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Sailing a True Pirate Ship

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

35 days aboard Atyla, the ship with the brightest soul we have ever met. We had the opportunity to be first officer and watch leader, coach and facilitators, nerdy students and crazy naked pirates. The start of a beautiful love story between Piratas do Amor and Atyla Foundation. Enjoy the journey...

Our home for the last month

Today a crazy thought crossed my mind: we always had this vision that our future boat, which we named Volans, would be a red two-masted tallship. But MAYBE: the dream was actually about Atyla, and we just didn`t know.

The first time we saw her, more than a year ago when still in Brazil, we fell in love instantly.

The red colour. The wooden hull. The square sails.

But even more than the ship, Atyla`s values and mission talked to our hearts.

"We have to go sailing with them!" - Christof and I agreed, without a shadow of doubt.

Our first attempt to realise this dream was by the end of 2022, while still at school in Enkhuizen. We wrote them an application letter (which looked more like a love letter) to join as crew.

In this case love was not enough, because we didn`t have our STCW papers yet (the necessary certificates to be accepted as crew).

We waited a bit longer. And as soon as we had finished all exams and had succeeded the Basic Safety Training in March, we wrote them again.

This time they said YES.

We agreed to join as Watch Leader and Coach between September and October. But then we thought: "why not also ask them if we could make a collaboration between Atyla and Piratas do Amor, so that we can sell and host the last week aboard for our community?"

We talked to Alfonso, the mind and heart behind Atyla Foundation, and he was crazy enough to say YES, again.

The group of our Pirate Voyage

We arrived in Lisbon on the 31st of August, during the festivities of the Tallship Race Magellan - Elcano. Atyla, a rather small ship compared to the others there - with her pirate kind of look and the unique robust style - was, for us, the only ship of that whole port that truly caught our eyes.

The first picture we took of Atyla when we arrived in Lisbon

I see in boats more than just boats. They are much more than simply a means of transportation. Boats have a soul. And if you are crazy enough, you can even talk to them. And believe me, they will respond. However, many ships are seen as floating objects made to carry either cargo or passengers, while the lateral is often treated as cargo as well ... which dims the soul of most passenger ships.

Atyla is different. She has a bright soul and when you step aboard, you can feel it right away. She welcomes you with warmth and makes you feel safe and at home.

The reason for this started over 40 years ago.

Atyla was a project built by scratch, by the hands of many people and lead by Esteban Vicente Jiménez, a simple Spanish guy from the mountains - who by the way had no clue about sailing - with a wild dream to sail the world. With little money in his pockets, A LOT of passion and endless effort, Esteban and his friends started building the ship in 1980, in an improvised shipyard in the town of Lekeitio (Vizcaya), in the Basque Country.

More than four years of work, cutting trees that became a hull, eating fish from the river, pulling through all the challenges of conceiving a dream of a 31m long, 7m wide, 3m deep and 25m high Schooner. An enormous amount of love and sweat were invested into each corner of the ship, from bow to aft, from the bottom of the keel to the top of the masts. And in 1984 Atyla was born, whose first name was actually "Marea Errota", a bask name, in tribute to the tide mill that existed in front of the shipyard.

During our Pirate Voyage we had the privilege to visit the shipyard where Atyla was built, and listen to Rodrigo and Natxo (his father) tell details of the ship's story and the people involved. By the end of the excursion, our pirate Daisy gifted Rodrigo a little boat made from flowers, to honour the power of this family`s dream that now inspires so many others to dream big.

We knew the ship was special, but we didn`t know it was that much.

The first person we met when we embarked was Rodrigo, the captain, who is also the nephew of Esteban. A young man, very different from most captains we know. Very knowledgable and at the same time humble, a guy of few words, visibly the owner of a big heart, he is like an extension of the ship.

Christof, Rodrigo and I

Right away we found out that the first officer of Atyla had to leave the boat, so Christof got the fastest "promotion" ever: he would be the officer on watch from 4 to 8 (am and pm). The first time doing that - except, of course, from the time sailing our own boat along the coast of Brazil, where we were officers, captains, deckhands, cooks and everything needed. But let`s admit: there is a considerable difference between sailing an 11m tupperware (a friendly nickname for fibber glass boats) and a 31m tallship with 24 people aboard.

