At the Captains’ Dinner in A Coruña, during the Tall Ships Races 2016, Sophie Bavière, First Mate on board Gulden Leeuw (The Netherlands), shared her inspirational story.
“We all talk about how sail training helps change people’s lives, and how youngsters from all over the world meet friends, and so on. Yes, this is why we are all here. I would like to give you a short testimony – I’ll try to keep it short. A real case, and a real life-changing experience, that is very close to me. It’s about the Tall Ships Races, about meeting people, about wanting to discover more, learning and working harder. It’s about sailing and following paths, but mainly following paths, you understand.
“I’ve always believed that to get people to follow you, you have to be a step further. A step further than what they are already doing. If you sit, they lie down. If you stand up, they sit. If you start walking, they stand up. And if you want them to walk you have to start running.
“As I’ve said earlier, I’m honoured to talk in front of you tonight. I’ve been sail training, and not so long ago. I was on board the French schooners from the French Navy, and I had no clue where I was going to live on board these vessels. The first day I joined in 2007 in Toulon. I was there with my bag on deck, on a Navy ship. Why did I choose a Navy ship? I knew nothing. I didn’t know anybody. Why couldn’t I just go on holiday like anyone else of my age? I was at the end of my architecture studies, nothing to do with sailing. But these two weeks, changed my life. Coming home, I couldn’t get the vessel out of my head. I had such a great time with the crew, and I had only one idea for the rest of the summer: get back on board, and fast. And that was my first experience on a Tall Ship.
“I joined the Navy as a reservist, to be able to come back, with the schooners, and I fought hard to join and stay. One of my very first commanding officers, who is present here, sailing with Hosanna, and I’m pretty sure he would have a lot of long stories about this. I started then sailing, first in the summers, and I started sailing longer, further, Tall Ships Races 2008, Tall Ships Atlantic Challenge 2009. I’ve met people, other crew, other captains, the STI team, and I even became part of STI for a few years, with the youth firm at that time – I became part of the Youth Council, and worked on the Sail On Board stand in the harbours where you sail.
“I sailed on more vessels, not only big vessels, or bigger, smaller, more impressive to my eyes for many reasons, their rigging, the voyages they make, the programme they have with youth, and mainly impressive for me, by the captains that lead them, with sometimes a full new crew that has just arrived on board. Just like I had in Toulon in 2007, the first time on board. Impressive for those captains that lead these vessels through the strong winds around the world, such as Tecla, Wylde Swan, Europa, that have been part of my history of sailing vessels. And now, to Gulden Leeuw. And guess what? We’re in 2016 and yes I’m not a trainee anymore and my hair is also getting grey(er). What have I changed? I’m standing here in front of you, after all of my architecture, my Naval architecture, and finally the seafaring school in the Netherlands. And I am now First Officer, and not on a small vessel. 84 persons on board. And I am sailing more than nine months of the year – it’s a life change. They must have made a mistake somewhere, but obviously it is possible for a trainee going up. And trust me, there’s not one morning I wake up thinking, “Am I in the wrong place here?” I did sometimes ask myself a few questions, when climbing the rig to full squares with more than 50 knots of wind, but climbing down, you always remember that that exact same fact was the very reason you joined.
“Now this is not the story of my life that I would like to share with you tonight, but more the story of all these young trainees who are sailing with us now. I am trying to follow these leaders who have been guiding me to where I am now. And eventually to who I might become in the future. All these trainees that we have on board, will one day also become our volunteers, and our crew, and hopefully our captains. Thank you, to my captain, over there.
“It is up to each of us to be that running person, to show them where there is a great future. It is up to each of us to teach them not only how to vacuum during happy hour or to set coffee for the next watch, but to become leaders, the next leaders of these wonderful vessels that we are sailing. The leaders of the beautiful cities we are visiting each year. And the leaders of all these ports and conferences sponsoring us. I hope I am this First Officer running so that crew and trainees walk behind me, and behind you, behind all of us, and that one day they will also be the ones running to get us the relay we need, to pass on the message of understanding, peace and friendship between our countries, so again, thank you A Coruña, thank you Juan de Lángara Association for making people’s lives change, thank you all. Thank you for making this event happen and believing in the future of our community. This is what we do. This is reality.”
Sophie Bavière, First Mate on board Gulden Leeuw (The Netherlands).
[Originally published 12 August 2016.]