How to sail a Chilean tall ship and get three wedding invitations in 60 days

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Navy News / September 27, 2019

He left to sail the Pacific for two months aboard the Chilean navy’s majestic tall ship Esmeralda. He came back with a slew of experiences, a global network of friends and three wedding invitations.

Naval Cadet (NCdt) Isaac Goggin was selected to participate in Operation REGULUS, a program that places sailors on foreign vessels to expand their horizons and learn new skills.

On June 2, 2019, NCdt Goggin joined 20 similarly-ranked sailors from around the world and 60 Chilean midshipmen on a training course to be conducted as Esmeralda sailed across the Pacific from Valparaiso, Chile, to New Zealand.

NCdt Goggin found it fascinating to spend time on Esmeralda – a 109 metre-long tall ship with a 50-metre mast – with course-mates from England, China, Argentina, Fiji, Australia, Colombia and Mexico.

“The ship is beautiful. The first time I saw it was at night, lit up with lights running up the mast. I was expecting something Oriole [the Royal Canadian Navy’s tall ship] size, but it’s about four times as big,” he said. “It’s called ‘Dama Blanca’ or the ‘White Lady’ – it’s such an elegant looking ship.”

Esmeralda launched in 1953 but is the sixth vessel to carry the “Esmeralda” namesake in a tradition dating back to the 18th century. The ship is steel hulled, but because it’s painted white from bow to stern and because it has large sails and wood internal construction, it looks very old-fashioned.

“The mess is all old wood and the captain’s quarters look exactly like they do in the movie Master and Commander,” he said.

One of NCdt Goggin’s best memories of the ship was his first weekend when the Chilean crew held a rowdy ship-wide tug-of-war contest.

“On a ship where tugging ropes is quite literally everyone’s first job, you can imagine the energy they throw into this sport. The victory celebration takes on an air of madness as the sailors all link arms around each other’s shoulders, jumping and shouting and singing their victory. It is intoxicating and more than a little dangerous, but very fun,” wrote NCdt Goggin in a diary-like recounting about his experience.

Twice a week for exercise, Esmeralda’s midshipmen would climb the mast of the ship in place of regular PT.

“If that sounds better than aerobics than you have probably never climbed a 50-metre mast swaying out in the middle of the Pacific. Those two days a week were universally loathed,” he wrote.

NCdt Goggin enjoyed exploring New Zealand on port visits in July and meeting new friends from around the globe. He’s since been invited to three weddings in three different countries.

“It was a great opportunity to see the South Pacific (and) a good experience to meet people from other navies – especially junior officers who are in the same position as I am – to hear their stories, make friends, the whole deal,” he said. “It was definitely an adventure.”


NCdt Goggin wrote about his time aboard Esmeralda:

An adventure of a lifetime

By Naval Cadet Isaac Goggin

This summer presented me with the opportunity to sail aboard the Chilean navy’s tall ship Esmeralda, one of the largest tall ships still in active service. The ship, nicknamed “Dama Blanca”, or “White Lady”, was commissioned in 1953 and named for a ship of the same name captured from the Spanish in 1820 by Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane, formerly of the Royal Navy.

My experience aboard started on June 2, 2019, when I arrived in Valparaiso, Chile. Valparaiso is the main naval port of the Chilean Armada and that is where I met with my sponsor, a Chilean midshipman named Jose Kitzing. He showed me around the city for a week, letting me stay in his home at night to save the trouble of a hotel. I was able to explore all of Chile’s naval monuments and museums, and see a few of their active duty vessels.

Sooner than we might have liked, the ship departed from Valparaiso amidst massive fanfare and with many tearful goodbyes. I would come to realize that massive fanfare followed the White Lady everywhere she went.

The first leg of our journey was almost exactly 30 days between Valparaiso and Wellington, New Zealand. The first week was the hardest; getting used to a new ship is tough at the best of times, but when you are unable to speak the language and are relying on translations to get by, it is even harder. Add in the sparsity of their breakfasts, usually just a piece of bread with instant coffee, and I was having trouble adjusting.

Getting into a regular duty schedule helped a lot. The midshipmen on board follow a one in four duty schedule bi-weekly. In further explanation, they stand one four-hour duty every morning and one four-hour duty shift every afternoon for the first week. The second week, they have classes and work on their various assignments.

