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One day aboard the Juan Sebastián de Elcano, training ship of the Spanish Navy

Institute of Naval History and Culture

Spanish Navy

The training ship’s team is made up of the crew and guardiamarinas (sea cadets), 240 men and women in a confined space. For this reason, the ship’s organisation is as important as respect for others. The crew operates according to a routine of timetables and jobs in order to, in addition to crewing this magnificent brigantine schooner and being the training ship for future Navy officers, provide five meals a day, laundry service, cut hair, make bread, produce potable water, etc. The life of the cadets is characterised by its many tasks and obligations, as well as the limited time and space available.

The day begins with ‘reveille’. It is 07:00 hours and until that time, except for the guard on watch, the bakers and the dishwashers, everyone is resting before the start of a new day. After the necessary personal toilette, everyone goes to breakfast. In their cabins and canteens they enjoy freshly-made bread and sometimes sponge cakesand other sweets purchased during the most recent stopover in port.

At 08:00, the crew forms up by brigade: ‘Services’, ‘Manoeuvres’, ‘Machinery’, “Energy and Propulsion’ and ‘Operations and Communications’. The brigade officer reviews the personnel, checkingthat they are properly groomed and uniformed. Then the officers and petty officers assign daily tasks to each one. Likewise, the brigade commander of the cadets reviews all the students on deck, before they begin their routine activities.

From this point on, it is possible to observe the work of the crew of theElcano to its full extent, while the cadets attend class in their cabin, a truly multifunctional compartment, serving as their dining room, sitting room, study room and classroom. The deck is aswarm with people, where ‘manoeuvres’ checks and repairs the rigging, while the machinery brigade carries out its maintenance work. Operations and communications works on the bridge, the course and the radio.

At 10:30, there is a break for coffee and the traditional morning sandwich. At 11:00 they return to class or work, until 12:45. From thattime until 15:45, except for on-duty personnel, there is free time to relax, exercise and eat in one of two shifts: at 13:00 and at 14:00 hours. For the cadets, all of this is always interrupted by the meridian hour, when the sun is at its highest: the cadets measure the height of the sun with a sextant and calculate the ship’s position (in latitude and longitude), as practical training for their astronomy and navigation course

At 15:45, classes and work resume. The crew continues its activity until 17:45 to keep the decks in the utmost shipshape condition, and ensure that all rigging, pulleys, blocks and tackle (essential to manoeuvre each sail); navigation, communications and propulsion equipment and systems are in the best condition; and to safely handle manoeuvres and navigation.

After the afternoon work and classes are done, there is again time for relaxation, or study in the case of the cadets, the ship’s deck being the preferred place to enjoy free time.

At 20:00 there a concert by a small military musical unit made up of crew members. With the cadets practically putting away their sextants after taking their readings on spotting the first stars in the evening twilight, the musical unit performs songs from the past and present..

After the concert, the personnel scatter to their cabins and berths for dinner and to enjoy a few moments of time together. Little by little, the crowded deck of the Elcano will clear and the crew will withdraw to rest, except for those on watch.

The night is divided into three watches, four hours each, from 20:00 to 08:00 hours. During this time, the different watch teams, including the cadets, steer the ship from the deck, oversee the energy and propulsion systems, adjust the rigging depending on the wind, etc.

But not all situations can be resolved by the watch personnel, and on occasions it is necessary to order ‘general manoeuvre’, in which, to the sound of the warrant officers’ whistles, the cadets and the entire crew work as one, with extreme teamwork, to tack the ship or adjust the rigging depending on the wind..

This is one day aboard the Juan Sebastián de Elcano, where the crew and cadets serve with enthusiasm and excitement, giving their best on this iconic nonagenarian ship.