Jeanie Johnston Chronicle
Reports from the ship by a crew member
on the first leg of the US voyage

Read the second leg reports      Read Tom's Book
Tom Kindre presenting Captain McCarthy with a Commemorative Plaque from the US CGAux aboard the Jeanie JOhnston Tom Kindre presenting
Captain McCarthy with a Commemorative Plaque from the US CG Aux aboard the Jeanie.
Tom Kindre is a US Coast Guard Auxiliarist and a crew member aboard the Jeanie Johnston as she sails to the US. The voyage commenced on Sun 16th February, with the departure from Fenit, Co. Kerry, in severe weather. Below are his reports direct from the ship - latest reports are at the top of this page, scroll down for earlier ones. The second leg of the voyage from 14th to 28th March 03 has being recorded here, and the current page from 29th March to date is here. You can also read the reports with earlier project pictures on the CG Aux website.

Pictures on this page are courtesy of Paul Dolan of FAS Tralee A.V. Unit who is sailing on the voyage, and Michael Diggin, a professional photographer based in Tralee, who flew to Tenerife to meet the ship. Their pictures will be posted on a separate page soon. Thanks to Paul, we now have short video clips of the voyage.

Jeanie Johnston Grand Voyage
By Tom Kindre, FSO-PB 16-10, D5-NR, aboard the Jeanie Johnson

Days 23 and 24 - Mon & Tues, 10, 11 March

The ship has been turned inside out, and much of what it carried now lies on the dock. The young sail trainees-- 15 of them plus their supervisor-- sit disconsolately on their luggage, waiting to leave for home. A new group for the second, longer, leg of the voyage will replace them.

Everything below decks has been scrubbed to within an inch of its life, every bunk has been stripped, and the 40 mattresses are airing on the dock. But they are not idle. The young crewmembers have bunched them into one huge mat, and they are competing with somersaults and other acrobatic turns.

acrobatics on the mattresses in Tenerife
Turning somersaults on the mattresses, Santa Cruz, Tenerife

Bosunīs mate Dave Nolan is a born monkey (You should see him swinging from the shrouds or leaping to the dock before the gangway is in place, like Tarzan on a vine). But he is no match for watch leader Frida Bjorsell, who has represented her native Sweden internationally in the sport of acrobatics.

The IFA trainees on the first leg of the voyage, leaving the ship
IFA sail trainees leaving the ship after the first leg of the US voyage

Captain McCarthy has decided to duplicate Columbus's first voyage on our Atlantic crossing. On Friday we will sail to Gomera, where Columbus departed from the Canaries. We will visit the church where he prayed, perhaps say a prayer of our own, and then follow his 500-year-old wake to San Salvador, his New World landfall (Though there's some controversy among scholars about this).

From there it will be just a short hop to West Palm Beach. By luck, I have brought with me a copy of Columbus's journal, and I will try to track our daily progress against his. The journal cites distance sailed in leagues, and a careful reading makes clear that a league was four miles, but whether these were nautical miles or not, I don't know.

Days 20, 21 and 22 - Fri, Sat, Sun 7,8,9 March. Ashore in Santa Cruz,Tenerife.

It's Sunday morning, and up the slippery pavement of Via Castello the wreck of carnival is everywhere. Last night was the crux, the end-all of celebration, and this morning it shows. The street cleaners have done their washing but the garbage collectors have not yet arrived. Bottles, cans and the other detritus of carnival await them.

The celebrants are still here but they are walking zombies, padding about with no destination. Wound up from the night before and still going. We heard them all night in our uneasy sleep, and closing the hotel windows didn't shut out the ear-shattering music to which they moved.

Now we walk among them- clowns, oriental potentates, furry animals, knights on horseback, even Miss Piggy in farmerette costume. I stop on a street corner to consult my city map, and there is a tap on my shoulder. A 6-foot-3 guy with a huge blond wig and an alcoholic breath wants to help. He does, and he walks away, his purple dress swishing.

carnival revellers in Tenerife
Carnival revellers in Santa Cruz, Tenerife.
Local  children enjoying the carnival
Local children enjoying the carnival

Three people in orange wigs are coaxing life into an ancient Volkswagen bug that is smeared with orange paint. We strike up a conversation with the driver and her companions. They are wholesome young Spaniards, and it soon is apparent they like Americans but are turned off by the idea of war. We tell them about our ship, and, computer-savvy all, they want web addresses where they can follow the voyage.