The watches were not dissimilar to the watches on a regular warship (as opposed to a tall ship). There was one midshipman with every different watch group: one with the navigator on the bridge; one with communications on the bridge; two for navigation in the navigation room below the bridge; one watching the mess (despite the lack of alcohol at sea); one in the engine room; and one on “maneuver duty”, which entailed changing the sails when the wind or weather shifted.

For myself, as an engineer in the Royal Canadian Navy, I enjoyed the engine room shifts for the relaxed environment and the easy, jocular nature of the engineers. Also, if you had one of the more unpleasant shifts (midnight until 4 a.m. for example) below decks with the engineers, they made you breakfast which was always better than the cold bread served in the midshipman’s mess.

The daily schedule on board was also easy to get used to. Every day at 6 a.m. the midshipmen and their instructors would muster on the poop deck (the stern, or rear of the ship) and do an aerobics exercise routine including push-ups and sit-ups. On Tuesdays and Thursdays however, the midshipmen would climb the mast for their daily exercise. If that sounds better than aerobics, then you have probably never climbed a 50-metre mast swaying out in the middle of the Pacific. Those two days a week were universally loathed. After about an hour of PT we would shower, dress and eat our meager breakfast before heading up on deck for the morning formation.

Every day (except Sundays) without fail, the entire crew mustered on deck around 8 a.m. for a briefing by the executive officer of the ship. By 8:30 a.m. we were working the sails using nothing but muscle and teamwork. The ship’s experienced deck department would wander the deck correcting rope work and generally ensuring safety while we raised or lowered sails, depending on the weather. Usually, by 11:30 a.m. that part of the day would end (assuming the weather was behaving predictably), and we would go below for our lunch. Afterwards, the crew had “siesta” time until 2 p.m. which was the best time to go up on deck and do a personal workout. Later, there would be classes until 6 p.m., and then the midshipmen would conduct briefings from 6-8 p.m., when we could finally eat.

The daily schedule was easy to get used to, but the port routine was completely different. The invited officers were nearly completely free in port, save for some small events like a guided tour of the local naval base, or a wreath-laying ceremony at a local monument. Also, the first night in port, the ship hosted a massive reception on board for all the local diplomats and military attachés. If there was still room on board, some local midshipmen would be invited aboard as well, crowding the deck and swapping training anecdotes until the sun came up and the captain reluctantly cleared the decks.

The port visits were the highlight of the trip. Exploring volcanoes in New Zealand, diving in Australia and seeing famous landmarks like the Sydney Opera House. With five days in each port, nothing was off limits. Most of the crew slept off the ship in hotels or hostels and filled their boots with as much food as they could eat. Not that the food on the ship was horrible, it was just small in portion size, so each port visit meant thousands of pounds of food hauled into the mess decks and hidden away before we set sail again.

My only experience at sea with the Royal Canadian Navy prior to my exchange with the Chilean navy was a week-long sail as part of a course that all junior naval officers must complete. This experience was sailing as ship’s hand on Orca training vessels and was completely different from my time in Esmeralda.

The benefits to doing the exchange are numerous. Of course the obvious, making connections and friendships, is not only a benefit to my job satisfaction, but it also gave me a wealth of experienced colleagues at all different stages of training on whom I could call to ask questions or even just talk shop. Additionally, seeing how other navies operate, from their safety protocols (or lack thereof) to their mess fare, can help you appreciate the strengths of our navy. These strengths can then be shored up and vocally supported when others may doubt their validity.

My favorite moment from working alongside the Chilean navy is probably not a work memory, but a memory from one of the countless parties and entertainments on the ship. In fact, the first Saturday at sea fits the bill perfectly: we had a big barbecue and a ship-wide tug-of-war contest. On a ship where tugging ropes is quite literally everyone’s first job, you can imagine the energy they throw into this sport. The victory celebration takes on an air of madness as the sailors all link arms around each other’s shoulders, jumping and shouting and singing their victory. It is intoxicating and more than a little dangerous, but very fun. Even though my grasp of the language was weak and I had only been with them for a bare two weeks, I was included as if I’d been with them from the beginning.

Thanks to the Royal Canadian Navy, I have had the opportunity to travel the world, enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences and form international relationships with navies across the globe – including friendships that will last a lifetime. For this I will be forever grateful. However, with the summer coming to an end now and the Esmeralda sailing on towards Bali, Indonesia, it is time for me to return to regular work. For me that means finishing my engineering degree at the Royal Military College. But Esmeralda will sail on around the Pacific until January, bringing her historic white hull alongside for thousands of people to visit and fall in love with.