The White Lady graces our shores

15 08 2012

I just love the sight of a tall ship and it is a shame that we get to see very little of them here in Singapore, and so, I have to settle for that occasional visit to one that comes alongside every once in a while. One such ship, the Chilean Navy training ship, the Buque Escuela (BE) Esmeralda, a four-masted barquentine, on a four-day visit to Singapore, was opened to the public over the weekend and I took the opportunity to pay a visit to it on Sunday. The Esmeralda, which means “Emerald” in Spanish, is affectionately known as “La Dama Blanca” or “The White Lady”, is currently on an eight-and-a-half month training voyage that will see her call at 13 ports in 10 countries – a voyage that started in her home port of Valparaíso on the 22nd of April this year and will end with her return to Valparaíso scheduled for 6th of January 2013. Singapore is her sixth port of call on the voyage which also sees her calling at ports in New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, India, Israel, Turkey, Spain, Colombia, and across the Panama Canal in Ecuador.

The BE Esmeralda seen here berthed at VivoCity is a four-masted training ship used by the Chilean Navy.

The Esmeralda, launched at the Spanish shipyard, Astilleros de Cádiz, in 1953, has had a rather interesting history. When her keel was laid in 1946 at what had been the Astillero Echevarrieta y Larrinaga de Cádiz, she was to have been built as replacement for her sister ship, the Spanish Navy training ship Juan Sebastián de Elcano and would have been named the ‘Juan de Austria’. What followed was a series of events that led to the ship being transferred to the Chilean Navy. Construction on the ship was halted in August 1947 due to massive explosions at the shipyard which not only caused damage to the ship, but also resulted in such damage to the yard itself that it brought the yard to its knees. The yard was eventually rescued by the Franco government in 1951. The government formed the Society of Cadiz Shipyards (Sociedad Astilleros de Cádiz S.A.) which the shipyard came under when the takeover was completed in 1952.

Boarding the Esmeralda.

A manually operated capstan on the poop deck.

The capstans are marked with the words Astilleros de Cádiz – the shipyard that built the BE Esmeralda.

Before the takeover was effected, Spain had entered into negotiations with Chile in 1950, on the repayment of debts it had incurred as a result of the Spanish Civil war, primarily from the import of thousands of tons of salt with a loan from the Chilean government. As Spain wasn’t in a position financially to repay the loan, an offer was made to repay this through manufactured products. This was accepted by the Chilean government and part of this included the transfer to the ship (approved in December 1951) which was valued at US$ 2.98 million. Construction then recommenced and the ship was launched on 12 May 1953 and christened the BE Esmeralda. She was finally completed some eight years after her construction was started and delivered on 15 June 1954 to the Republic of Chile, setting sail the following day. She arrived at her home port of Valparaíso on 1 September 1954 via Las Palmas, New Orleans, Panama and Tongoy.

Helm on the poop deck – the words ‘Vencer o Morir’ or ‘Conquer or Die’ the motto of the Chilean Navy is inscribed on it.

The Chilean Coat of Arms seen at the forward end of the deckhouse.

The ship is apparently the second longest tall ship with a length overall of 113 metres and a length (without her bowsprit) of 94.13 metres. Her two main masts are just a metre shy of the main mast of the STS Pallada which I visited in March 2010 at 48.5 metres in height. The steel hulled barquentine displaces a maximum of 3,673 tonnes. On its four masts and bowsprit, a total of 29 sails can be hosited, providing an total sail area of 2870 square metres and giving it a top speed with sails of 17.5 knots. More information on the very pretty ship can be found at the Chilean Navy’s page on the ship. The Esmeralda set sail on 14 August and is scheduled to arrive at her next port of call, Mumbai, on 30 August 2012. When she arrives back in Valparaíso at the end of the training voyage on 6 January 2013, she would have travelled some 30,414 nautical miles, spending a total of 208 days at sea.

The port sidelight.

A porthole on a skylight.

