The Flagship Niagara Diaries Part 7: Man from the Deutschland

“Of course you can ring the bell, but only once,” I say with a smile. The little boy with short brown curls stares up at me for a moment before looking back at his mother, who nods and grins. Stepping over a thick dockline curled over the deck like a snake, he takes hold of the grey rope and gently pulls it toward him, tapping the clapper against the edge of the bell. The faint, almost inaudible ping makes his face light up, and next thing I know, DING DING DING DING DING DING.

Bong goes the bell as I gently guide him away with a smile and the clapper slips from his hand to strike the bell one last time. His mother laughs and mouths I’m sorry, but I just smile and wave my hand — no problem. I stand and watch him leave, a big, toothy grin lighting up his face, then I cast my attention back down the starboard side of the ship toward the stern. Another little boy sticks his head out of the gunport.

“OY! DON’T DO THAT!” I yelp.

Ah, the joys of being a tour guide.


In all reality, now that I’ve warmed up to the ship, how it works, and my place on it, I’m beginning to find that tour guiding is quite a bit of fun. I like the routine of being in port — work in the morning, guide spectators through the ship in the afternoon. The next day, switch according to your watch.

This morning, I spent my first significant chunk of time with the boatswain, Rob, who guided me through splicing and whipping some of Niagara’s manila rope, and I find my fingers sore just from thinking about it. Look at the little prickles coming off of that. Does that look like something you want to grind your fingers against for a few hours as you weave it inside of itself?


That stuff is not soft by any means, but I still don’t regret my decision not to wear gloves during my time crewing. Originally, I figured that it would be best to protect my hands. It didn’t take me long to realize, though, that gloves are an unnecessary waste of time in some cases. If we suddenly have an all hands call at 3 in the morning, am I really going to have the time and wherewithal to dig around and find my gloves? I’ll just let my hands get rough and callused enough to withstand the cactus-like rope.

Unfortunately, the calluses from 1,000 miles of biking every year are in all those places that are in no way helpful.

As I stand here, watching the tourists filter by from my place by the bell at the prow and contemplating the work I’ve done today, I glance back toward the other places onboard that I’ve toured people around — the capstan and the berth deck. I hear them ask questions, and I want to answer. It’s not my post, I chide myself. I can’t do everyone’s work. With a sigh, I look up into the rigging to see a group of more experienced sailors wrangling with a huge khaki-ish canvas in between the two masts.

Doing a job I’d love to do but don’t have the skills yet. I want to go back up there.

The solution, I resolve to myself, is obviously just to acquire the knowledge that I lack — probably  by volunteering. If I’m up there enough, being taught what to do, eventually I’ll end up there with the OS and ABS reinstalling, for the first time since 2005, the topgallant staysail, highest triangular sail on the ship. That would be nice.

My musing is interrupted by a fellow crewmember who’s come to replace me at my post. His blue bandanna is the first thing I notice, same as when I saw him up in the rigging yesterday. Devon.

“Hey,” I say, and he gives a friendly smile and wave. “Where am I off to next?”

He looks at his watch. “Oh, Charlie’s off at 1800, so you’re good.”

I open my mouth to say something but am interrupted with a shrill, “Hey! I’m going to see the ships! You wanna come?”

I head down to the berth deck and grab my camera and wallet before meeting up with fellow now-relieved-of-duty Charlie-watcher Kaileigh on deck. As we head down the pier, the number of ships seems to multiply ridiculously. Many of them apparently came in late last night when I was already asleep, since I only remember Niagara being closely pursued by the schooner that John later informed me was the Denis Sullivan. Yet, somehow, there are more than a dozen tall ships here beside Niagara!

The next hour or so is largely a blur of excited picture-taking as the oncoming night progressively frustrates more and more of my nice pictures. The Appledores, the Playfair, the Lynx, the Roseway with her blood-red sails, the Unicorn crewed only by women, magnificent Europa all the way from the Netherlands, the famous Bounty — they’re all here, and others besides. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that this many other tall ships were still in existence. Or that many of them made appearances in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Well tickle me pink.


[Flash forward to the present, 2013. I still can’t fathom entirely the fact this beautiful ship above, the Bounty, which sailed with us in 2010 through the tall ships race, has now found her home on the bottom of the Atlantic along with one of her crew and her captain. I never thought I wouldn’t see her again.]


[The Empire Sandy]



Amid this blur of total coolness, we discover that Captain Wes and the whole crew have been invited to share some time aboard the Roald Amundsen, a huge ship visiting from Germany and also competing in the race this year. Not wanting to miss out, we head over to the Roald as well and board the wide deck to mingle with the crowd of sailors, both our own and those far from their German home.

It’s not long before a stocky blonde German approaches Kaileigh and I, laying a hand on the idle rope we’re fiddling with.

“You know this one?” he asks, tying a figure 8 knot on the rope. Kaileigh watches, and I replicate his knot with a smile.


