Saturday, 7 July 2007


For more images of this UNIQUE event: click HERE

Photography is often the recording and eternalising of important, sometimes golden moments. An image can easily conjure up more than what your eyes see; you relive the emotion of that instance, the sounds, the smells and sometimes even tastes, like here, the salt on my lips. That is what the photographer experiences, but what about the viewer? Is it just a photo of a ship at sea?
Or will the words fill in the questions and gaps? I know there is a faction that maintains that a good photo speaks for itself; however I've often experienced people's genuine interest, not so much in the how, since that is ever changing anyway, but especially in the WHY?
The circumstances, feelings and reasons for your taking it, if you then add the emotions, the image is SOLD!!!

THE MERCATOR, 75 this year (2007).

For special occasions, one of them being a gathering of tall-ships, centenaries or royal anniversaries, she'll be kitted out again.
The last men and few 'older’ gang (the only ones still in the know) are gathered, the rest are eager but choice volunteers.
The bridges are drawn. The sluices and locks are very narrow; they guide her through from the quayside. Thousands of people come and watch it, forming a row of honour to bid her 'farewell'.
Late afternoon, I sit on the other side of the harbour, on the rocks at the right pier, the other side of town, in the shadow of the lighthouse and some war-leftovers (bunkers hidden and overgrown by dunegrasses).
Nobody there, camera on tripod, fixed and focused on the point where the Mercator will suddenly appear, ready to sail stately down the entrance of the harbour, between the two piers, cheered on.
After some impatient delay, she appears at the mouth of the dock, guided by towboats, frantic activity on deck and up the masts; she's being positioned for the glorious depart...
I get my shots, but, she's now moving, gaining momentum, so am I.
I run alongside, stopping repeatedly and briefly to take another shot, but my goal is the end of the pier.
I hear the creaking and shaking ship, she's alive again, this is what she's meant for, yes, she's in her element...
She dips her bow and stern alternately the closer she gets to the pier-heads, like a dolphin finding a rhythm.

At last, she's at sea, late, the sun is going, the mist and night coming.
The Jetfoil shoots out the harbour, and makes a bow of honour to the old ship, flying a semi-circle and giving the salute by blowing the horn in passing...
Most of the fleet of smaller vessels had stopped, got out of the way, saw her off...
I photograph her for as long as I can.
This is my last shot: 'The Mercator'.

This tall ship was designed by the Antarctic explorer Adrien de Gerlache (1866-1934) as a training ship for the Belgian merchant fleet. She was built in Scotland and launched in 1932.
Technical data:
• length : 78.4 m
• beam : 11.09 m
• draught : 4.5 m
• foremast : 39 m (square-rigged)
• mainmast : 41 m (fore-and-aft-rigged)
• mizzenmast : 40 m (fore-and-aft-rigged)
• 15 sails (4 jibs, 4 foresails, 3 staysails, 2 spankers and 2 gaff topsails)
• Speed : 13 knots (24 km/h)
• Crew : 150
The “MERCATOR” is named after the famous Flemish cartographer and is rigged as a barkentine or barquentine.
A barquentine is a sailing vessel with three or more masts and with a square rigged foremast and only fore-and-aft rigged sails on the main, mizzen and any other masts, related rigs are brigantine (2 masts).
Usually the “MERCATOR” carried 15 sails with a total surface of about 1600 m². Besides being a training a ship, she was also used, mainly before WW II, for scientific observations, or as ambassador for Belgium on world fairs and in sailing events.
She carried back two Moai (giant statues) from Easter Island. In 1936 she brought home from Molokai, Hawaii, the remains of Father Damien the Flemish missionary and apostle of the lepers, who died on the Molokai Island in 1889.
On February 21st, 1940, the training ship left the port of Ostend.
After a voyage to Rio de Janeiro, the Belgian ship arrived in Boma. This was the end of the twentieth voyage and at the same time the last cruise before World War II. Early 1943, the schoolship was summoned by the British Admiralty and left under the British Flag as a “Submarine Depot Ship” for Freetown, where it stayed till August 1945. It was only on January 18th, 1947 that the “MERCATOR”, taken in tow by the “Empire Mary”, sailed on the River Scheldt again.
Nothing was left from the formerly elegant and well maintained training ship. However she was repaired in Gent and sailed again from January 20th 1951 till 1960, used as a training ship and taking part in 3 major sail-races.
After World War II, the Belgian training ship put to sea again on January 20th, 1951.
The “MERCATOR” was in service as a training ship till August 1960 and made 54 voyages altogether, during which almost all seas have been sailed on and a great deal of ports called at.
The “MERCATOR” accomplished many scientific missions and many times represented Belgium abroad. The ship participated in the great sailing races, such as Torbay-Lisbon (1956), Brest-Canary Islands (1958) and won the Oslo-Ostend race (1960).
Her last trip was to Lisbon for the commemoration of the quincentenary (500 years) of the death of infante Henry the Navigator.
In 1961 she became a floating museum, first in Antwerp, and finally from 1964 in the marina of Ostend, just in front of the city hall. She was once more completely restored between 1999 and 2000 she is now a National treasure and monument.
The hottest news this week is she’s definitely staying in Ostend, West- Flanders Belgium.

1 comment:

Nick Staib said...

Hi - just found this old post (isn't Google wonderful?!) and was enjoying reading about the Mercator. What prompted me to turn to Google was that I am looking at a wonderful commemorative medal (set in a dark leather and silk lined purse) with the words 'Regata Brest-Canarias 1958' on it. I think it was my grandfathers (he lived in Las Palmas then). Perhaps he sailed out on one? Somehow I feel it should be re-united with one of the old square-rigged ships :)
PS - great photos!