The journey into the West by Elves leaving Middle-Earth was a one-way trip. Not a shuttle service.

That would imply that any nautical crews on the ships also weren't coming back.

However, floating the boats isn't a task for amateurs: you'd need to make sure that any trip had properly trained crews.

I had this silly image in my head where things go something like this:

Elrond: Avast, ye landlubbers!

Galadriel: ... what?

Elrond: Just lightening the mood. We're outta this here sad and sorry lands. Next stop: Tol Eressea. Now, everybody call me captain!

Gandalf: I've got your "captain" right here, boyo! Now, who knows how to steer one of these things? Cirdan gave me a ring, not a Boating for Dummies book.

Galadriel: Is this thing supposed to be taking on water?

Elrond: No idea, but we can always throw one of the hobbits overboard. They're really just ballast.

Bilbo and Frodo: ...

Seriously now:

Who steered/crewed the Grey Ships and where did the crews come from seeing as it was, by definition, an attrition process?

Were they "magical", imbued with some pathfinding auto-pilot by Cirdan? Then, how did Legolas' ship work? He was a landlubber, from Mirkwood.

Did Cirdan keep training crews among those who had decided to leave, with just enough minimal personnel to get them safely into the West?

Was it just one of those "Elves instinctively know bloody everything"?

  • 2
    They weren't self-driving? – Cascabel Jun 17 '16 at 4:12
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    Maybe it was a one-way trip BECAUSE they didn't have trained crews to sail the ships? – Erik Jun 17 '16 at 11:52

Reading the Silmarillion gives the impression that a lot (almost all) elves eventually spent some time on ships - either when the sons of Feanor returned from the West, or up and down the coast and around Belfalas.

It's also possible that the Valar simply take control and help the ship cross over - as we see Ulmo do at various times (including the crossing of Glorfindel).

  • 1
    Well, seeing as they leave the Circles of the World and watch the waves fall below them (or something like that is said in either Akallabeth or Of The Rings of Power), wouldn't that put it in Lady "just call me Janeway" Varda's domain? More seriously, IIRC it's actually stated in the Silmarillion that knowledge of shipcraft and nautical skills were rare, except among the Teleri. Wasn't the Kinslaying all about stealing ships? And many Noldor marched through Helkaraxe. – Marakai Jun 17 '16 at 3:50
  • @Marakai - well, once they've gotten far enough west, I suppose Ulmo will handover to Varda... As for rare shipcraft and nautical skills - what might have been true at the time of kinslaying doesn't necessary hold true later: there are many references to elves in the east sailing on Cirdan's ships – HorusKol Jun 17 '16 at 7:05
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    hoo boy, you just introduced ATC to Middle-earth: Aman Traffic Control: "Ulmo Control, this is Ringbearer-3, requesting clearance to depart circles of world."; "Ringbearer-3, this is Ulmo, your are cleared to Tol Eressea, contact Varda approach, good day." – Marakai Jun 17 '16 at 7:55
  • @Marakai: Congratulations for linking up Tolkien with Kennedy Steve in my head... – DevSolar Jun 17 '16 at 10:00

While most Elves were heading west at the end of the Third Age, there is nothing to stop a few going in the opposite direction. It is likely that there had been sailors going back and forth between the Grey Havens and the West since the start of the Second Age.

Keep in mind that Gandalf and the rest of the Istari arrived by ship at the Grey Havens from the West.

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    I'd been wondering that exact thing, but do we have any indication that two-way travel was a thing? In all the HoM, and from what I remember of the Letters, this was NOT a common thing. Even Glorfindel was a special case. Oh, and imagine the jetlag! ;) – Marakai Jun 17 '16 at 2:54
  • @Marakai Perhaps not a common thing, but at least occasional. – Blackwood Jun 17 '16 at 2:57
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    I can see that this would be the case during the Second Age - up until the World Was Made Round, after the destruction of Numenor. After that it was supposed to be a special Grace to even find the Straight Road (capitals copied from where Tolkien used them) – Marakai Jun 17 '16 at 2:59
  • @Marakai I'm not really disagreeing, but the ships that sailed west from the Grey Havens clearly has that special Grace, so I assume there is no reason why they can't also return. – Blackwood Jun 17 '16 at 3:05
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    Yeah, and I like your thinking (thus upvoted). Provided Cirdan could keep finding crews who would actually WANT to go back once they'd seen the Light. – Marakai Jun 17 '16 at 3:09

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