He grins. “Ah, and this?” I lose sight of the rope with the speed of his fingers, but at the end he comes out with a midshipman’s hitch, and that’s all I need to see in order to do one of my own. His grin changes to a delighted cackle as he tosses out yet another knot, this time an easy one — two half hitches. I easily give one back to him.

Unfortunately, the next movements of his hands are entirely lost on me as he twirls out a killick hitch, and I know I’m beaten.

“I don’t know that one,” I admit, and a little of the fun leaves his face. He tries another, a marline hitch, but I have to admit that he’s got me again. Seizing the rope myself, I give him a barrel hitch, which he recreates with ease, then a marlinespike hitch with the marlinespike from its sheath on my belt, but he does that one as well with almost ridiculous ease. I keep him at it until I’ve exhausted my whole store of knots, and he laughs again.

“You don’t seem like a trainee,” I say. He chuckles.

“Second mate.”

Well that explains a lot.

He reaches out his hand and I introduce myself. “Hagen,” he says in reply.

“Like the ice cream?”

“Ice cream?” he asks, obviously confused.

“You know, HaagenDazs,” I say, looking at Kaileigh, who is laughing almost hysterically. Hagen starts laughing too but admits, “I don’t know this!”

After a good bit of chuckling, Hagen stands and waves for us to follow him below deck. He lead us through the underbelly of the monstrous Roald, where I’m able to snap some pictures of the obviously German things they’d all carried with them on their long voyage from home.


Beer. This does not surprise me.

Once we emerge back on the deck humming with the sound of dozens of excited conversations (in multiple languages), Hagen sits down again in front of the bar and ropes we’d been entertaining ourselves with earlier, and I snap a quick picture of the cheerful German.


“Oh,” Hagen says, fishing around in a pocket for a moment, “yes, go to…”

“What did you say?” I ask. He stands and hops onto the bridge that leads off the ship, waving for us to follow. When I check the time on my watch, he smiles and shakes his hands. “Not far.”

As we head toward the center of Toronto, a rainbow of bright lights casting dancing shadow all around us, a cool breeze picks up. “Hagen, where are we going again?”

“Oh, uh, the…the…A…L…no…”


He stops and huffs, his English obviously failing him. He holds his hands out in front of him and makes a motion forward, away from his body, as if he were turning the pages of a book away from him one by one. He says a word that sounds like ‘oiro.’

He starts walking again, his brow furrowed still trying to conjure up the right English words. A faint ‘mmm’ comes from him before he whips around suddenly and shouts “MUCH MONEY MACHINE!”

I just about fall over trying to stifle an outrageous burst of laughter. “An ATM?” I say, unable to entirely hide my chuckle. “Is that what you’re looking for?”

He smiles. “You say, uh, ATM?”

“ATM,” I repeat.

“Money?” he ventures.

“Yes, it’s the thing that you get money out of.”

“AH!” he exclaims, a new spring in his step as he takes us deeper into Toronto. From an outdoor arena nearby, the dull throbs of a rock concert pulse through the concrete into our feet. A wide street with glistening steel tracks for the Toronto trams comes into view in front of us, and Hagen, still smiling, strolls straight into the street.

With one tram coming from each direction and five cars that just turned the corner.

Whether Germans just enjoy playing chicken with motor vehicles or whether he’s from a big enough city to be used to things like this, I’m not sure. Regardless, I’m not from such a city, and I entertain brief flashes of these terrible mental images of myself as Frogger. And we all know what happens there.

Before I entirely realize, we’re standing on the opposite sidewalk. Looking up, I see that Hagen’s smile has gone nowhere, and he merrily strolls into the 7-Eleven that has appeared in front of us. He takes a quick glance around the edge of a display up front before he shouts “AH!” and bolts around the corner.

I hear the determined punching at keys before I even turn the corner, and sure enough, Hagen has found his Much Money Machine. Right about the time that I get to him at the end of the isle, I see the ATM spit out the money. Lots of money. A wad of money.

That was like $2,000.

Pretending I didn’t notice, I avert my eyes and look around the store. It takes a moment before I do the double-take into the freezer section. An ear-to-ear grin covers my face, and I tap Hagen on the shoulder.

“Hagen, look. It’s Haagen-Dazs!”

He turns and scans his eyes over the shelves of ice cream for a moment, but it’s clear the moment he sees it because he plasters himself to the glass door of the ice cream section with a giant grin on his face.



After buying me an orange juice for all my troubles helping him find the Much Money Machine, Hagen makes sure that I make it back to the Roald safely and, along with the rest of his crew, bids us all good night as all of Niagara’s hands head back to the comfort of our hammocks. With a now-practiced chin-up into my hammock, I plop into bed and sigh, flipping the edge of the blanket over me as I roll. A few moments into the silence, I can’t stifle a chuckle.

Much Money Machine. Nice.


Quotes from today’s ship log (oh there are many…):

“The crew was also able to assemble the topgallant staysail, which hasn’t been on the ship since before 2005.”

“When we came to the Amundsen Wes invited us onboard and we met Hagen, the second mate. He dragged us all through Toronto and did so many funny things!”



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