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Ron May has sent me this story of the drama him and his friend had on the Tall ship Jean de la Lune

When my friend, Dennis, and I boarded the tall ship “Jean de la lune” in Canical on Monday 24th July, little did we know what a nightmare voyage lay ahead of us.  We had responded to a post on Facebook:

CREW WANTED – no experience necessary!! Full training will be provided. This is a delivery trip, it’s FREE and we expect three days of sailing with the N wind (‘squares’ all way down to Tenerife!) Beautifully painted with new antifouling straight from the shipyard we will be sailing from Madeira back to Tenerife starting in Canical on Monday evening 24th July. Interested? Message or tel ship’s contact tel (number with-held).

After the ship had been at sea for approximately 5 hours, the lights went out and the engine stopped.  While we were sitting in the dark in the cabin, the captain came to inform us that the generator had become detached from its mountings and had fallen on top of the engine.  He later returned to the cabin to inform us that he had contacted Funchal coastguard and that they had agreed it was acceptable to sail on.  Never once we were told that Funchal coastguard had offered assistance or that he had refused help.  I remarked to the captain that I didn’t think it was safe to sail the vessel with no engine, lights, satnav or global communications device and he replied that it was acceptable to do so because we were not in any shipping lanes and that we had been advised by Funchal coastguard to proceed.  (N.B.  I have subsequently visited the Funchal Coastguard and Maritime Police and they advise that the captain only told them that he had steering problems and that they had been resolved.   They were not made aware that there were no lights, generator or engine)

We then sailed for a further 24 hours with no lights at all on the vessel so we were in total darkness during the night.  The only light we had for a limited time was the light from our mobile phones but this didn’t last long as the batteries soon died and there was no way to recharge them.   During the night, we were approached by the nanny, who was looking after the owner’s 3 year old daughter, and she told us that the captain was looking for volunteers to help do an “exercise” to bail water out of the bilge below the engine room.  We left the cabin in pitch black with no lights to aid us and found our way down to the engine room with great difficulty as there were no torches and there was a Force 6 or 7 storm.  There, with another volunteer crew member, a young Spanish guy, I estimate we filled 40 buckets with water and approximately 300 litres of water thrown overboard.

Sometime during the following night, we were informed by the nanny not to worry as two distress flares were going to be fired from the ship as the captain had seen another ship nearby.  I informed the captain that his actions had endangered the lives of the people on board, his responsibility was not just for the ship and to the owner but also the other persons on board.  I also informed him that, should I survive the journey (which I truly believed was unlikely), that I would report him for his negligence.

As a result of the flares, a message must have been transferred to the Tenerife coastguard.  By 9 a.m. in the morning a helicopter arrived with the coastguards to assess the situation.  It returned about 2 hours later and lowered an engineer with a pump and hoses which he set up to bail out the water.

On the same day, about 4.30 p.m., a tug arrived from Tenerife to tow us into port.  The owner said she did not want to be towed in but I believe that the coastguard insisted.   The coastguard wanted the navigational lights to be switched on so the vessel could be towed but these weren’t working so the owner asked us if we could try and fix them but we found that this wasn’t possible as they were not serviceable.

Just before we arrived in port, we were asked to help bail out the water again.  It is our belief that the owner/captain wanted this done so that the coastguard did not see how serious the situation was with the vessel.

We both feel that the “Jean de la lune” was not seaworthy when it left Canical and that the captain did endanger the lives of everyone on board, including the 3 year old daughter of the owner.   He knew that all of the volunteer crew members had no experience at sea.  There was insufficient food and water on board, no sanitation and no contingency plan should the vessel encounter any trouble.

We have registered a formal complaint against the captain with various naval organisations in the UK and have received confirmation that there already was an on-going investigation into the Jean de la lune and that it had lost its commercial licence 4 weeks ago and the captain’s qualifications are also under investigation.   At least we are here to tell the tale!

Having spoken to Ron when he arrived back in Madeira, he also told me the ship was dirty and believed meals were served on board deck as down below was filthy which put them off eating anything. They had hardly slept a few hours over the 4 days and not eaten anything apart from a packet of biscuits that they both shared.

Lets hope all the necessary action is taken against these people, and they never sail again.