Somewhere in the Atlantic
It has been a most difficult year for Duyfken and even on the second last day there was one last surprise in store. Da Zhong was at the other end of the quay with cranes and forklifts arranging cargo for the hold. We were to be placed on deck so we were amongst the last cargo to be lifted aboard. Our turn would come after lunch, and the big steam driven crane Ajax had already arrived at the other end of the harbour to prepare for the lift. Spliethoffïs team leader Joost Beuker came striding down the wharf to tell us the latest news. The contractïs requirement that two Duyfken crew would travel with the ship would not be honoured. The Da Zhong would only permit one of our crew to join the vessel for the voyage home. Janine or James would have to stay behind and as it was an all-male vessel, it would be Janine who would miss out. This management blunder will cost us precious time in Fremantle when we come to reassemble the vessel. For over a month we have been planning for two people to travel with our precious ship. Out of the water, the ship is like a dolphin ú it must be kept wet with salt water regularly to stop the deck and hull timbers drying out and shrinking. The rigging must be constantly oiled to prevent rot. The hull timbers and the masts and yards must be oiled too so that the hull remains watertight. With a tight schedule in Fremantle to make the ship ready to sail we had also hoped to patch the anti-fouling ready for a final coat on arrival. Little of this could happen with one person working alone. Our two crew had prepared well for six weeks at sea on a Chinese operated vessel. They were willing to accept that the Chinese crew could not speak English and they would have to be self reliant and talk to each other for the voyage. They had also packed enough equipment to get a lot of the work done. For the remainder of the day, the mobile phone ran hot as we desperately tried to resolve the problem. We had been placed in an impossible position: to either send the ship away undercrewed, or cancel the contract and miss the opportunity to have the ship in all her glory in Fremantle at the opening of the new Maritime Museum on 1 December. Meanwhile, the divers who would check the straps below 'Duyfken' arrived and prepared their diving gear. More Spliethoff staff arrived to move our pontoon a little closer to make it easier for the crane to get close to our ship. Our marine surveyor, Walter Vervloesem had arrived from Antwerp to keep his eye on proceedings. Then the crane arrived under tug tow. Quite a crowd had gathered to see the lift including past crew members and our ever faithful volunteers from De Delft Shipyard. Two of our greatest supporters, Enric Hessing and Dirk Dragt from VOC2002, were on hand to witness the spectacle. Everyone was called to disembark from Duyfken' so that the Spliethoff team could begin the task of positioning the straps around the hull. Cian drained the fresh water tanks as Janine and James handled the lines. The straps went on easily, the divers gave the all-clear and in what felt like only a few minutes, the steam crane slowly begin to lift Duyfken aloft. With seemingly little effort, Duyfken climbed skyward until she was maybe 20 or 30 metres above the water. The Little Dove wasnït quite flying but it was quite a sight to see Duyfken from below rather than from above. Duyfkenïs last voyage in The Netherlands was at altitude 20 metres from one end of the Waalhaven harbour to the other. We all walked down to the Da Zhong as the crane carried Duyfken into position next to the heavy lift ship. Joostïs team were working busily aboard, positioning the steel supports and preparing the keel blocks. They knew exactly what to do and they set about the task very efficiently. He was sure the ship would slip adequately between the two deck cranes but he wasnït taking any chances. It was a precarious position. The Da Zhong was moving up and down on the swell, and the crane was moving too. 'Duyfken' was also swaying every time the crane moved. Duyfken moved yet further aloft before squeezing between the cranes and then gently landing on the deck of the ship. The crane straps were kept in place until the Spliethoff team had ensured Duyfken had no chance of toppling over. When the crane was finally removed, Joost remarked that he had never had so many pictures taken of him. For the first time since we began meeting with the Spliethoff team months ago, they could see the shape below the waterline of the unusual cargo they were to transport. The welders and carpenters had a tight schedule now to position all the supports and the wooden cradle before dark. Each cradle was individually shaped to fir the curve of the hull. By 1930, most of the cradle was in position. A close inspection of the hull was now possible. The anti-fouling applied in Simonïs Town, South Africa had begun to peel off in large strips like sunburn and weïll have to reapply it in Fremantle. The Hempels anti-fouling underneath is still in good condition. The good news was that our feared passenger, the teredo worm, does not seem to have made much progress in the cold, fresh water of The Netherlands. We finished the day happy with the lift but uncertain whether commonsense would prevail and we would be permitted two crew members for the long trip home. Janine was getting rather tired of people asking her whether she was THE crew member to be denied the opportunity to travel with the vessel. It seemed like everyone she met in Rotterdam had her of our predicament. Still, Da Zhong wasnït sailing until Monday so we still had three days break the impasse. That was ú until the departure time changed once again ú and Da Zhong was rescheduled to leave on Saturday evening. Janine re-packed her bags and took them off the ship. James prepared for an extremely busy 40 days. I admired Janine and Jamesï ability to cheerfully continue their work in a professional manner. Hopes were raised when a Chinese crew member asked James for the names of the two crew members joining the voyage. It was a false alarm. By next morning, our four shipping containers were strapped on decks and the mast had all been lifted aboard and secured. The webbing straps began to be applied to hold down the ship to the deck. By the time all the bright yellow straps had been put in place, the ship looked like it had been visited by spiders overnight. The Spliethoff team had worked quickly and efficiently to get Duyfken aboard and secured. Their job done, they left in mid-afternoon and we helped James with the last minute details required before departure at early evening. It was disappointing that our First Mate who had worked so hard since she had arrived to work for us, could not complete the job. When Duyfken arrived in The Netherlands, tens of thousands of people were there to welcome her. But arrivals are always different to farewells. This time, Janine, her boyfriend and I were the only people dockside to wish James well and to farewell Duyfken. For the first time since 1999, the ship was empty of people and cargo. Our incredible sequence of voyages around the world under our own power and resources was over. With a glowing peach sunset Da Zhong slipped from the berth, James was waving from as high aboard the ship he could reach. We had climbed a crane but he looked down upon us the impressive heavy lift ship cruised by. In minutes, Duyfken and Da Zhong had disappeared from view into the industrial maze of Rotterdam harbour. 'Duyfken' is coming home at last.