Sail Training in the Time of Corona

I’ve been home for a month now and have enjoyed the luxury of time to reflect on the last few months. While I haven’t left the house more than 3 times in that time, that’s still 3 more times than I got off the ship in the previous month. Some ships are still at sea, making for home ports where they will finally be allowed to go alongside, and I can only imagine how gruelling it must be for them. The Sail Training and Tall Ship community has been greatly impacted by this virus. This was my experience:

I left the UK in mid-February, headed for the warm sunshine of Cuba where I joined my ship, TS Pelican of London, to embark on the next leg of the 2019/20 Ocean College Voyage – a 6 month long School-at-Sea adventure. We had started in Bordeaux back in October with 32 novice sailors aged 15-18, mostly from Germany, 3 teachers and 8 Permanent Crew. We sailed from there to Vigo, on to Essaouira in Morocco, the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands, before we crossed the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean, Curacao and Panama where I disembarked for some much needed leave. The news about Coronavirus was at that time something happening in far distant lands and I never imagined it would have much impact on us.

By the time we had sailed from Cuba and reached Bermuda things were changing but the news we saw still didn’t give us any impression that the world was about to implode. We left Bermuda on the 6th March and I didn’t set foot on land again until the 23rd April.

A sail training voyage is supposed to be challenging; through the medium of sailing – working, living and playing together in what is essentially a 35m long metal box (45m if you include the bowsprit) we teach our trainees not only about sail setting, knot tying, weather forecasting, navigation, cleaning, cooking and maintenance but also about resilience, patience, fortitude, kindness, empathy, teamwork and tenacity. We usually get to also see a bit of the world while we do all this. We got plenty of the sailing part over the next couple of months, but the seeing the world aspect was suddenly rather curtailed.

Our Atlantic crossing went relatively smoothly, a few days of strong winds had us belting along under canvas for a while, but a large high pressure system had other ideas and sat over us for the majority of the mid Atlantic, necessitating the use of the “iron topsail” kept down in the bowels of the ship instead of the quieter canvas version. News came through to the ship via our satellite email system but we had no access to actual news outlets. We knew before we arrived in Horta in the Azores that we would not be allowed ashore but still thought amongst ourselves that all of this was a massive over-reaction and that the voyage would continue pretty much as planned.

We anchored off Horta on the evening of the 19th March and finally had phone signal, we called our families for the first time in 2 weeks and it finally started to sink in; the world had changed. The next day that message was fully hammered home when we finally got alongside – we were to be the last ship allowed in, purely to pick up fuel and food and then leave immediately. No gangway was landed, the workers who brought us our stores all wore masks and kept their distance, despite the fact we had been isolated on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for the last 14 days and had come from a country which, at the time of our departure, had had no cases – there was no way we could be carrying it, but no-one was willing to take the risk.

The plan had been to go from the Azores to a port or two on the northern coast of Spain and then back to Bordeaux, where the parents and families would be there to welcome our trainees back triumphantly with much pomp and circumstance, champagne and medals. With travel across Europe severely restricted and borders closed this was suddenly not going to be an option. All the ports were closed anyway and no matter where we landed them they then had to get home from there, with their vast quantities of luggage, so there was only one real option – we had to take them to Germany.

The next few days were the most challenging of all; we suddenly had a far greater distance to go to get to our final destination; the stores we had been able to pick up were all that the islanders had been able to supply, but were not a great quantity when you have 43 people to feed 3 times a day and need to keep it interesting; we were all now aware of the seriousness of the situation ashore and while we had spoken to our loved ones and knew that should anything happen to them we would hear of it via the satellite email, we couldn’t just pick up the phone and call home to check in. To add to that, the weather turned on us; slowly going from a ESE force 5 to a NE force 8 , driving our course further and further North until we were going North West in the direction of Iceland or even Greenland. We spent 72 hours beating up and down under engines and fore and aft sails trying to make headway to the North East, while mostly running back up and down parallel to our own track; and, it was getting colder by the day.

