I wrote this piece a year ago today. It was an attempt to type away my tears. A year on and Asgard has been left on the sea bed and we have no news of a replacement. Coiste an Asgard is still carrying out sail training but we are without a tall ship to carry our flag.
On September 11th 2008, Asgard II sank, and with her something of my youth. I’ve cried the great big heaving sobs of grief. And yet it seems ridiculous, yeah illogical to be grieving for a boat. But as the old hands would say, ‘she wasn’t just a ship, she was a lady….’
I was sixteen when I boarded the Asgard for the first of many voyages. For the next two weeks I became part of a crew, had experiences that changed me forever and fell in love with a gaff rigged brigantine…
Sailing a tall ship was magical; it was the stuff of adventure novels. We did things that pushed our boundaries just enough so that we were stronger more confident young people at the end of the voyage. We climbed up the rigging in heavy seas to reduce sail; we did it because it had to be done, and we did it under the watchful eye of the crew. Sure we were a little scared but when we had that job done and conquered that fear….well we just got on with next job…
Asgard was a relatively new vessel, but she was steeped in the tradition of the sea. The poetry of her rigging echoed the rich lives of ancient seafarers: buntlines and clew lines, braces and sheets, topsail and t’gallant. The centuries old calls of ‘all hands on deck’, ‘bracing stations’ and ‘2, 6, heave…’ became a language we understood. We thought nothing of spending time tying frayed rope to make baggy wrinkles or avoiding the widow-maker during manoeuvres before returning to the dog house for watch duties. We revelled in this new world, learning together.
It was on this vessel that many young people gained a love and respect for the sea and an appreciation of working life. Like many young people I went on board Asgard during that rough rollercoaster of my teens. Onboard everyone was part of the crew, we all worked together and we all worked hard and that was the joy of it. As well as the sailing, there was brass to be polished, toilets to be cleaned, and dinner to be cooked. Every one mucked in, and became firm friends in the process.
Ashore there was the craic, and with a boat full of teenagers, many romances. But this was no summer camp, this was real.
I always felt safe on Asgard. Even in really heavy weather she was solid; a great sea boat. The permanent crew: Captain, Mate, Bosun, Cook and Engineer, took incredibly good care of their young charges and treated us with a mixture of respect, good humour and firm boundaries that ensured life at sea was challenging, enjoyable and safe for us all.
I can’t believe she’s gone. I only hope that this isn’t the end of the wonderful tall ship training tradition in Ireland, and that one day my daughter will have a chance to experience living and working on an Irish Tall Ship.