PORTSMOUTH, England — On Monday afternoon Aug. 27, following a special departure ceremony at the Royal Naval Dockyards in Portsmouth, three tall ships, the Europa, the Christian Radich, and the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, with a total 110 passengers on board, embarked on the epic Atlantic crossing stage of the Sea Trek 2001 expedition that will bring them to New York on October 4.
On a temporary stage near the Sea Trek tall ships and events pavilion, the Rev. Bernard Clarke of the Portsmouth Naval base, and Capt. Douglas J. Olauson, U.S. Chaplain to the Fleet Forces in Europe and a Church member, offered prayers to send the ships safely across the seas. After the prayers the audience was invited to sing "God Be with You Till We Meet Again," a hymn sung many times over the years by departing Latter-day Saint emigrants and those bidding them a sad farewell.
It must have been a touching scene then; on this Monday afternoon some of that emotion was felt by those among the dense crowds thronging the dock with loved ones making the Sea Trek crossing.
A detachment of soldiers in the 19th-century uniforms of red coats and black shakos saluted the departing ships, playing the tune "Portsmouth" with flute and drum as they marched up and down the quayside, finally shouting three hurrahs for the Sea Trek ships. Low overhead, British fighter jets screamed past. The Dutch ship Europa, the first of the three to leave, sounded three long loud blasts of her foghorn, returned by her berth companion, the Norwegian Sorlandet, not now making the crossing as originally planned, but, lacking passengers, returning sadly empty to her home port of Kristiansand, on Norway's southern peninsula.
At 15-minute intervals, the tall ships were towed into the fast flowing tide and the passengers waved their farewells to England. On board the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, the last of the three to leave, the Sea Trek participants waved large flags representing the nations of emigrants for as long as the ship could be seen from shore. The distant sound of hymns sung by the passengers finally faded as the ship sailed into the afternoon sun, now no more than a silhouette, and yet the dock rails remained thronged by those looking after the ships until the ships finally sailed beyond view. The words of one of the "Saints on the Seas" oratorio songs sprang to mind:
"Farewell my native land,
I bid thee sweet adieu.
Although I travel far from thee,
My heart remains with you.
No tears for me as now I leave.
Farewell my native land, farewell."