Brass nameplate for the door to the Midshipmen’s Navigation Room.

The bowsprit.

The fore mast.

A view of part of the fore deck with the fore mast.

The starboard anchor windlass and chain stopper.

The forward main mast and the forward end of the deckhouse.

Part of the rigging on the gunwale.

A tender on launching davits.

Close-up of a tender.

A pulley block.

A peek inside the deckhouse.

A cook in the ship’s galley.

A view of the lower deck.

Close-up of rope work.





There would certainly have been a mutiny on this Bounty …

3 08 2010

One of the many things that I looked forward to on this Hong Kong trip was the chance to board the Bounty, a tall ship which is in fact, a replica of the Bounty, infamous for the mutiny led by a certain Fletcher Christian. The mutiny which would have been construed as an act of disobedience not just against the authority of the ship’s commanding officer, Captain William Bligh, but also an act against the Crown, resulted in some of the surviving mutineers setting up a settlement on hitherto uninhabited Pitcairn Island and setting the original Bounty aflame to escape detection. By this unintended twist of fate, the group of islands that Pitcairn is in, has somehow become Britain’s last surviving colony in the Pacific. While we were certainly not in for this level of heart stopping excitement on the present replica of 1978 vintage (in fact this is the second replica built), it was for me, still something to look forward to, as I would do for any opportunity to visit a tall ship.

The Bounty, a second replica of the original, seen in full sail in Victoria Harbour (image courtesy of Hong Kong Resort Company Limited)

Tall ships are one of those things that I have always approached with the awe and fascination of a child. Captivated by the magnificent sight of tall ships in full sail from images seen in photographs and in the movies, and in part, drawn to the silhouette of a brig in the Old Spice brand of men’s toiletries that were popular back when I was growing up, I have long hoped to be able to sail on one, and work her sails. I guess the opportunity somehow never presented itself, and so, the next best thing for me was to attempt to visit one whenever I could. I managed a visit to one earlier this year, when the fastest tall ship, the STS Pallada, a Russian merchantmen training ship called to port in Singapore, and so it was very nice that I have a second opportunity this year, not just to board one, but also stay on her for a cruise around Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, albeit not with sails for practical reasons, but by her diesel power.

The figurehead of the new Bounty (image courtesy of the Hong Kong Resort Company Limited).

This replica of the Bounty that is in Hong Kong, was built in New Zealand in 1978 for the movie “The Bounty”, which starred Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins and was released in 1983. This would have been the same ship I had wanted to go onboard during a visit to Sydney some years back, but not having had the time, decided to give it a miss. This Bounty has, since 2007, been in the service of the Hong Kong Resort Company Limited, a company which operates the Discovery Bay Resort on Lantau Island at which the Bounty is based.

The bounty coming in to Central Pier 9 as the sun sets on Hong Kong.

A close-up of the stern.

The replica is not constructed of wood as one might think, being constructed of steel and clad in wood to give an authentic feel. While not as imposing as the Pallada which has a 49.5 metre tall main mast and measures some 106 metres (sparred), the 42 metre replica does have a spacious deck which measures 30 metres in length and 7 metres in width, and in the shadow of the rigging of the main mast which towers some 33 metres above deck, and the two other masts, the visitor is offered a very unique experience onboard. This makes the Bounty an ideal location for the use for which she has been put to. The Bounty is in fact available for charter for events such as corporate entertainment, private functions, harbour cruises, training activities etc, for which information is available at the Bounty’s website.

The main mast of the Bounty rises some 33 metres above deck.

The main mast holding its own against the IFC tower in the background.

The dinner cruise we had boarded the Bounty for, started from Central Pier 9, and it was a treat to stand by the wharf side and watch the magnificent vessel come in. Assisted onboard by the helpful crew, we were greeted by the sight of the expansive sheathed wooden deck, and the web of ropes and tackle along the gunwale that ran up to the masts. This, along with authentic looking fittings on deck as well as cannons lined up along the ship’s sides added a feel that we were going to have an adventure on the high seas, as it might have been for Fletcher Christian and his shipmates, sans the uncomfortable motions that might have come with the wind and the waves that in all probability have accompanied the voyage.

