My most beautiful Christmas at sea

    A windjammer captain reports

    "I rarely experienced a quiet Christmas at sea, something always happened.

    I still remember our record-breaking voyage with the PRIWALL from Hamburg to the Spencer Gulf in Australia. We celebrated Christmas in the Indian Ocean, south of the Kerguélen.

    On 23 December, we, the first, second and third officers and I the captain, stood on deck and looked out over the vast calm waters. No one said a word. But each knew from the other that he was thinking of Christmas Eve. Each of us wished for something at that moment. The first just wanted to be at home, the second longed for his bride. And I wished for a good buffet of wind so that we would reach our destination, Spencer Gulf, faster. Our four-masted barque was a particularly fast ship. It ran like a fire brigade; however, we were in a lull. Well, and on the 24th, at five in the morning, we set off. I was still lying in the cabin. But a good captain never sleeps, he slumbers. I heard the wind coming up. I got out of the bunk and onto the deck. And then the whistle blew. We had to take down the sails. At first only a few, then more, and a little later a storm with force ten was howling.

    We were in an eerie mood, because despite the storm we didn't have any high waves. The sea was so calm that we could have played billiards on deck. The spray flew over the surface of the water. We could not explain it. The PRIWALL chased over the white surface of the water at the tremendous speed of 16 knots.

    And then came Christmas Eve. The ship was still shooting through the water. We gathered in the mess hall, all 27 men. Only the helmsman and watch officer were on deck. I made a short speech. Talking is not my thing. I don't think I said much more than "Merry Christmas" to my men. My wish had come true, it really was a miracle to have a glassy sea in ten-force winds and to be chasing through the water at 16 knots of speed.

    This situation had probably enchanted us all. Because as we sat together over punch, there was a harmony in the logis that I have never experienced again. We felt like one big peaceful family. It was my best Christmas Eve at sea.

    But when we all wanted to sit down together again on the first holiday, all hell suddenly broke loose. The wind had changed direction and was now howling even harder. It was also suddenly snowing heavily. It was bitterly cold. A high sea had built up. I had to whistle the crew on deck. Suddenly we had a gale. The ship was leaning more and more on its side. Even I felt queasy.

    The calm festive mood on board was over. It would have been too good to have a quiet Christmas on board.

    We wanted to drop off, go more on the downwind trip. But even eleven men at the helm did not manage to bring the ship on a different course. It was impossible to take sails away. The wind would have swept the people off the yards. The ship was leaning more and more on its side. The situation was getting more and more dicey. We have to cut the masts, I thought. If we don't, we'll capsize. Suddenly the mainsail was torn away by a gust and whirled through the air. Slowly the ship righted itself. We breathed a sigh of relief. The ship was saved and so were we. No one thought about Christmas any more."

    Note: This story comes from the voyage in the winter of 1932/33, on which Clauß set an absolute record with the PRIWALL: English Channel - Spencer Gulf in 62 days. At the same time, Jürgen Jürs sailed on the PADUA, but it reached the Spencer Gulf "only" after 63 days. Even the tea clipper CUTTY SARK within 64 days was not faster on this route.