The initial idea of the project Antwerp Student Fleet grew in 2017 in the minds of two students. It soon caught the imagination of several others, and in the end, a dozen people were part of the team. The main objective of the project is to enable students to experience the maritime environment. With ASF, students get the opportunity to spend time at sea and put into practice the knowledge acquired at school.
For the first edition of ASF, 18 students set sails on three beautiful ships through the North Sea. Among them was the Kanaga, a beautiful ketch-rigged replica of a Colin Archer design built in France in 1982. Also part of the fleet was Lun II, an original 1914-built Norwegian galeas. The fleet set sail from Antwerp heading to Peterhead, Scotland, with the objective to visit the Scottish Maritime Academy. They were welcomed there, and had the opportunity to meet their fellow students. Afterwards, they headed back south, and called in at Lowestoft. There, they visited the nautical section of the East Coast College as well as the Maritime Museum and learnt a lot about the seafaring tradition of the city. They then headed back to Antwerp.
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The time has come for the 18 students of the Antwerp Maritime Academy to start their adventure and set sail. But first, in the limelight of the MAS, they participate in an abandon ship drill under the watchful eye of the visitors of the send-off event and the press. After the drill, the life rafts are recovered and everyone is back on board. The fleet, consisting of 3 traditional sailing vessels, casts off.
On this first edition, there were 18 students participating. Nine French speaking students and nine Dutch speaking students. Each ship had three watchkeeping teams consisting of one French speaking and one Dutch speaking student. During the voyage the students had a hands-on learning experience in manoeuvering the sailing ships in accordance with the COLREGs and following IALA regulations. Seamanship is another skill the students worked on. One other skill that stood out was the understanding of different weather phenomena and their consequences. The weather always plays an important role in navigating, but when you’re sailing with small sailing vessels, it becomes just that more important.
The first port of call: Peterhead, Scotland. In Peterhead our students went to the Scottish Maritime Academy. There they received a warm welcome from the general manager. Afterwards they were given a tour of the Academy and had the opportunity to speak both with students and professors to get a better understanding on the working of this Maritime Academy as well. They also had the opportunity to get to know these fellow sailors, what their background was and what their area of interest in the maritime world is. The next day, students from the Scottish Maritime Academy came on board our ships to learn more about the project.
At every stop there was a rotation of the groups on the ships. This way, by the end of the voyage all teams had sailed on all vessels. The three sailing ships were very different. It wasn’t just adapting to a new way of sailing every leg of the voyage, it was also adapting to a new Captain. For this edition there were 3 captains with completely different backgrounds. Each captain had their own story to tell, had their own experience to share. This also has as a result that a wide array of knowledge was covered by these 3 captains. The students also experienced how every captain has their own way of working, their own way of communicating.
The crews rotated ships and under the watchful eye of the locals once again set sail. The ships once again chose for a route close to the coast, this not only to shelter from the big swell but also to be able to practice coastal navigation. The next stop: Lowestoft, England. Their, the students visited the East Coast College and the maritime museum. Similar to the Scottish Maritime Academy, the students were welcomed and given a tour of the campus. They also had the opportunity to interact with the students of the East Coast College.
The maritime museum in Lowestoft is run by retired sailors. At the museum, the students recognised some of the instruments since they had used them during the voyage, (sextant and alidade). The predecessors of instruments used on board nowadays (Decca, Loran-C, Jacobs’ staff) were also present at the museum. After a last rotation of ships, it was time to set sail for home. A nightly cross of the channel ensured that the ships would arrive in Antwerp on time for the welcome back at the Kattendijkdok in Antwerp.