Out of his comfort zone and very grateful by the chance that they were giving him to learn by doing, Christof accepted the challenge.

Simply happy

As an Officer, Christof was the one responsible for the navigation during his watch, giving instructions to the watch leaders and the participants about the course, any visible dangers, and any other procedures regarding the safety of the ship. He was also in charge of the nautical charts, of the logbook, and anything else to support Rodrigo.

"I learned a lot by observing: specially Rodrigo and how he makes his decisions as a captain and how the ship acts and responds to us. I learned to trust even more on my skills - including skills that I didn`t know I had, without ever loosing the curiosity and humility to learn, to accept my limitations and ask for help". Christof

While Christof was doing all of that, me - Raíssa, was a watch leader as well as a coach. This was one of the main reasons that I wanted so much to sail with Atyla, since it was an unique opportunity for me to combine both of my greatest passions: the love for the ocean as a sailor and the love for personal development as a therapist.

As one of the four watch leaders aboard, I was leading the participants on their duties during the watch from 6 to 9 (am and pm). In addition, I was in charge of specific other tasks during mooring, unmooring, happy hours (cleaning time), among others. The watch leaders also have the responsibility to give at least one sailing lesson to the group - after all, Atyla is a training ship and learning how to sail is at the core of what we do there.

There are many things one can learn when working aloft . I say courage, focus and presence. What do you say?

Another core pillar of Atyla Foundation is working on the 8 Soft Skills - which is the job of the coach aboard.

As a coach I had to facilitate a one hour workshop/activity per day for the group of participants, supporting them in their processes of reflecting, feeling and integrating all the learnings that sailing and life on a boat can bring to each one individually and as a collective.

Giving me this job was like giving banana to a monkey. I was SO excited!

The greatest learning for me was to be able to not plan at all, but simply trust my knowledge and feel what the group needed that day and hour. Sometimes the night before I would design an exercise or game, just to change my idea for the session an hour before it happened. Everyday, a different thing.

We meditated and dove deep into our emotions, dreams, fear and love. We observed nature as a path to understanding more about our own inner nature. We explored some of the laws of the universe and expanded the meaning of sailing and the power of being surrounded by water as a teacher of how to live in harmony within and without.

Coaching sessions on deck

One captain, one engineer, one officer, four watch leaders, one coach, one cook, and many participants - because for Atyla (just like one of the principles of our Pirate Code) there are no guests: everyone participates in all tasks aboard, from cleaning the toilets to hoisting the sails.

We sailed from Lisbon to Cádiz, then back to Vigo and on to Bilbao. Each week, a new group. People from all ages, different cultures and backgrounds: Spain, USA, Portugal, Latvia, France, Belgium, UK, Argentina, Germany, Poland and others. In each new port, with openen up the ship for people to visit - sometimes over 600 in three hours - and did day trips with dozens of locals wanting to sail with us.

Some people felt sea sick, others home sick, missing the long showers or the privacy of their houses on land. But all of us felt the unique comfort of the uncomfortable life on a boat, where paradoxes meet. We felt the pleasure of freedom that only the sea awakens within. We felt the aliveness of being exhausted, while waking up in the middle of the night for the night watches to care for the safety of the ship and enjoy the silence of a star-filled night surrounded by salt water.

We all touched the helm and learned how to "feel" Atyla and the way she moved with the waves. We felt the painful joy of discovering blisters and calluses in our hands from pulling the ropes with all our forces. We felt the adrenaline of wearing a harness and climbing the mast to pack and unpack the top and the course sails. We faced shadows, fears or challenges, but we were all properly rewarded by the magic of witnessing the sun rise after hours of sailing in the dark and by the dolphins which danced under our bow.

Life aboard Atyla

Three weeks passed by, and it felt like three months aboard. Christof and I were already satisfied with the universe of learnings presented to us aboard Atyla.

But there was one more important thing to do: our Pirate Voyage!

Collective skinny-dipping during our pirate week

Yes! This was definitely one of the most exciting weeks of our year. After arriving in Portugalete, we hosted our second Pirate Voyage here in Europe, another step of our dream becoming true.

