Three Dutch Tall Ships have arrived independently in Cape Town on their way around the world following the route marked out by Dutch explorers in the seventeenth century. The ships all left the Netherlands last year and made their own way to Cape Town via the North and South Atlantic Oceans.
The three ships are the Tecla, the smallest of the three, the Europa, the oldest and the Oosterscheide, which is the fastest. The Tecla was built in 1915 and served as a fishing boat for many years in the North Sea, before switching trades and countries after it was sold to a Danish owner and was used as a coastal trading boat. It was sold back to a Dutch owner again and now, refitted several times, it takes paying crew as passengers on long, extended voyages. Passengers can choose how many different legs they wish to stay on board for. The present owners have owned the Tecla since 2006 and keep the gaff ketch rigged design as traditional as possible.
The Europa is a 56 meter long bark and has been through quite a metamorphosis since being built in Hamburg in Germany in 1911. It served for much of its life as a light ship on the River Elbe, its flat bottomed bark hull, being well designed for that purpose. It ended up in Holland in 1986 and was completely rebuilt and set up as a sailing boat for the first time. It has three masts and is rigged a a top sail schooner. It changed its name to Europa, after the Greek Godess, after being rebuilt.
The Oosterscheide is a shade smaller than the Europa, at 50 meters. It was built in the Netherlands in 1918 and was used as a trading boat in home waters until the 1930s. It then changed hands and was turned into a coaster. It was. like the Europa, completely rebuilt and re rigged as a fore and aft topsail schooner in the 1980s and now spends most of its time on extended voyages to many different destinations which have included Antarctica and South America as well as one circumnavigation already under its belt. It spends the winter months sailing to and from the Cape Verde islands off the West Coast of Africa.
The thee ships are following in the footsteps of Dutch explorers and seafarers who by the mid seventeenth century were regularly plying the route between the ports of the Netherlands and the colonies of the Dutch East Indies, now modern day Indonesia. In the early days of sail, the boats used the trade winds to sail to the coast of Brazil. Here the dreaded doldrums – the area of calms and storms which could prevent steady progress by vessels that depended solely on the wind – were at their narrowest. From Brazil, boats sailed to Cape Town, Mauritius and then on to Indonesia. The route around the world had already been sketchily mapped with earlier voyages by Spanish and Portuguese circumnavigators. The southern lands of Australia and New Zealand were first mapped in part by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in the first part of the seventeenth century from his base in Batavia (now Jakarta).
The three ships now in Cape Town will be soon heading off for Mauritius following the Sardine Route along the East Coast of South Africa. They will then be taking part in a major tall ships regatta and race between Sydney, Hobart in Tasmania and Auckland in New Zealand in September this year before sailing on to Cape Horn, the Falklands Islands Antarctica and back to Europe via the Azores.