While the ship is cleaned and restocked, several of us have taken rooms in the Hotel Anaga, where we bunk two or three to a room. After two or three days, the floors are no longer tilting, and the beds remain stationary all night. The feeling is strange but welcome.

We will sail on Friday, 14 March, a change from the original sailing date, the 13th. "Is there some seafaring superstition involved here?" I asked Rob, the first mate. "No sailor likes to sail on the 13th," he said with an enigmatic smile.

Day 19 - Wed 6 Mar. Position at 1400, 28-47 N, 16-10 W.

For several glorious hours late yesterday, the ship was the star, and she seemed to know she was on stage. The wind was on our port beam and strengthening-- 14, 15, 17, 19, up to 25. As the wind came up, so did our speed-- 4.5, 5.2, 5.7, 6.4 knots.

The full, rounded wind-packed sails were like rigid carved ivory, and they were driving, driving. You could almost feel the solid power moving from sails to masts to hull. Boatswain Tom Harding and the watch leaders ran about making adjustments, and the one last sail in our inventory-- the spanker topsail-- was finally set. Then we all just stood and watched.

There's been plenty of time now to observe the ship's permanent company in action, and I have only the highest praise for all of them.

Captain Tom McCarthy is an experienced master. He sailed Asgard, the Irish sail training ship, to Australia. No remote figure, he frequently joins us at the crew mess table and is a fount of information.

Rob Mathews, the first mate and safety officer, is committed to our welfare and goes out of his way to be helpful. Rohan MacSweeney, second mate and communications officer, is my key to sending these transmissions. He sets up the telex in the wheelhouse and I balance its little keyboard on my knees and type out my messages.

Martin (Tosh) Treacy, third mate, is a Macintosh computer user, as I am, and he's given me many helpful hints for dealing with the ship's computer. Peter O'Regan, the engineer, is everywhere at once, putting his ear to the heartbeat of the engines and generators, monitoring the water maker and the sewage treatment plant, keeping the heads operating smoothly.

Tom Harding is the quintessential boatswain-- short, stocky, strong as an ox, full of sea stories and master of every sheet and line. Dave Nolan, boatswains mate, is a man of all skills-- carpenter, machinist, toolmaker, and improviser. Along with Mark Tighe, Boyce Nolan and Frida Bjorsell, the watch leaders, these people are the vital core of the ship.

Having seen them perform through the worst we've encountered, I'm more than content to put my life in their hands for the rest of the voyage. I hope they will be treated royally, as they deserve, by every American they meet.

Day 18 - Wed 5 Mar 03; Position at 1030--30-37 N. 16-37 W.

The engines powered us during the night but now we're under sail and doing a bit over 2 knots.

A small bird flew aboard yesterday afternoon and perched, exhausted, on a rail atop the forward deckhouse. It has a brown-reddish breast but no one could identify it. After refueling on bread and water, it surveyed the ship and cannily decided to roost in the Captain's cabin. We hope it will find relatives in Tenerife.

At a deck lecture on tacking and wearing, the Captain observed that we are making our way south through Macronesia, the collective name the ancient Greeks gave to all these eastern Atlantic islands-- the Azores, Madeira, Canaries, Cape Verdes-- islands that in ancient times were the westernmost edge of the known world.

a bird's eye view of the deck from the crow's nest
Bird's eye view of the deck from the crow's nest

Later, we practiced tacking (going across the wind) and wearing. A square-rigger can tack only in moderate winds. Too little wind and it would lose headway; too much and its back-winded sails would put an undue strain on the forestays.

The alternative to tacking is wearing ("jibing" to small boat sailors). Wearing ship in a slight wind, as we did, seems to take forever and the ship can lose a mile or two in the process.