Blocks and tackle by the gunwale.

More rigging and tackle ...

While we may not have sailed the seven seas, the cruise around the harbour wasn’t without exotic sights. There were four to begin with, the lovely ladies in our group, who had a makeover with Celia Wong, a well known Hong Kong based stylist. While this would probably not have sparked a mutiny today, this would certainly have sparked a mutiny of a different kind in the days of Christian and Bligh, and might in all probability, have not just those loyal to Captain Bligh, but the Captain himself, join the mutineers! I guess with the company of pretty ladies, the spectacular night time views of the famous Hong Kong and Kowloon skyline, and the treat of the Symphony of Lights, was an added bonus.

Three of the four lovely ladies who might have set off a mutiny ... from left to right: Gin Oh, Violet Lim, Elaine Chua.

and here's the fourth ... Ms Ang Geck Geck ...


The company of the four lovely ladies was complemented by the magnificent views of Hong Kong and Kowloon from the harbour.

Dining on the deck was certainly a very pleasant experience. The light breeze that accompanied the cruising vessel which charted a course around the harbour made what was a balmy evening very pleasing and enjoyable. We had an opportunity to also inspect the accommodation below decks in the forward mess. An attempt has also been made to recreate the living spaces where perhaps the senior rates might have lived in. Going down through the hatch and stairway, it is probably hard to imagine conditions that may have existed on the actual ship where there would have been men tired and worn from their battles with the sea resting on what are now empty berths, right next to where livestock would have been kept during the early part of the voyage to provide the hungry men with fresh meat. Standing by the two tiered wooden bunks that lined up against the sides and centreline in the warm incandescent glow of light reflected off the lacquer of the wooden bunks and wall panels, I somehow could imagine that, and for a while I allowed myself to be transported to the original Bounty as she pitched and rolled to the rhythm of the violent sea, the creaking of timbers that strained as she rode over the waves, the bleating of goats, and the shouts of rowdy men fuelled by the contents of the wooden casks that lay on the deck, combining in a disconsolate tune. But it was only for a brief moment … the trance that I seem to momentarily be in, broken by the sight of one of the pretty ladies descending the stairway.

Dining on the deck of the Bounty.

Crew accommodation below decks.

Bunks in the old style with a modern watertight door.

The table in the mess.

Ms Ang came down for an inspection of the crews' quarters.

Back on deck, the rest of the cruise in the glow of the bright lights of Hong Kong’s wonderful harbour in the excellent company of my fellow bloggers somehow made the evening pass like a flash, and before we knew it, the evening onboard had sadly come to an end, and it was time to bid farewell to the beautiful Bounty. As we disembarked on to the pier at Tsim Sha Tsui in the glow of the clock tower, a crowd had gathered, seemingly to gawk at the magnificent vessel … but thinking about it, it might have actually been that word had got out that she was delivering her cargo of the four pretty ladies … and it was at them that the crowd were gawking at.

The spectacle of the Symphony of Lights and the beautiful Hong Kong skyline is seen through the rigging of the Bounty.

The view of Hong Kong's magnificent skyline by night was a treat!

Alvin seemed to want to participate in the ongoing Symphony of Lights!

The dance of lights on Hong Kong's skyline.

Some of the excellent company onboard ...


More night time views of the magnificent Hong Kong skyline from the Bounty.

Tsim Sha Tsui's historic clock tower (1915) ... the last remnant of the Kowloon Railway Station.

More views off and on the Bounty …

The ship's bell.

The bowsprit and figure head.

The fore deck.

View through the rope work towards Hong Kong Island.

The compass and helm.

Part of the ship's rigging ...

More of the ship's rigging.

The figure head seen from the fore deck.


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.