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Tall stories from Cambridge sailor Alastair as he joins Chilean Navy adventure

27 June 2018
A sailor from Cambridge is on the adventure of a lifetime sailing a tall ship around South America.

Sub Lieutenant Alastair Newton was offered the chance to spend eight months crewing the Chilean Navy’s training vessel Esmeralda on a unique ‘cruise’.

Alastair, a trainee warfare officer in the Royal Navy, is one of 390 officers and sailors aboard the magnificent Esmeralda as she leads a flotilla of similar vessels on a five-month tour of South America to celebrate the Chilean Navy’s 200th birthday.

The junior officer has spent the past four months on the schooner, learning the fundamentals of seafaring alongside Chilean midshipmen (guardiamarinas) and able seamen (marinas) as Esmeralda sails around South America on her 63rd training cruise.

Fresh from completing his Initial Warfare Officer (Navigation, Aviation and Warfare) courses at HMS Collingwood in Fareham, Alastair flew 6,500 miles to South America to join rookie Chilean sailors complete their basic training having passed out of their naval colleges.

It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime

Sub Lieutenant Alastair Newton

Irrespective of rank and experience, trainees like Alastair are expected to ‘muck in’ in all aspects of life aboard the sailing vessel, from bridge watches to carrying out astronavigation calculations (in longhand) and manning the 21 sails on board. And for the Brit, there’s the additional challenge of improving his Spanish language skills.

The voyage is part of a wider gathering of tall ships in the Southern Hemisphere – Velas Latinoamerica 2018 – which also involved similar vessels (deep breath now) from Argentina (Fragata Libertad) Brazil (Navio Veleiro Cisne Branco), Ecuador (Buque Escuela Gloria), Mexico (Buque Escuela Cuauhtemoc), Peru (Buque Escuela Unión), Spain (Buque Escuela Juan Sebastian de Elcano), Uruguay (Velero Escuela Capitan Miranda) and Venezuela (Buque Escuela Simon Bolivar).

The ports visited by the flotilla of tall ships reads like a ‘wish you were here’ travel guide of South America: Rio, Punta del Esta and Montevideo (Uruguay), Buenos Aires – which coincided with a rare visit by Royal Navy ice patrol ship HMS Protector – and Ushuaia (Argentina), and Puerto Williams, Punta Arenas, Talcahuano, Valparaiso and Antofagasta in Chile.

Half-way through his assignment, the junior officer says it’s been an unforgettable experience.

“It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime,” says Alastair, who lives in Cambridge. “I was on watch on the bridge while navigating the stunning Beagle Channel and Magdalena Strait.

“There are still another eight countries and ten ports to visit by the end of my eight months onboard – I’ll have visited 11 countries, made 19 ports of call and travelled over 22,200 nautical miles by the end.”

There are strong links between the Royal and Chilean Navies; Admiral Lord Cochrane is regarded as the founding father of the South American nation’s fleet and four former RN frigates – Grafton, Norfolk, Marlborough and Sheffield – serve under Chilean flag.

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