It was a fine evening when we finished all that, so Sarah the cook had our food brought out to the foredeck and we dined picnic-style.

By midday today, there was a 12-knot wind on our port beam, and we were making between 4 and 4.5 knots. A set of square sails filled with wind is a beautiful sight.

Day 17- Tues 4 March. Position 1400 31-35 N, 17-04 W.

A slow ship is a relaxing ship if you're not in a hurry to reach a destination, and we're not.

Top speed in the past 24 hours has been 2.4 knots, so at 0900 Madeira is only 55-60 nautical miles behind us; the lights were still visible early this morning. But we have time. The wind will freshen later today, and with that boost, we expect to reach Santa Cruz, Tenerife, about 1000 Thursday, two days ahead of schedule.

As if someone had planned this voyage to be a saga of Saturnalia, Tenerife's carnival-- the biggest next to Rio-- will kick off the night we arrive, and we'll be docked right in the middle of it.

Meanwhile, ship's routines continue. A practice alarm brought us on deck, where Dr. Tom McCormick gave a first aid lecture; an "injured" person was carried up by litter from the bowels of the ship; we practiced getting into the yellow horseshoe with which a helicopter would haul us aloft if necessary; and fire hoses were unreeled and deployed while two crew members donned aluminum fire-fighting suits.

The evidence of the ship's concern for safety is everywhere and it is most impressive. If there is any inconvenience to rushing onto deck with your life jacket, wriggling into an immersion suit or going through a fire drill, you have only to remember that it is all for you and your safety, and that makes it more than acceptable.

Day 16 - 3 Mar 03 1400 32-31N 16-58W Leaving Madeira

No travel agent could have planned it so well. Madeira was not even on our itinerary; it was a haven of convenience, a chance to regroup and heal our bruises.

Our timing brought us into port on the eve of carnival, and celebration was the order of the day. "You can stay on the ship or stay ashore," said Capt. McCarthy. "Just report back at 0800 Monday."

Pat and I took a room in an apartment hotel for three nights and enjoyed carnival, some stable sleep and a tour of the sun-blessed island.

Madeira is old luxury and spectacular geography-- grand hotels, orange-tile-roofed houses undulating up and down hills, banana plantations clinging to hillsides, and, above all, a delightful climate.

Just as we cast off, about 0900 today, Roseanne from Cork screamed, "There's my friend on the dock; she has a gift basket for me." Too late, we were already underway. But a call from the pilot to the pilot boat affected a quick pickup and Roseanne soon had her gifts in hand.

Now we are heading south, with all sails up, not a huge wind but doing between 2 and two and a half knots under sail alone. This is what we have all been waiting for.

The Jeanie Johnston mural painted on the dock by crew members
Crewmembers painted a mural of the
ship on the dockside in Madeira, this is a local tradition for visiting ships docking in Funchal.

Day 13, Friday, 28 Feb. Position at 1000 hours: 32-40 N, 16-41 W.

Early this morning, Madeira loomed off our starboard bow, appearing first as clumps of jagged hilly islets, resolving finally into a long mountainous main island with several small satellites.

Our date with the pilot is at 1400, so we have several hours to kill motoring slowly outside Funchal Harbor. Before the voyage, sailing purists said, "You won't be using the engines, will you, except in an emergency?" Well, the whole 1200 nautical mile run from Fenit to Madeira was an emergency. If we hadn't used the engines we might still be sitting in Dingle Bay.

Many an engineless 19th century famine ship spent three or more weeks tacking fruitlessly within sight of the harbor it sailed from before it caught a good wind.

The weather pattern we faced couldn't have been more challenging. A huge high-pressure system sat over northern Europe, and as a series of small lows moved across the Atlantic, they bounced off it and churned along its edge. That edge coincided with our course.

There was no extended period of favorable wind; only short stretches of a couple of hours each. Setting and dousing square sails over and over is a fatiguing job, and in the end it made more sense to travel under stays'ls and engine power.

With stormy seas, and without the steadying compressive effect of the square sails, conditions below decks were miserable most of the time. But that's behind us now. We're in t-shirt weather-- soft, balmy, sub-tropical air-- and we are luxuriating in it.

