Learning the design and rigging of a Tall ship is challenging. To be a useful crew member, you have to study the systems on board and memorize where all of the ropes are for specific sails, masts, and yards. When my watch allows, I spend an hour a day in our ship's library studying our rig.
The Bark Europa has a foremast, mainmast, and mizzenmast along with 30 sails including the six studding sails. The ropes that control these masts for bracing/raising or setting the sails are connected to wooden pins on the deck. The pin holds the tension of the rope against the rigging. When we are done setting the sails we "make fast." This means to make three clockwise turns around the pin. We have over 200 of these pins, and each one is unmarked.
There is some logic behind all of the rigging, but the only way to remember the purpose of all of the pins/ropes is to study the ships rigging and practice answering the Captains/1st Mates commands on deck. A typical command we have is to brace the yards.
"Brace the foreyards on the Fore Main Course, the Fore Lower Topsail, and the Fore Topgallant to starboard."
Bracing the yards requires at least six people to haul on the yards on one side and to ease the lines on another. This procedure allows us to change course. We say "2 - 6 - Haul" to keep us together when pulling ropes or to sweat lines (this is a technique used to get the extra slack out of the ropes). A rope in rhythm is easily pulled, a rope out of rhythm is awkward like watching someone who can't dance.
When we are done adjusting the sails, we coil the ropes. Every rope onboard has to be coiled and made fast on a pin. Coiling keeps the rope untangled, ready to be adjusted if needed, and a clean deck. Coiling and hauling on ropes is the activity that never ends.
It has taken me these past four weeks to understand half of the foundation for these systems. There are moments when I start to know how each of the hundreds of ropes feel and I recognize the look of the unidentifiable wooden pins.