On top of these delights, when we left the Azores we mixed things up and put our trainees (who after 5 months, were very used to a fixed watch system consisting of 3 watches of 10 people doing the same watch-keeping hours every day) into 4 new watches of 8 people. Then, after 4 days of a 4 watch rotating system, we reverted to a 3 watch system with the 4th watch as the “Handover” team, with the watches rotating every 4 days to give everyone a “Handover” over the passage to Germany. [Figuring out how this all works is my job – hence my love of spreadsheets!] Each watch had a Captain, Mate, 2nd Mate, Engineer, Bosun, Bosun’s Mate, Cook and Doctor or Cook’s Assistant. For the 4 days of their “handover” they were acting as those roles, under the close supervision and guidance of the Permanent Crew in whose shoes they were walking. We might have done a lot of nudging and prodding, but we certainly gave them a taste of what it’s like to actually be the one in charge… I really didn’t think we could have made life much more challenging if we tried, so we threw some drills and emergency scenarios at them as well just to make sure, this is sail training after all. We were all getting very tired, physically and emotionally; frustrated at not getting to see the Azores, some were seasick, sleep was in short supply due to the lumpy seas, and the end was not quite in sight yet. But still, we all had 42 other people to talk to, hug, annoy, dance with, laugh and share food with. Your shipmates are your family, and that’s what gets you through the hard times.

We reached the English Channel eventually, and had one night of glorious respite tied up in Portland where we once again took on food and fuel as well as the charts for the previously unexpected next leg, and then set off once more for Cuxhaven, Germany. We took the scenic route along the Dorset coast, which is a piece of coast I am very familiar with as it is Pelican’s old stomping ground and magnificent to behold from the sea. (Many didn’t believe me that Durdle Door is in fact a dragon until they saw it for themselves!). We also had a Coastal Rescue helicopter fly by and practice some hovering over us – the trainee on the helm’s face as she realised there was a helicopter right over her head but she had to keep concentrating on keeping a steady course was a picture! The wind may not have been very useful, but it was mostly light and the sun shone brightly as we made our way up the rest of the Channel, through the Dover Straights and on up into the North Sea.

The end was now in sight and now people were starting to think about leaving. In the mess room, envelopes with everyone’s names lovingly drawn and illustrated were strung up along the bulkheads and when not busy with other duties, the trainees were all writing letters for each other to read after they got home. Despite not being able to show their parents around when they got there, they still wanted to the ship to look as good as she possibly could for our arrival, and many hours were spent sanding, oiling and polishing the helm and compass binnacle on top of our usual cleaning and maintenance routines. They practiced shanties and planned what to wear and drilled climbing in formation. Thoughts of home and families and real beds and pets and going to the fridge and eating whatever you like mixed with not wanting to leave; sadness at not seeing these crazy people every day, not being able to get a hug whenever you needed one, not seeing the sun rise over the sea in a million hues of pink or dolphins leaping at the bow. The prospect of returning to reality after a long trip at sea is daunting at the best of times, but we weren’t even sure what reality we were coming home to – not the one we left, that was for certain.

All things must end though, and so we arrived into Cuxhaven with the yards manned, the trainees aloft all resplendent in their red oilskin trousers and blue hoodies, belting out shanties that echoed around the port while their parents clapped and cheered at a socially acceptable distance from each other behind the port fence. It was glorious.

I cried a fair bit that day, I’ll not lie, but it was a happy sort of crying – tired, proud and knowing I was going to miss the lot of them despite their strops and eye rolling and huffing and generally requiring chasing around to get things done – but that’s the thing; in those 6 months we had become a family. In this line of work, as well as being sail trainers and teachers, we are stand in parents, and as such, our job is to teach them about life. It’s not an easy task, teaching “Life 101” is difficult to lesson plan for but I think we do a pretty good job of it nonetheless. The real impact of this or any sail training voyage is going to be seen by their parents, family and friends far more than us though, the life skills we have given them will take root and grow and I am quite certain that we will see great things in the future from many of them.

