Forty days at sea: Historical sailing ship seeks crew for Pacific voyage

JASON DORDAY/STUFF

Have you always wanted an adventure on the high seas? Then shiver me timbers, here’s your chance. The Alvei is looking for three extra crew members.

Docked on Auckland’s waterfront, a 101-year-old ship is offering an escape from the closed-bordered world of Covid-19.

The Alvei, which is Norse for ‘one who goes everywhere’, is seeking three deckhands to join its crew for a voyage that will see it sail in September from Auckland to Pitcairn Island, Easter Island, the Galápagos Islands, and then to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal​.

From there the crew will travel up the eastern seaboard of North America.

Alvei’s captain, Geoffrey Jones, is looking for people with a sense of humour that can stand up to the high seas, and a willingness to learn and work. They don’t need to be experienced sailors.


The Alvei is currently tied up at the Halsey Street Wharf, drawing the eyes of curious Aucklanders.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

The Alvei is currently tied up at the Halsey Street Wharf, drawing the eyes of curious Aucklanders.

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“The deal is no money goes either way. I don’t pay them, they don’t pay me. I feed them and teach them, and I’m not shy about handing them a chipping hammer or a paintbrush,” Jones said.

“I try to give people jobs that are appropriate to their knowledge. If someone is a carpenter there’s some carpentry that needs to be fixed.

“If they know how to weld, there’s some welding that needs to be done. If they are good at administrative stuff they might be the one that’s filling out the customs form.”

Alvei’s captain Geoffrey Jones says deckhands don’t need to be experienced sailors, but must be willing to work.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Alvei’s captain Geoffrey Jones says deckhands don’t need to be experienced sailors, but must be willing to work.

Jones and his crew are currently busy stocking the Alvei with 10 months worth of food, five tonnes of diesel, and an equal amount of drinking water.

The voyage should take 40 days, Jones said, but could be longer due to the unpredictability of wind power.

Alvei’s Boatswain Jake Happe enjoys a pipe of tobacco aboard the ship.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Alvei’s Boatswain Jake Happe enjoys a pipe of tobacco aboard the ship.

Those selected will spend their time on the 38m-long steel ship filling one of the three navigation watches which run around the clock, and helping out with additional work.

While the Alvei may be sparce on creature comforts, it does boast its own hot tub – a converted barrel heated by an open fire, and powered by a converted off-board motor.

Jake Happe, the ship’s boatswain, said the warm bath was bliss on a cold day at sea.

Alvei’s Boatswain Jake Happe swings over and grabs a CV from a prospective sailor.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Alvei’s Boatswain Jake Happe swings over and grabs a CV from a prospective sailor.

The Alvei has had many careers in its 101 years of sailing.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

The Alvei has had many careers in its 101 years of sailing.

A long history

Built in Scotland in 1920, the Alvei served as a herring drifter and minesweeper in the North Sea before ending up in the Norwegian fjords dredging sand.

It nearly met its end with the passing of its previous captain, Evan Logan.

The 74-year-old died from pneumonia in February 2017 in Suva, Fiji, and was buried at sea.

The Alvei was slated to follow, with Logan’s brother planning to sink the ship.

The Alvei had been planned to be sunk before it was taken on by captain Jones, who paid $100US for the ship

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

The Alvei had been planned to be sunk before it was taken on by captain Jones, who paid $100US for the ship

That’s where Jones came in. He heard about the ship and its imminent demise from a friend called Dan Moreland, who captains another historic ship, the Picton Castle.

Jones was in Connecticut when he heard about Alvei; a week later he was standing on the ship’s deck in Fiji.

He arrived in mid-May 2019 and hired a dozen locals, giving them chipping hammers to remove Alvei’s rust, and discovered a viable ship underneath.

”I didn’t know what the timing was, so I got a three-week round ticket to Fiji and I figured if I didn’t like the ship I would just have a vacation for a few weeks and head back. I’d never been to Fiji before.”

Flags painted on Alvei’s galley wall show the nationalities of her previous crews.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Flags painted on Alvei’s galley wall show the nationalities of her previous crews.

“I felt she was worth saving”

Jones purchased Alvei for US$100 (NZ$142).

“He really gave it to me under the promise I would keep it sailing,” he said.

