The last time I went to church on a Sunday morning was with the cubs but today I headed off early only to find it had moved! Well this was a different kind of church, Elida from Gothenburg is the biggest ketch in Sweden at 40 metres and the sailing home to a Christian all denomination mission to spread the word about Jesus and to promote social and humanitarian projects.
Their faith and their mantra Sailing For Jesus emblazoned on the ship and the uniform black t-shirts draw a few disparaging references to being a happy clappy crowd. Since the first ship sailed in 1963 some 2,000 young people a year have come on board, they have a good sense of humour and yep clapping goes with the music so they would have no problem with that. Loud, proud gospel singing is a key part of Elida’s voyages and it’s what lured me off the sand the previous afternoon to join a large gathered crowd on the promenade at Los Cristianos old beach.
I sought out Captain Stefan Abrahamsson son of founder Lennart, and between listening to the infectious guitar backed singing I arranged to join them for the Sunday morning sailing with children from the local sailing school. I didn’t need to twist the skipper’s arm, everyone is welcome on board regardless of religion. Normally there is a basic crew of believers joined by a mix of ever changing sailing trainees, corporate groups, and school or group parties.
Everyone has specific responsibilities. A new musical section had joined at Puerto Rico in Gran Canaria and earlier 32 Swedish members of the Lutheran church had joined at Malaga for a short trip. Karin Nytomt has been with the Elida since 2006 and told me her story. “I was an editor for a Swedish magazine and took a summer trip as a short break but I loved it so much I stayed on and quit my job.”
Sitting forlornly on the quayside on Sunday, squinting at the Elida out by the far cliffs, I was thinking less than Christian thoughts as I wondered whether I had the time wrong or they had sailed without me. As I trudged away Captain Stefan phoned to say the high winds the previous night had scuppered their mooring plans, the sailing school had been and gone and a few of the crew were heading my way in the RIB (rigid inflatable boat).
Less than an hour later I was skipping over the waves in the RIB with first mate and doctor Nils Ake (above) at the rudder. There were just a few on board as I got the full tour. The first thing that impressed me was the sleek lines and spotless deck, this 5th ship to bear the name is made from glass fibre, plastic, aluminium and steel. The materials mean that despite being larger than mark 4, now operating out of Hull as Next Wave, the ship weighs half as much.
Experienced sailor Nils impressed me with the full low down; “We can produce 300 litres of clean water an hour from the sea, the lounge downstairs doubles as a church that holds up to 100 people but if the weather is good we have the morning and evening prayer on deck.” We passed the compact galley where all the food is prepared and then descended into the sleeping area. “There are 4 sealed units that can sleep 8 or 12 people and the sides of the bunk are raised to prevent anyone falling out as the ship can list up to 40 degrees. Each unit has full inflatable air suits and tight seal locks so they can move into the next section if water comes in. There’s also a big sound system on board, as we sail along the coast we sing on deck and wave to the hotels and beaches, the response is amazing.”
Elida has competed in the Gothenburg Offshore Race but even so it will take 7 hours to reach the next stop, Las Palmas, before heading home via Madeira, France and maybe England. There’s no rush, the iced up harbours of Sweden are only just thawing. After a bouncy ride back to harbour on the RIB, I passed several more crew returning to their duties and realised that none of them had questioned me on my beliefs or so much as pressed a pamphlet into my hand. Maybe subtlety and friendship are more effective methods, all I know is I can’t get their rendition of Oh Happy Day out of my head.