Round-the-world Independence Sail

It was undoubtedly one of the greatest cruises in the history of the Dar Młodzieży, in the history of the white and red flag even. The sailing ship covered 38,000 nautical miles, having taken aboard almost 1,000 young people in total over 313 days - students of maritime schools and winners of the national qualifying competition.

The idea of the great voyage came about at the Maritime University of Gdynia, for years the owner of the Dar Młodzieży. Routes were carefully planned, various alternatives considered and the sailing ship was kept seaworthy – ready to embark on her journey around the world at any time.

With the centenary of Poland's reappearance on the map of Europe approaching, the idea gained widespread approval and government support. And thus the "Independence Sail" was born. The history of the 100 years of the Reborn Republic of Poland deserved worldwide publicity. The role of ambassador was given to the Dar Młodzieży – a genuinely Polish tall ship, built by the Gdansk Shipyard, with her home port in Gdynia and manned by a Polish crew. Throughout her 36 years of service, the ship has trained a huge number of cadets who are now employed on board ships all over the world. Combining the anniversary with a visit to Panama during World Youth Day strengthened and elevated the venture's symbolic importance.

There are many great cruises in the history of Polish maritime education and training, voyages that are milestones in the history of Polish sailing. However, the round-the-world voyages make for the best of them all. Twice in history, sailing ships operated by Gdynia Maritime University have circumnavigated the globe. The Dar Pomorza did it in the years 1934/1935, and its successor the Dar Młodzieży in the years 1987/1988, taking the most challenging route around the three capes.

Every journey planned, past or present – spectacular or not, requires a great deal of hard work from the cadets. Seamanship training is a time to learn how to sail, overcome fears and weaknesses - a genuine test of personality. The role of the Dar Młodzieży was never reduced to that of a sailing symbol. Still, today, the ship plays an important part in the maritime education of a generation of sailors and is a great source of pride for the Polish flag.

The Independence Sail aimed at meeting several goals. First and foremost, to promote our country in the context of the centenary of its independence. In this respect, the Dar Młodzieży was worthy of being entrusted with the task and had a lot to offer. A sailing ship with hundreds of young people on board in total at subsequent stages of the journey made for an attraction in itself wherever she entered port. Together, they spread a clear message that Poland is a country with well-established maritime traditions, open to the world; a country with a rich history deeply rooted in the history of Europe.

The crucial role of ambassadors was played by two major groups of young people. The largest group was made up of the students of Gdynia Maritime University. Together with a smaller group of maritime secondary school students, they underwent seamanship training, an obligatory element of their maritime education. They were joined by groups of young people from all over Poland - winners of a qualifying competition. The students were divided into 8 groups which replaced each other as the route progressed. A total of 1,000 students took part in the project.

The round-the-world route was carefully planned with the promotional purpose of the project in mind. The initial Baltic stage was a kind of prelude, an unusual beginning of the circumnavigation of the globe.

At noon on a sunny day in Gdynia on the 20th of May, all of Poland bid farewell to the Dar Młodzieży thanks to media coverage. The seats of honour by the vessel’s port side were taken by Professor Janusz Zarębski, Rector of Gdynia Maritime University, Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, representatives of the government, parliament, local government and church authorities.

“I believe that thanks to the cruise and our young ambassadors, a part of our homeland will be hosted in many places around the world. You are creating history, [...] Tell the world how beautiful Poland is” – this message was conveyed to the project participants by Marek Gróbarczyk - the Minister for Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation.

The Rector of the Maritime University of Gdynia, Professor Janusz Zarębski emphasised that sailing around the world has always been a unique undertaking: “In all ports where our sailing ship will call, she will fly the white and red flag, and her arrival always arouses great interest and positive emotions.”

“Poland is a big deal indeed” - Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki highlighted in his speech – “Let this frigate under full sail be a testament to the incredible work and effort of our ancestors, the reconstruction of the independent Polish Republic and the great work that is still ahead of us ...”.

On the first stage of the voyage, the Dar Młodzieży was commanded by Capt. Ireneusz Lewandowski. It is under his command that the ship set off on to complete the “Great Circle” on 20th May 2018.

After a sunny farewell ceremony in Gdynia, the Baltic Sea greeted them with a similar summer aura. Most of the sea passage to Tallinn was accompanied by fine, windless weather. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, was the first port of call. There, the participants of the cruise honoured the memory of the ORP "Orzeł" crew, which in 1939 brilliantly escaped internment in Tallinn. Moments of historical recollection were frequent and essential elements of the voyage.