So what now in these weird times? Well, we had to get the ship home first of all; as soon as the last teacher had left we were off, with just the 7 of us Permanent Crew (having dropped the Doctor off in Portland). The weather was cold but fair and we even managed over 24 hrs under sail alone as we made our way along the south coast of England. We picked up a few extra hands at anchor in Penzance so we’d have enough people to moor her and then made our way to our home port of Sharpness where the ship has laid up for the moment. We have had to cancel at least the first part of our summer programme sadly and while this does mean we can achieve some maintenance, we are not even able to get large contingents of volunteers on-board to help due to social distancing. So, we are hunkering down, doing what we can, plodding along and keeping afloat (metaphorically as well as literally) and will be back as soon as we can, this may be as early as August, but nothing is certain yet, I am keeping my fingers crossed! The next Ocean College voyage is for certain though, and either way, I can’t wait to meet and welcome on board the next Pelican Family.

Tall Ship Pelican of London is operated by Adventure Under Sail, registered Charity No. 1124276. Please visit http://www.adventureundersail.com for more information

Real life vs Ship life: Part 1. Ship life.

Life has been happening, at an alarming rate it seems, I’m over halfway through my leave already and am only just starting to feel like I’m catching up with real life. Guess I won’t be learning to drive this leave then…

Generally, for me, life stops when I am at sea and then kicks in when I am on land. Well it doesn’t stop, it just comes under a completely different heading. At sea it’s all about whether the lifeboat is going to work (or at least not fill with water), or when the life-jacket lights last got changed, or which life-buoys are in desperate need of replacement, or why the immersion suit got mouldy, or trying to get something that is out of date or knackered or  degraded replaced. It’s a never-ending fight: to stay on top of things, to stay sane, to get enough sleep, and to do all that while looking presentable. We have an open bridge policy, so watches aren’t just about driving the ship, (that does come first though, and if it’s busy I’ll happily kick people off the bridge so I can concentrate). I also end up playing the role of tour guide and star expert, I end up repeating my life story ad-infinitum, (the Quartermaster could just as easily tell it by now), explaining the bridge equipment over and over again, and being given verbal pats on the head by a good 70% of those who visit the bridge just because I’m a girl.

To be honest, that’s the only bit that really gets me. I’m proud of my job, and what I’ve achieved so far in my life, I’m only too happy to educate people about what we who drive ships actually do and how we do it, I love stars and learning about the constellations and sharing that with people: one of the best bits of the job is standing on the bridge wing on a clear quiet night being utterly overawed by the night sky. If you’ve never seen it from the deck of a ship away from land, you’ve been missing out.

But, to be told “Well, good for yoooou” over and over again, is something that really gets my goat. None of the other (male) junior officers get that, you certainly wouldn’t hear the Captain being told that, (and believe me, my last Captain slogged his backside off to get where he is), no it’s because of one thing and one thing only that I am singled out as the plucky little soldier who deserves a patronizing comment congratulating me for doing what thousands of other seafarers do every day, many of whom, I’m sure, have had to fight bigger battles that I have. My gender. And that pisses me off.

It’s not just on ship though, for example, my mother related a conversation she had with an acquaintance recently, while not exactly verbatum, it went something like this:

Aquaintance: And what do your daughters do?

Mother: Well, my eldest lives in Reading with her husband, she works in *some sort of IT related place* and they just bought their first house.

Aquaintance: Mmm lovely…. And your youngest?

Mother: Well she’s away at the moment, she works at sea.

Aquaintance: Oh really, how adventurous, what does she do?

Mother: Oh she’s working on a cruise ship a the moment.

Aquaintance: Oh wow, that must be lovely, what does she do? Stewardess? Croupier?

Mother: No, no, she drives she ship, she’s the 3rd Officer.

Aquaintance: GOOD GOD!!

The shock and incredulity that I, a 30 year old woman, could be left in charge of not crashing a whole ship for 4 hours at a time makes me sad. Are we still so steeped in inherent sexism that it’s that crazy an idea? Yes, the Merchant Navy is still a male dominated industry, but haven’t we as a society finally reached the conclusion that ability is not based on gender? Apparently not.

