Phoenicia cruises into Gibraltar’s Ocean Village
Last time 21 metre Phoenicia came to Ocean Village in Gibraltar she was in the final throes of an epic 20,000 mile circumnavigation of Africa. This month, almost two years later, the traditionally built 600BC Phoenician cargo ship replica stopped at the marina for some deserved R&R en-route from Sardinia to London and to collect “stranded” crew member – Len Helfrich.
Len, a 73-year-old hailing from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, flew into Gibraltar on Tuesday 17 April expecting to disembark the aircraft and immediately board Phoenicia to crew the last leg back to the UK. However, high winds and equally high waves hampered Phoenicia’s traverse across the Mediterranean and she only made the Rock on Thursday 3 May – some 16 days behind schedule. Confined to Gibraltar by virtue of visa regulations, Len made himself quite at home.
“It wasn’t until I was in Gibraltar that I realised quite how delayed Phoenicia was going to be and I don’t know what I would have done without the help of Ocean Village marina,” says Len, “I literally had nowhere to stay and limited euros as you don’t need much cash at sea. The marina team pointed me in the direction of affordable accommodation and after endless days exploring I became quite the Gibraltar expert. I climbed the Rock a few times, acted as impromptu tour guide for disorientated visitors and took plenty of group photos using their own cameras. I’ve also been impressed with Ocean Village, a very hi-tech marina with fabulous facilities.”
When Phoenicia finally sailed in, Len was happy to draw his off-the-cuff fortnight’s holiday in Gibraltar to a close. “I couldn’t decide what was worse, waiting or sailing,” says Len, who previously crewed Phoenicia during her African circumnavigation and knew that it was no pleasure cruise he was about to embark on, “but at least onboard Phoenicia I will be making headway and doing something constructive. Phoenicia may not be comfortable, if the ship gets wet your bunk gets wet, there are no winches so 30 metres of anchor chain can take up to an hour and a half to haul up and the toilet facilities are at best described as ‘rustic’ but she sort of grows on you and I found it difficult to resist a second stint onboard.”
Len’s first Phoenicia experience was unintentional. He happened to be ear wigging Captain Philip Beale giving a talk to schoolchildren outside Zululand Yacht Club and offered his services when a mechanical problem was mentioned. A couple of days later, the problem was resolved and Philip asked him if he’d do the 100 mile run down to Durban. An occasional sailor, he and his wife had owned a steel hulled 43 foot yacht, Len agreed. Durban became East London then Port Elizabeth and around the ‘Cape of Storms’ before eventually disembarking in Cape Town – Len became hooked on Phoenicia and will now help steer her back to London.
Speaking this week of Phoenicia’s return to the Rock, Captain Philip Beale commented, “Phoenicia is delighted to be back in Gibraltar and hosted once again by Ocean Village. We first visited Ocean Village towards the end of Phoenicia's historic circumnavigation of Africa in August 2010 and we received exemplary service and support from the team. They have also worked tirelessly for our current visit and offered vital assistance to crew member Len who has been a fortnight in Gibraltar in anticipation of our arrival. We are still urgently looking for one or two other crew members for our sail to London’s St Katharine Docks where she will be transformed into a floating museum for the summer. If you’re keen – get in touch.”
Phoenicia will now retrace the ancient Phoenician-Cornish tin trade route and head towards Falmouth and finally London, arriving at St Katharine Docks on 2 June. “The Phoenicians: The Greatest Ancient Sailors” exhibition will run through to September and feature ancient artefacts from the Phoenician era. Visitors will be able to climb onboard Phoenicia for a tour of the vessel and learn more about Phoenician culture as well as the recent expedition that triumphed over Somali pirates, treacherous storms and mechanical problems to recreate one of mankind’s greatest journeys. Visit phoenicia.org.uk to purchase tickets or for more information. Phoenicia hopes to visit Gibraltar again later on in the year and offer tours to local schoolchildren. Meanwhile, Len’s grandchildren, all seven of them, are back in South Africa following the Ship’s Log and satellite tracker and keeping a scrapbook of their grandfather’s fantastic adventures.
For information on berths at Ocean Village, visit oceanvillage.gi.