Day 12, Thurs. 27 Feb.

Large swells on our beam made it a rolly night with not much sleep, but today is a large day, full of warm sunshine and soft breezes, though not from the right direction to move the ship.

At 0900 our position was 35-11 N, 15-54 W, and we were 162 NM from Funchal, Madeira. Rob, the first officer, says we should be there by 1400 tomorrow. But the big news came when one of the watches yelled down to the mess deck, "Dolphins off the bow!" All hungry for a sign of life, we raced to the bow and watched, spellbound, as four dolphins cavorted just ahead of our bow wave, weaving about, leaping and darting.

Last night's mess deck conversation reminded me of Willie and Joe, Bill Mauldin's famous cartoon characters of World War II. "When we get to Madeira," said one, "I'm going to spend a whole day soaking in the shower." "First thing I'm going to do," said another, is just stand for a few hours with my hands in my pockets and not worry about being knocked ass over teakettle." (The shower is off limits at sea; it's the most likely place, next to the galley, in which to break a bone or two.)

This gave rise, naturally, to a philosophical discussion of the relative merits of stability vs. cleanliness. If you could have only one, which would you take?

When you're unstable, you could be hurt, so it might be better to be dirty but stable. On the other hand, you could offend your companions if you're dirty, so clean might be better. The negatives boil down to danger vs. loneliness. The majority voted for cleanliness, putting companionship above safety-- an interesting commentary on life at sea.

Day 11, Wed, 26 Feb.03 -- Position 37.05 N 14.54 W --

Last night was relatively smooth, and that brought much-needed sleep to all hands. This morning a couple of rogue waves came over the top if the forward deck house and doused everyone on deck as it poured down. Fifteen to 20-foot swells are coming under our starboard quarter, and for a while there was a good NW wind.

But then the wind shifted and the seas became confused. With stays and spanker up, and with help from the engines, we've sometimes hit seven knots.

A central fact of our existence, of which we are all aware, is that we're alone. For 11 days, no one has seen a ship, a bird, a fish, a whale, a dolphin or any other sign of life. A long, low silhouette far off our port side might have been a tanker, but that's all.

This sense of isolation binds us together. We turn to one another for companionship, for affirmation of our humanity. Each of us places a heightened value on all the others, for without them we'd be truly alone. This is, after all, a small ship on a large ocean.

On a calm day, it would be no more than 40 paces on deck from bow to stern. So whatever happens anywhere, we're all quickly aware of it. After one of our recent rough nights, for example, the word went around the Captain had ordered an axe and a pair of wire cutters brought to the bridge. If a mast came down in the gale, he wanted the rigging cleared away quickly, before it could damage the ship.

Day 10, Tues 25 Feb.
Position at 1400, 39-29 N, 14- 38 W.

Not much speed lately, though we're currently doing 7 knots and courses and topsails are going up so we may better that.

Last night was possibly the worst yet, with very little sleep, but the view on deck this morning was full of promise. For more than a week, it's been gray, rainy skies and steep, frothing seas. Today there are moderate swells, just short of braking. The sky and the sea are pure blue. And the sun! It's not an Irish sun but a Spanish sun.
This could almost be a summer sea off our New Jersey coast. The chief topic of conversation on the mess deck last night was whether people like us are adventurous or crazy. In the end, we concluded we're all a bit of each-- and there's no age limit to it.

Jim Callery, who owns and operates Ireland's Strokestown Famine Museum, thought that at 68 he was pushing the edge. Then Jim O'Brien of Dublin, with years of merchant marine service behind him, was sure that at 74 he was the oldest crazy man. When he learned I was 81, he was crestfallen. Now when I see him at the mess table, I put my arm on his shoulder and say, "I think I'll sit here next to my son."

Tom Kindre and Jim Callery on the Jeanie Johnston
Tom Kindre and Jim Callery onboard the Jeanie Johnston

Day 9, Mon 24 Feb 03
Position at 1530--41-10 N, 13-53 W.