Anyway.

The rest of my trip can be summed up fairly succinctly: Wet dock. This was not a refit period while tied up alongside in some out of the way dockyard. This was a complete rip out and replace of the entire hotel side of the ship, while en-route from Panama to Barcelona, stopping for about 3 days in St Maarten and Algeciras. It was… interesting. It’s not something that I wish to repeat. Ever.

There were up sides, such as being able to go for a drink in the Pool Bar after watch at midnight. (No passengers on ship, just 50 odd British contractors) and there were downsides, such as working 14+ hour days and getting massively behind on my planned maintenance because other things had to take priority. I spent most of my watches crossing the Atlantic navigating around rain clouds – rain + holes in deck and/or wet paint does not mix well. Somehow, it pulled together, the night before we arrived in Barcelona, the spa girls were polishing railings, the VP of hotel operations was wielding a paintbrush, we had Quartermasters scrubbing decks at midnight and floors being waxed. The next morning the new 2nd officer was varnishing the pool surround and the pool bar still looked like a bombsite. However, by 1300, when I took the new crew around on their familiarization tour, the place was spotless.

The last month of the trip was spent catching up on my planned maintenance, catching up on sleep and wondering who, if anyone, was going to relieve me.

Overall, despite all the whinging I have just done, I had a ball this trip. I had fantastic people to work with, in particular, the last Captain and C/O I had, who ripped the piss out of me almost constantly, and ensured that I almost cried with laughter at least once a day. And the first C/O I had too, who took me under her wing and mentored me through my first few weeks as a new officer. (Mostly by standing about chatting shit while smoking too much and occasionally giving me a kick up the backside if I screwed up). She also threw me the first proper birthday party I’ve ever had. (And, more importantly, gave me the watch off the morning after!).

Other highlights of the trip were:

Swimming off Coiba beach on several occasions, where I also met a crocodile, got stung by tiny jelly fish, saw a ray, saw a shark, chased vultures and ate a lot of delicious bbq food.

Going for a post work swim off the stern platform.

Eating fresh out of the oven warm mini chocolate cakes.

Getting her up to 8kts with no engines.

Turning 30: this is because it involved a party, dancing so hard I ached the next day, a lie in, cake and presents.

A free hot stones massage.

Zip lining in Nicaragua.

Free Nicaraguan rum.

Being able to afford Raybans and a pair of swanky binoculars.

Seeing humpback whales, leaping, breaching, fin slapping and tail slapping as we left St Maartin. (New binoculars were very useful at this point.)

Portoferraio, where I climbed a hill and admired the view, then sat in a cafe with a small glass of white, overlooking a picturesque little harbour. On the way home I bought the biggest ice cream I could find: Waffle cone, 4 scoops – blackcurrant, mango, tiramisu and ricotta with burnt caramel. (The Italians really do make the best ice-cream in the world.)

Amalfi, where I visited the Cathedral and bought chocolate and pizza.

Santorini, where I took the cable car to the top and had lunch while admiring the view.

Myknonos, where I simply wandered through the back streets.

And Kusadasi, where I went on tour to see the ruined city of Ephesus.

There are many photos, you can see them on Flickr here.

I was going to rant about all sorts of real life things today, but it seemed necessary to put some kind of chronological order to things. So I will write about real life next time.

Meanwhile, I’m always on twitter.

Getting in on the action…. gulp!!

Coming back into Southampton from the med cruise I did the fwd station comms on the radio, under the 2/0’s supervision of course, but it was nice to be allowed that little extra bit of responsibility! Once again we had a round of MCA surveys that day, one of the inspectors wasn’t arriving until 1230 so I stayed on the bridge for the morning, filling out the stability log book, doing rounds with one of the 3rd Officers and then once the MCA were there, I stood at the CSS console (Computerised Safety System) acknowledging alarms and door closures while the Chief Officer went around with the MCA setting them off. I had a visitor on for the afternoon, and then all too soon I was back on the mooring deck again for stations at 1600, I operated the winches aft this time, it’s more complicated than it sounds as you have to be watching several things at once, but I was getting the hang of it.

