Home Is Where the Ship Is
Come aboard with the man behind the motion of the world’s largest fully rigged tall ship.
Come aboard with the man behind the motion of Royal Clipper.
WHEN THE 42 SAILS BEGIN TO UNFURL
on Star Clippers’ 439-foot, five-masted tall ship Royal Clipper, the largest such ship in the world, it’s a jaw-dropping moment for guests. Some 54,000 feet of cloth catches wind as the marching tones of the song “Conquest of Paradise” play from loud speakers, punctuating the drama.
For Oscar Guevara, 39, it’s a hectic time as he and the ship’s other two riggers pull lines, check routing motors, tie knots, and keep their eyes to the sheets, their senses piqued to the power of the breeze. They are in manthe-battle-stations mode as they do their job of maintaining the sails. A SAILOR’S LIFE
The life of a seaman in fiction may reflect rowdy times and tall tales, world exploration with a dose of pirate speak, and a penchant for tattoos. That’s not the life that Guevara leads.
“People say, ‘Oh, you sail around the world and I hear that all the seamen have a girlfriend in every port,’” he laughs heartily. “I say, ‘Oh yeah, I wish to be like that, but we are always working.”
Guevara spends 10 months at sea and then returns to his home in San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras, close to the Atlantic Coast, where for three or four months he’s a leisurely family man. When he’s home, his wife and kids (a teenager and a toddler) are his main focus.
“Sometimes I have to explain to friends and relatives that when I am home I don’t want to talk about the ship,” he admits. “I want to know everything about home. It’s like with our kids, I leave my daughter one year and she is suddenly 13 and a teenager. I want them to know how much I miss them.”
On board the 227-passenger Royal Clipper, while guests relax on the bowsprit or explore on shore, Guevara and the other riggers might be spotted climbing a mast, the tallest 177 feet, to remove a torn sail. The riggers wear a harness, but seeing them dangle is like watching a window washer on a skyscraper. You cringe, but you can’t stop looking.
“We always have to keep our eyes on the sails,” Guevara says. “We have to avoid the big damage. If there is any small damage we see, a small rip, we need to take care of it immediately before it gets worse. It will be harder to repair it if we wait.”
Riggers repair the sails on a sewing machine in the crew area below decks, before replacing them during another mast climb. More challenging is a broken bar.
“The bar, the crewing bar, when they break inside the sail, is quite complicated,” Guevara says, using his hands to describe the issue. “A difficult day is when we get a broken bar. Then I have a tough day.”
Intrepid guests have the opportunity once a week to climb a smaller mast to get a taste of what the experience is like, but only when the wind is calm so it’s not quite the same thing.
L E ARNING THE ROPE S
Guevara says his muscles come from climbing, not pulling ropes, and that climbing was one thing that came naturally to him.
“As a child, I climbed trees. I had many troubles with my teachers in school because I was always climbing the trees,” he laughs. Today, he knows the masts well — and the sails and the ropes.
“Everything can be set manually if we want; we are in the modern years,” says Guevara. “It’s not like Columbus when they had to pull everything by hand. We have the winches, which are electric. And all the square sails come by routing motors.” The ship also motors without sails at times.
Still, Guevara seems omnipresent on deck, always in sunglasses, his beard neatly trimmed, sometimes wearing a bandana to protect his head from the sun. Depending on the time of day and task at hand, his uniform may be a striped sailor shirt with “Royal Clipper” in red letters across his chest, a blue jumpsuit, or stiff whites.
Guevara came to Star Clippers after working for now- defunct big ship lines Premier Cruises and Commodore Cruise Line as an OS (ordinary seaman). He says he didn’t know a thing about sails when he joined the crew of the 170-passenger Star Clipper in 2003.
“When you talk about a tall ship, everything changes,” he says. “There are so many lines you have to learn and things you never did before. Thanks to the company, I learned slowly, and I came to be the rigger over the years. All the experience I have about sailing ships I got on board.”
Guevara explains that when it comes to knowing which line goes where, “It’s like a computer in my head. Every single line has a purpose. We have to know each one and we call them by name — middle station sheet, port side, middle station starboard side, braces lines, upper brace and lower brace .” He proves his point.
DAYS O N DECK
Guevara’s favorite destination to sail is the Caribbean, because, he says, “There’s more wind and we can move between the islands.” But whether in the Caribbean, or Europe, or sailing trans-Atlantic, his typical day starts at 6 a.m. and ends some 10 hours later.
Home away from home is a shared double cabin, and Guevara says that the food on Royal Clipper is good and comradery is easy with the 106-person crew (25 in the deck department).
“I think the life on the ship is nice,” he says with a smile.
Additionally, if Royal Clipper is in port into the night, the daytime deck crew may enjoy some free time on shore. Talking with passengers on the expansive open deck is also part of the fun, Guevara says.
“This is one of the most interesting things on this type of ship because we have communication between passengers and crew, and it’s a more ‘normal’ life than on the big ships,” he explains. “Some of the guests also are repeaters who we already know.”
Of course, it’s not always smooth sailings for Guevara.
“When it’s windy and rough seas, it’s very complicated. We take care of things that can fly away or move,” he says. “Any job that we do, we have to really be concerned about safety. We have to remember that when we are up on a mast we are on our own. Nobody is pushing you. Nobody is telling you that you are not secure. It’s up to you.”
Is it sometimes terrifying?
“For many people it can be, but I am used to it,” he says.
As we talk on the open deck off the coast of St. Kitts, the wind is whipping and the ship is moving. Guevara confesses that when he first went to sea he got seasick. Luckily, that’s no longer a problem.
The riggers wear a harness, but seeing them dangle is like watching a window washer on a skyscraper. You cringe, but you can’t stop looking.