After months preparing for this day, on the 24th of September, 16 courages pirates joined our voyage. Together with the crew, the boat was completely full: 24 people aboard!

Mother Nature blessed us with a peaceful weather to sail the Bay of Biscay and swim the (not so cold) waters where we anchored. The facilitators of this journey were the ocean, the life as a community aboard and the values we shared. We weaved between chaos and order. We laughed and loved. We sang pirates gospels, we improvised jam sessions, we gifted our talents from workshops to massages, while learning from what we love to do most: SAIL.

Pulling ropes, climbing aloft, doing position checks, sharing in circles or pairs: a bit of our routine

A totally different experience from our first Pirate Voyage in the NL. But it was supposed to be different: each group brings a new energy, and each boat, each place we sail to, and even the weather conditions, everything plays a role in such a journey. A journey of practicing presence, of connecting to nature, of noticing what emerges from within each of us and how that shape an unforgettable collective experience day by day.

A mix of action, playfulness, focus and relaxation: sailing can be all of that and much more

The more we facilitate with the sea, the less we facilitate how we used to do back in the city, in retreat centres, in workshop rooms. In this place with no walls, where impermanence rules, there is no escape from the present moment. Any attempt to control, to over-plan - without the ability to change and adapt at any moment - will lead to frustration.

The more we let ourselves be a channel for this dream called Piratas do Amor, the more I understand that what we are doing is difficult to describe in words.

Do you know what I mean?

As we always say: this journey had no program, and there won`t be one. And if there is one, the "program" is to discover the infinite treasures of life at sea, and for each person this treasure is different.

Some people discovered the Peace that comes from the divine permission to leave behind the social trap of endless productivity, surrendering themselves to the bliss of the NOW. Others discovered the subtle teachings of expanding the notion of time and living in harmony with the rhythms of nature. Others enjoyed the chaos and the opportunity to grow out of their comfort zones. Some discovered the ecstatic pleasure of expressing themselves freely, feeling loved and accepted by showing up naked - literally and symbolically. Others discovered the power of an embodied experience, where the constant movement of the physical and emotional bodies, calm down the mental addictions, that most of us carry as "modern humans".

Sailing towards new horizons

No matter the discovery, the treasures were harvested with love and awareness, and as pirates, we LOVE to share our gold. We sailed and practiced our Pirate Code - a single week at sea that serves as an inspiring seed for the culture we want to live on Earth.

"It was only during the voyage that I truly began to understand the essence of Piratas do Amor, which is rooted in love - the love shared by Raissa and Christof. This essence is ever-present without dominating, as it nurtures, grounds, inspires, and awakens a sense of presence within me and each member of the crew. It's like a gentle knock-knock on the heart, that encourages us to embrace the audacity of love, to live in our power, and reconnect with nature. It sheds away the notion that conscious living demands a constant heaviness of facilitation and workshops. Instead, it allows for the authentic and potent "simplicity" of healing through the act of caring for a boat and forging deep connections with others and nature." - Daisy

Love, of course, is the main fuel of what we do, of how we do it and of who we want to be in the world. We gather on boats to remember and reactivate the love for nature, the love for ourselves and others, and the love that needs to be spread in a world ruled by fear and scarcity.

Vincenzo, Marc, Eugenio, Heni, Cristina, Daisy, Caro, Raíssa and Felix

Our deep gratitude for Atyla Foundation, especially Alfonso and Rodrigo, who trusted some strangers calling themselves Pirates and accepted the challenge of hosting our Voyage without having a clue of what this was about.

We might host many other Pirate Voyages next year aboard Atyla, on a longer journey and a larger adventure. But we won`t spoil too much information for now.

Because for the moment: land is calling us.

We sailed many miles this year, discovering more nuances of our dream. And I admit: we are tired, very happy and very proud that we have done everything that we set out to do over the course of this year.

Cheers to all the dreamers that come together to live their wild visions of life: like Esteban and Rodrigo, Christof and I, you and all the beautiful pirates who have been sailing with us.

In a week from now we go back to Brazil, after more than a year in Europe. This will be a necessary gap to bridge this years sailing adventures to the future of the Pirates.

Time will tell us what`s next. And we will tell you more soon.

Stay tuned, pirate.

With love


What is your leap of faith?

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