The ship is "talking" to Peter O'Regan. Peter and his brother Ciaran were its chief builders, as chief engineer and shipwright superintendent.

A wooden ship to Peter is a living thing. He roams from stem to stern, listening as the timbers groan and shift, finding new relationships with one another. "They are doing what they are expected to," he says. In Madeira, he'll inspect minutely, tensioning here, tightening there.

Volunteers are working with Bosun's Mate Dave Nolan on jobs the voyage has shown a need for-- more handgrips for the cooks, a way of silencing the anchor chains in the hawse pipes, etc.

We all know now our landfall port in the US will be West Palm Beach, and we hope our families can greet us there. Rough seas and rain today. Our present latitude is roughly 41 degrees--Madeira is at about 33, so at 60nm per degree we have some 480 miles to go.
Peter O'Regan drawing a plan of the Jeanie Johnston
Peter O'Regan, Chief Engineer, drawing a plan of the Jeanie Johnston

Day 8, Sun 23rd February, 2003

Last night the Captain called us together in the mess deck and congratulated us on seeing the ship safely through the roughest time it's had in its young life. Then he opened the bar in the great cabin, and we all enjoyed Murphy's Stout. A crewmember brought out his guitar and gave us some Irish ballads and the "craic" as they call it in Ireland, it was great.

A low-pressure system is moving from west to east just ahead of us, and we are adjusting course to catch the counter-clockwise wind on its western flank.

This morning a practice drill called all hands on deck. Then we got into survival suits as they were handed out. Mostly, it's a case of lying on the deck, getting your legs in, then squirming about until you're head and arms are in as well.

20 Feb noon--48-30 N, 11- 30 W, day's run 175 NM.
21 Feb noon-46-39 N, 12- 30 W, day's run-120.
22 Feb noon 45-06 N, 13-08 W., day's run 110.
23 Feb 43-33 N, 13-28 W, day's run-113.
Average Daily Speeds kts:(20) 7.29, (21) 5.0, (22)4.58, (23)4.71.

If present conditions hold, should be able to do this much each day.

Sat 22nd February 2003

Multiple problems--weather, seas, touchy telex. All is well. It is now Saturday 22 Feb. Position at 51.44 N, 13 degrees 14.058 W. Roughly opposite Bordeaux, about 250 nm NW of La Coruna, Spain. Can't do more now. Writing daily stories, though, and if necessary will email them from Madeira, where we probably will stop.

Day 7, Sat, 22 Feb. 2nd report

The 4 to 8 watch has set courses and tops'ls on main and foremasts, and the difference inside the ship is profound. The pitching and rolling have moderated and there's a steady heel to port. The trouble is, the wind doesn't hold, and in a few hours those sails will do us no good.

There's been a huge high-pressure system over Europe, and we have been clawing our way down its western flank, fighting against its clockwise wind. We're now enough out in the open to catch a west wind, and the engines are moving us at 9 knots. In the mess deck, the galley crew has rigged a rope down the middle of the table so we can hold on with one hand while we eat with the other.

Day 6, Fri, 21 Feb.

The day started with a bang. Just as the 4 to 8 watch came off duty, the ship gave a huge lurch, followed by the sound of crockery smashing in the galley. Sarah the cook and the galley crew deserve every medal-- carrying crocks and tureens of food through two steel doors and down a slippery companionway three times a day and trying to secure them so we get fed before they slide away.

The ship's water maker is running now, sucking in the sea and turning it into 4000 liters of fresh water per day. Conditions late today were as bad as they've been. If you weren't on watch, the only safe place was in your bunk. Jim Callery, who bunks below me, took a nasty fall and cracked several ribs. Tom McCormack, the ship's doctor, is attending to him.

Day 5, Thurs. 20 Feb.

We are making better time now-- between 6 and 7 knots today. As the captain notes, however, our twin 280 hp diesels are auxiliary engines, not intended to fully power a 540-ton ship. We are consuming fuel at a rapid rate and may put into Lisbon or Madeira to refuel. Today was beautiful and sunny, with high swells from the west meeting lesser swells from the southeast, causing confusing seas and plenty of rolling.