The trip across to New York went rather slowly as we had some pretty dull jobs to occupy us – refilling the tenders that had come back from their maintenance ashore with the small gear (there’s a lot of it, it’s all very small and it stored in some rather difficult to reach places!), inspecting mooring ropes, checking the rescue craft gear, fixing new fenders to the pontoon uprights… oh and an engine room fire drill in which the Chief Engineer was taken out and we simulated a full CO2 release in the engine room, so it wasn’t all dull!

We spent a day and half going around the ship and colouring in tiny bits of fire plans as a result of that exercise, which was a thankless task as they were being replaced soon. I’m suspecting it was one of those jobs cadets get given to keep the out of the way when there’s nothing else for them to do, but I could be wrong…

Anyway I was set for bigger and brighter things after that, I finally had my first bridge watch that night. Not that I actually got to do much, but it felt rather fine to be up there in an official capacity, as opposed to just being up there for studying on a Sunday or getting our day’s orders. I read the standing orders and the bridge familiarisation programme, which is quite a hefty document and there’s a lot of equipment up there! A, who had been doing all the bridge stuff was leaving in a week so I was there to shadow him before taking over as he left, so he took me through the radar and GPS and gave me an overview of the rest. I was also introduced to the maintenance management system AMOS, through which all of the ship’s maintenance is programmed and overseen. I had some data entry fun ahead of me!

The next morning I was up there again, we were coming in to New York so I had to be up there extra early for the beginning of standby at 0330. Not my favourite time of day I have to admit! As I was only shadowing A I got to enjoy the view a little as the ship slid majestically under the Verrazano bridge. From up there it really looks like you’re going to hit it, but the ship has 4m clearance at high tide so there’s no real worry, as long as the ship is kept bang in the middle of the channel anyway….thankfully the helmsmen are well practised and the officers keep a close eye on everything. And there’s a lot of them up there – the Bridge Team, when entering/leaving port and other tight situations consists of the Master, Pilot, Staff Captain, Navigating Officer, 3rd Officer, Cadet and 4 quartermaster/lookouts as a minimum. There’s a lot going on and at that point, having tried to do 6 minute fixing and mostly failing, even without trying to do the log book and telephone at the same time, I couldn’t imagine how on earth I’d be able to ever do 3 minute fixing, plus the log, phone and checklists……

You’d think after being up since 0330 I might have opted to go to bed for a bit before going through the whole thing again that evening on the way out, but no, I had booked myself onto the New York bus tour for the day instead! I thoroughly enjoyed it too, we went up to the top of the Rockerfella building which gave us some amazing views of the city, stopped off at a pier on the river for lunch and visited ground zero, well, we viewed it from the building across the road anyway, the place is now starting to rise up again, in hot pursuit of getting the record for the worlds tallest building. The won’t have it for long as there’s another building in Dubai that’ll trump it within weeks, but I guess it’s a matter of pride!

All too soon it was back to the ship for a quick cup of (extremely strong) coffee and then back up to the bridge to do what we’d done in the morning, but in reverse!!

Painting, NYC and heli-ops!

Blimey,what a week, sorry it’s taken so long to get this installment up, I keep getting behind on it as things have been so busy, but here it is…

