I love Wednesday mornings because it's my morning off so I get to drop the kids off at school then pootle around the house doing what needs to be done, catching up on chores without the kids under my feet and just chilling out, blogging or reading or whatever I feel like doing. Not this morning though because Juliette had twisted my arm into going along as a parent supervisor on her class trip to the beautiful Duchesse Anne three-master, which is part of Dunkirk's maritime museum.
I always love standing on the quayside and looking up to the top of the 48m masts. It's quite scary to think of sailors climbing up to these dizzying heights, even more so after learning more about the ship's history today. It's actually a German ship, built in 1901 and originally called the Grossherzogin Elisabeth (Grand-Duchess Elizabeth). It was used as a training ship where youngsters aged about 15 set off to sea for a year to learn how to be sailors. One of the captain's favourite punishments was making his disobedient charges climb up and down the mast - Sophie's almost the same age and I couldn't imagine sending her up there !
We headed down into one of the large cabins where the guide sat the kids down and described life at sea for the trainee sailors. A rack of sailor uniforms caught my eye.
And sure enough, all of the children in the group had to dress up in the old fashioned sailors' uniforms for the rest of the visit !
We headed back out of deck where we learned that the decks slope down to the sides so that you can easily wash the decks and the water will run down to the gullies on the sides of the ship.
On a previous visit, the children had learnt how to tie some of the most useful (and simplest) sailors' knots and I was slightly amazed at quite how many ropes there are onboard.
Some of them are huge - it must take a lot of physical strength to lug these about and tie them in knots, which is why girls weren't accepted as trainee sailors because they were considered inapt.
The ship's bell is very ornate but surpringly loud. I wouldn't fancy getting dragged out of bed by this !
Speaking of which, we headed down to the trainee sailors' quarters where we saw how close together the hammocks were.
The children got to try them out which was great fun but they are surprisingly hard and uncomfortable. They must rock about all over the place if the sea is a bit rough too so I'm not sure I'd get much sleep in them.
The officers' and captain's quarters are decidedly more luxurious with an individual toilet, bathroom and proper (albeit small) wooden bed.
It was a fascinating glimpse at life for trainee sailors at the turn of the century. The ship's history is quite remarkable too. After World War II, it was given to France as part of the war reparations but it was basically left to rot in Brittany, with people stripping it of anything valuable or ornate. It was only in the 1980's that Dunkirk took it on, for the token price of one franc, and set about returning it to its former glory. I'm glad they did - it's one of the most iconic and beautiful landmarks of Dunkirk now.