Getting sleep is a real problem. At 1530 our position was 48-06 N, 11-42 W, and we are roughly at the latitude of Brest, France.

Day 4, Wed. 19 Feb

Today the experienced hands have put the height of the seas at about 20 feet. It's a good day to sit on the high side of the mess table. Sitting high, the ship's heel holds you against the table and any food you spill goes to your neighbors across the way. Sit on the low side and you'll have to hang on by your fingernails to the table's edge, and chances are you'll end up with someone's soup in your lap.

It's also a good day to put on your deck boots and warm one-piece deck suit, go on deck, lash the tether on your safety harness to something solid and enjoy the ship and the sea. You can take deep breaths of clean Atlantic air, study the habits of the Gannets wheeling overhead, or turn your face to the sickly, storm-hidden sun. From time to time bursts of white water sluice across the deck at your feet.

We came out of Dingle Bay about 0600 this morning and are heading straight south under power and staysails. About 0900 we passed the Skelligs.

Day 3-Tuesday 18 February 2003

Note: because of circumstances, this report is being transmitted on 20 February. Our noon position on 19 February was 51 degrees 23.6'N, 1 0 degrees 49.2 W.

A tall ship is a big target, and there are few places where you can hide it. That's been our problem for the past 48 hours. It's not an enemy we are trying to hide from but the wind. We tried anchoring near Knightstown, on Valencia Island, just off the Iveragh Peninsula. But the anchor didn't hold and we tried again and again.

At lunch we heard the windlass grinding and someone said, "Sounds like we're moving again." "Yes," said another, "they're trying to get us closer to the pub." But no such luck. There was no way off the ship in any case.

After several fruitless tries, we motored back out into Dingle Bay, and there was some thought we might go into the shelter of Dingle Harbor. But the wind was now Force 11, and the captain couldn't see getting into a small harbor where he'd sacrifice maneuverability.

So all through the night and today (Tuesday) we've been a Flying Dutchman, powering back and forth in the Bay without getting any closer to Tenerife.

Days 1 & 2, Feb. Sun 16, Mon 17

There are days in our youth when the world is still bright and unblemished and almost anything seems possible.

Today-- at least the first half of it-- came close to being such a day. We'd boarded the day before, found our bunks, got our assignments. Now the bright windy morning was spent cleaning up, oiling ropes, last minute touch ups.

Reporters and TV crews came aboard and anyone standing about was interviewed three or four times. By 2 pm, invited guests were filling seats on the dock, and the band was playing. Bishops and politicians came aboard and joined the Captain on the quarterdeck. The air was full of carnival spirit. After the last of the speeches, the Kerry flag was raised, the Irish flag, and finally we cast off to great cheers.

As we left the Fenit pier, we knew, long before the escort fleet turned back, that the weather was building. Square sails came down first, then the fore and aft sails. We were under power alone. And so the ship plowed through the afternoon and night, under bare poles, straight into the teeth of a Force 9 gale.

There was no place to sit, stand or lie steadily. The ship pitched as much as she rolled. Every loose thing slithered, rolled or clattered. Every time the ship dropped between waves, the anchor chains smashed against the inside of the hawse pipe, sending a loud metallic "crash" through all the living spaces. All but three of the crew was sick, and I was not one of the three.

I spent 12 hours in my bunk, braced against the rolling, wondering if I would live or die. In mid-morning, the captain had us assembled in the mess deck. We were seeking refuge in Dingle Bay, so the ship's motion was less. There was a hint of euphoria in the air because strangely, we were still alive. "In all my voyage experience," said the captain, "I've hardly ever known the first case of sea sickness to repeat itself. And my aim is to not give you another time like last night." The problem was he'd had no choice.

With a fixed sailing date, you can only take what comes, and what came was well forecast - a huge storm system moving up from the southeast. All we could do was plow our way into it. From here on, he assured us, we'd be able to avoid or wait out bad weather.

The sailing time to Tenerife is an average 12-15 days, and our schedule allows us 21 days. So there should be room for maneuver Let us hope he is right.

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