18th August
We had an extra hour in bed this morning as the clocks went back an hour, wonderful! The only downside is when we come back we’ll be loosing an hour’s sleep each night.
So, feeling pretty fresh and awake, we went to find out what the boatswain had in store for us. The first job was helping pass down the new mooring lines from deck 4 to the mooring deck (3) through the hatch. The hatch lid is lifted by a wire on a crank handle and posts and chains are put up around the non-working sides. The lines had been put on board using the derricks on the foredeck, coiled around a cardboard drum and wrapped with paper and high strength sheeting. We cut the wrapping off and then it took 4 of us to push the huge coil nearer to the hatch, the line was then unwound from the drum and passed below where it was either coiled into one of the baskets or threaded around a set of bits and through a shackle to go directly onto a drum. The lines are all 12 strand multiplait and are extremely heavy. Once all 4 lines had been put in place we eye spliced a length of three strand rope around the eye of each line, which is used by the linesmen to pick them up. After that we cleared up the rubbish and went for smoko. When we got back we had a lesson on multiplait splicing, it’s not nearly as difficult as I’d thought it would be, once the rope is unlaid you take 6 strands on each side and work with two at a time, weaving them up in a straight line along the original lay. It gets very tight by the end and you need to use a setting fid to open it up each time.
After lunch I was on the f’wd mooring deck again, this time cleaning. First of all two guys went around with a bucket of metalbright and a paintbrush on a long stick, finding all the rust spots, then another deckhand started jetting the deck down, meanwhile we also started scrubbing down with soogie and brooms.
After an hour I had to chip off to meet the Safety Officer- we’d arranged to meet him to go over fire fighting equipment for our training books. When we’d done that I got back to the deck to find they were currently vaccuming up water from the floor. I got hold of a vaccum and cracked on. Once the floor was no longer puddley, we set to with mops to get it dry.
After a very active day, where both of us had sweated a fair bit, S and I decided to visit the spa again before cocktails, I had a Finnish Sauna to start with, before relaxing in the pool and then trying out the reflexology basin. Once cocktails was done with we had some dinner and then went to the bar where we had fun playing with flash cards- J, one of the 3rd Officers, was spelling out rude words for S with the code flags and then he set up some buoy channels for us to navigate through. Geeky, but fun!

August 19th
We started the morning off on the aft mooring deck, S was scraping old varnish off handrails and I was and oiling handrails that had been scraped and sanded.
At 1000 there was a Helicopter Fire drill, the ship uses the sundeck on deck 13 as a winching area. We mustered with the deck fire party on deck 11 and went up the stairs to deck 13 when instructed. It was blowing about 25kts out on deck, which made running out hoses slightly difficult as they kept flapping about. S and I ran around fetching extra hoses and connected them up with a nozzle, we were then instructed to help hold the hose as number 2 and number 3. The engine room fire team were also up on deck and went aft to the sundeck where there was a dummy casualty. Each fire party consists of two three man teams, in this case 4 people were holding 2 hoses, and two people were sheltered between them, ready to retrieve the casualty. The whole team edged forward, using the hoses to create water walls until they had reached the casualty and then edged back in the same manner. The second time they did this the hose I was on was used as another water wall, we edged forward to the wind screens that separate the deck areas with the water wall and number 1 turned it off briefly to put the nozzle through one of the gaps in the screen and then turned it back on, this gave the fire team additional protection as they moved forward, it was turned off to let them through and then put back on. Likewise when they came back with the casualty, the water wall was turned off to let them through.
Once the drill had been completed we all went below for a high expansion foam demonstration on the aft mooring deck. The fire teams took their kit off first to Sarah and I were there to see the first quick test, which produced a huge amount of foan in about 60 seconds. So when everyone else got down, we were at the ready with squeegees, to try and keep the foam from getting too far. Easier said than done as the squeegee blade just passed under the bubbles and only moved the water underneath. Once the demonstration was over we got the hoses onto it and eventually got the deck clean again.
In the afternoon we carried on with scraping varnish off hand rails, the rails are first painted with some blue gunk that corrodes the varnish, the first scrape down still leaves a fair amount of varnish on the wood and so the process is repeated. The blue gunk is evil and really hurts if you accidentally get even a tiny bit on your skin, I was wearing the right PPE (gloves and boiler suit) but still managed to get a little blob on my wrist. I washed it off immediately though and it was fine. Once all the varnish has been removed the rails have to be sanded with two grades of sandpaper until they are immaculate and ready for oiling with D1.
We went to the Queens Grill cocktail party in the evening where I met Commodore William …… who is the current maritime lecturer on board and a Trinity House Younger Brethren.

