where we would end the crew parade so it was nice to get our bearings of the area. Esbjerg itself is such a lovely place; the streets are so neat and clean. We are hoping to come back early in the morning tomorrow to do some souvenir shopping before our open ship shift starts at 11:30am.

Once back at the ship, we had time for one beer before the bar closed, so we sat down for a drink and looked through some of the photos uploaded onto the laptop in the bar. Unfortunately I was caught at all the wrong moments so I'm pulling some pretty spectacular faces. But I can't stay up too late as I have harbour watch from 4am-6am, so it's off to bed I go.


Thursday 19 July

Harbour watch was not pleasant. The disturbed sleeping pattern is definitely starting to catch up with me. But I enjoyed some nice chats with Thomas, discussing French language music and I made note of some bands I needed to listen to when I got home. Also caught a lovely sunrise over the Santa Maria Manuela.

After getting another hour of sleep before the general wake up alarm for breakfast, we divided up for our duties that day. I had some time before my open ship shift started so I headed into town to do some souvenir shopping. It was decided yesterday that I would be on the ship between 11:30am and 1:30pm to help out while the ship was open to the public. We had almost 2,000 visitors throughout the day.

After my shift was over it was time to get ready for the crew parade. We went for a simplistic look: we draped flags over our shoulders and were banging and rattling spoons in metal beakers. The parade was insane, and it was incredible to see how much other crews really got into it all. And even an American boy on our ship, who was normally quite shy and quiet, really came out of his shell: leading the cheers and pulling some crazy shapes as we all danced during the awards ceremony at the end of the parade.

The atmosphere was infectious, and I loved every minute of it.

Then there was the crew party to look forward to. The food was beautifully laid out on these pristine white tables, and later on there were two different kinds of music being played in two different rooms. It was a good opportunity to catch up with the other ambassadors and trainees from other ships too, hearing all of their stories from their voyages.

But after dancing the night away I'm rather tired. I'll be really sad to part with everyone tomorrow morning. The people that are flying to Newcastle in the morning have to leave earlier than the rest of the crew, so we need to be up early for Happy Hour cleaning (how wonderful...). The woman in the bunk below me, Gill, is staying on the ship for its return voyage to London. I'm so jealous of her. It is going to be really sad parting with everyone tomorrow, and it'll be even stranger being back on dry land in the privacy of my own home.

But I wouldn't have changed a thing in this adventure. I've had the most amazing time and I feel ready to take on whatever challenges I face in my adult life.

Good night and thank you Nelly, it's been a wild ride.