The centrepiece and a much-awaited destination of the voyage around which the sailing schedule was put together, was Panama. Here, during the week of January 22nd – 29th 2019, the Dar Młodzieży and her young crew participated in the World Youth Day. Apart from the promotional and training nature of the voyage, it also had a clear spiritual dimension. Every stage of the journey was accompanied by a chaplain.

From Tallinn to Copenhagen, then the Norwegian fjords of the Stavanger region and ... back to Poland, to Szczecin, to take part in the World Maritime Day Parallel Event - the biggest maritime event of the United Nations and IMO (International Maritime Organization). From here the Dar Młodzieży" began to venture further afield crossing the Danish Straits, calling at Bremerhaven, Bordeaux, and Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands. Each port of call offered its own particular setting – with activities including meetings with representatives of local authorities, performances promoting the message of independence of the cruise, active participation of Polish communities abroad and visits to the ship.

The ship’s call at the port of Dakar was a result of developing cooperation between Gdynia Maritime University and African countries in the field of maritime education. The support for maritime schools emerging on the African continent and the education of African students in Gdynia have become important elements of the scientific and didactic activity of the Maritime University.

On the way to Cape Town, having crossed the equator for the first time during the passage, the Dar Młodzieży entered the southern hemisphere for several months. There, many of the crew experienced the equatorial baptism - an old maritime ritual by which King Neptune and his companions come on board the vessel and those crossing the equator for the first time are subjected to sophisticated torture. All those who proved themselves seaworthy received certificates as proof of their successful initiation into the court of King Neptune. During the trip, Neptune boarded the white frigate for the second time in October between Borneo and Sumatra, before the ship’s arrival in Singapore and return to the northern hemisphere.

In Singapore, at the halfway point of the Independence Sail, there was a change in the captaincy of the ship with MM. Ireneusz Lewandowski being relieved by MM. Rafał Szymański. The official change on the bridge took place in Singapore. Both captains are experienced sailors and graduates of the Gdynia Maritime University. Both were trained on board the S/V Dar Pomorza. Ireneusz Lewandowski graduated in 1975, and Rafał Szymański in 1983.

In the waters of the Far East - from Jakarta to Singapore and on to Hong Kong - on the day of the hundredth anniversary of regaining independence, the ship reached Osaka. This was the third visit of our sailing ship to this Japanese port, with earlier calls taking place in 1983 and 1997. On this occasion, the centenary of Poland’s Independence was celebrated with the sounds of the national anthem of Poland - "Dąbrowski's Mazurka", also known as, "Poland Is Not Yet Lost" and ubiquitous white and red colours.

After bidding farewell to Japan, the Dar Młodzieży started her longest ocean stage of the expedition - across the Pacific to the ports of the west coast of the United States. After 32 days she arrived in San Francisco covering a distance of 5,311 nautical miles. For the first time in her history, the tall ship visited the ports of California - San Francisco and Los Angeles where the crew spent Christmas Eve. New Year's Eve was celebrated en route to Acapulco, Mexico. The culmination of the trip - World Youth Day was held in Panama. The crew comprised of students and competition winners participated in that extraordinary international meeting. The crew’s delegation was received by His Holiness Pope Francis.

Panama also marked the start of the ship's return stage. Heading towards the Atlantic waters she visited Cartagena and Florida, which saw a traditional, large Polish community ball, including the Polonaise led by the ship's master Rafał Szymanski, and the visits of compatriots, all in the tropical temperatures of the Caribbean. Two more stops in the Bahamas and Madeira, and on 13th March 2019 at 21.25, in the English Channel, after travelling 32 487 nautical miles, the sailing ship closed the loop around the world, intersecting its course on 24th June 2018.

The twenty-third port of call, being the last foreign port on the route of the Independence Sail, was London. Ahead of this was only the home port of Gdynia. On 28th March 2019, in a scene reminiscent of a fairy-tale, the vessel emerged from exceptionally thick fog right in front of the quay, ending the longest passage in her history known as the Independence Sail. The ship and her crew got a very warm welcome home.

During 313 days, the Dar Młodzieży covered a distance of 38,000 nautical miles and 948 young people in total embarked and disembarked the vessel, including 539 students of the Maritime University, 61 maritime secondary school students and 348 laureates of the competition. The members of the regular crew serving also changed during this time. The list comprises 77 names in total, including two captains.

The Independence Sail, a great sailing and logistical undertaking, has become a historic event. It was a great maritime adventure and is an important date in the history of Polish maritime education and training.   

Aleksander Gosk (GMU)