“The fuel in the tanks was worth more than US$100.”

The ship was hauled out of the water, and for five months Jones worked to replace all the running rigging sails, and install a new generator and electronic navigation aids.

Alvei’s Cook, Ael Woitiez, has stocked the ship with enough food for 10 months at sea.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Alvei’s Cook, Ael Woitiez, has stocked the ship with enough food for 10 months at sea.

Alvei was sailed to Vanuatu, where Jones worked on her for another three months.

“We put enough new steel in her to build a 12-metre cruising yacht,” he said.

By the time the restoration was finished, cyclone season was bearing down on the Pacific, so Jones decided to make for the safety of New Zealand.

Jake Happe, Alvei’s Boatswain, gave Stuff a tour from its engine room to the top of its sails.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Jake Happe, Alvei’s Boatswain, gave Stuff a tour from its engine room to the top of its sails.

The Alvei sails under wind power, unless it’s going into port, when a large two-cylinder engine rumbles into life.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

The Alvei sails under wind power, unless it’s going into port, when a large two-cylinder engine rumbles into life.

The Alvei arrived on Boxing Day 2019, and the ship was stocked with the food it would need for its trip to America.

“Then Covid-19 hit and the world was locked down, and we’ve been here ever since,” said Jones.

“We’ve been sailing around the coast of New Zealand, and the coast is beautiful.

”I can’t think of a better place to be a refugee.”

A canopy above the ship’s helm doubles as a rain water catcher.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

A canopy above the ship’s helm doubles as a rain water catcher.

40 days at sea – or maybe longer

The upcoming voyage is expected to take 40 days. That’s presuming wind will carry the Alvei 100 miles a day.

“If we have to bypass Pitcairn Island and go directly to Easter Island, that’s 3900 nautical miles, so just call it 40 days in round numbers,” Jones said.

Anyone planning to join the crew should be prepared for the trip to take longer, however, with headwinds always a threat to the schedule.

Current crew members are a diverse bunch hailing from the US, Australia, France, and Spain.

Deckhand Irene Garcia inside the Alvei’s engine room, which connects to the captain’s cabin via a hatch.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Deckhand Irene Garcia inside the Alvei’s engine room, which connects to the captain’s cabin via a hatch.

The ship’s galley has flags painted on its wall, showing the nationalities of crew members in the order they appeared on deck.

“People find us for various reasons,” Jones said. “Sometimes they’re into being adventurers, sometimes they’re into history, sometimes they’re just sailors.”

During Alvei’s restoration in the Pacific, it received a new figurehead.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

During Alvei’s restoration in the Pacific, it received a new figurehead.

The crew at sea

According to Jones, eleven is a good number to go to sea. Deckhands will have a bunk in a communal area, which also has a well-stocked library.

“Sometimes we carry a few more, in which case someone becomes a day worker, and they just do maintenance and stuff like that.”

There are three navigational watches, each staffed by three people. The dawn watch means rising at around 4am.

Alvei’s Boatswain Jake Happe’s pipe and lighter sits upon a spare barrel on Alvei’s deck

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Alvei’s Boatswain Jake Happe’s pipe and lighter sits upon a spare barrel on Alvei’s deck

Jones isn’t mystical by nature, but said being aboard the Alvei came with “a certain je ne sais quoi​”.

The ship is certainly not haunted, Jones said.

That’s despite a passage between the ship’s diesel and freshwater tanks being affectionately called ‘The Tunnel of Death’.

The tunnel earned its name from the crew repeatedly banging their heads on its low ceilings, cook Ael Woitiez said.

The risks of Covid-19

Jones said he was concerned Covid-19 could affect the crew’s ability to dock and explore the locations they would be visiting.

That’s why the ship will carry enough food for 11 people for 10 months.

Alvei’s Captain Geoffrey Jones hopes to set sail in September, once his ship is fully crewed.

JASON DORDAY/Stuff

Alvei’s Captain Geoffrey Jones hopes to set sail in September, once his ship is fully crewed.

“You plan for a number of contingencies that you hope will never happen,” Jones said.

“We can go through the Panama Canal all the way through Connecticut without reprovisioning.”

Anyone hoping to join the Alvei can reach Captain Jones via the ship’s website, www.alvei.org.