August 20th
Started off this morning painting the bits and roller fairleads on the aft mooring deck, we then had an early smoko to enable us to maximise on the time available to paint balconies. Passengers tend to spend the mornings out of their cabins, which is when the deck crew teams scuttle in and paint. In order to get the job done in time about 5 of us crammed onto the one (single size) balcony, so with two stepladders, the balcony furniture and the paint buckets, space was at a premium! Naturally I got paint in my hair as I was kneeling down to paint under a ledge at which point I was given a plastic shoe cover, which doubles nicely as a hat. Wearing that, plus the mask to protect me from the paint fumes, I looked delightful!
After lunch is was back down to the aft mooring deck, where S carried on with the painting and I got stuck in to some varnish scraping. I discovered the disposable boiler suits they have too, which are a bright red/pink colour and have a hood too, so I looked like a slightly deranged Teletubby wielding a paint scraper! Photo evidence of this exists, but it’s on my phone, which I don’t have the wire to my laptop for.
This evening I have been productive, taking advantage of the lack of cocktail party to do laundry, tidy the cabin and write up notes about anchoring procedures for when N grills us on Saturday. Once all that was done I went to the wardroom for a drink, to find most of the men wearing bibs with a large set of boobs in a corset printed on them, in honour of the German Tapas night. I always thought tapas was Spanish, but what would I know?

August 21st
The morning started off again scraping varnish on aft mooring deck until 0900, then it was early smoko and balcony painting. This time I was with S, working on the outside rails of the deck 8 balconies, which are easily accessed from the lifeboat platforms. All was going well until we got showered on from above, where one of the stewards decided to start washing down the outside of the glass balconies on one of the upper decks!
After lunch it was back to scraping varnish, broken up by smoko and a refresher talk on lifeboat hooks and engines. The statistics on lifeboats in general are a little bit worrying, so Cunard put all lifeboat crew through a refresher every 3 months.
After the World Cruise club cocktail party S and I joined SECO and ENVO to go and see the show, Viva Italia. The costumes were fabulous and I lost count of how many changes there’d been in the first 20 minutes! I had been expecting to maybe hear some songs I knew but they’d all been written for the show, the lack of plot also had me rather bemused for a while, and to be honest, it wasn’t really my cup of tea, but the performers put so much energy into it and it had some very funny moments.
We’d missed dinner in the mess by the time it finished so we all went up to the Lotus restaurant for some Chinese food, which was delicious. A quick change into casuals led to a couple of drinks in the wardroom and then a foray into the White Star party, which is held monthly for all crew in the luggage handling area. When we got there no one was dancing and I was reminded of school discos where everyone stood around the edge looking awkward. That didn’t stop us lot though and we hit the dance floor straight away. It didn’t take long for others to get the same idea and by the time I left an hour later the place was bouncing!

August 22nd
Study day, which has been lovely. Not having to get changed for meals, sitting down and getting all the bits of paper I’m accumulating organised. We had our grilling from N, which went really well in fact- seeing as we’d actually done the work he was very nice to usJ
The big excitement of the day has been hurricane Bill, which is perfect for my WBL, so I’ve been busy gathering as much info on the situation as possible and have even asked the Commodore if I could interview him about it all later.

August 23rd
NEW YORK!!!
Need I say more?
Oh, I suppose people will require a little more detail than that…
It was an early start, we were breakfasted and at immigration by 0630, immigration began at 0640 but we wanted to be first in line, had to be in fact as we were escorting a tour into Manhattan. We had been instructed on our itinerary “Day off- Book tour- Buy shoes and handbags” and so we decided to follow instructions to the letter. Conveniently for us the tour we were escorting was the shopping drop off tour, which meant we had the whole day to ourselves to, er, well, go shopping!
We were dropped on 7th Avenue, opposite the back entrance to Macy’s, which wasn’t yet open, it being about 0830. So we wandered toward Times Square, picking up a coffee in Starbucks and then hopping into tourist shops for the essentials, which as far as I was concerned was a giant pencil, which I didn’t find, and an umbrella, which were in plentiful supply. It was hot and muggy at that time of day, which had quickly become gentle, but annoying, rain. Over the day the rain ceased but the oppressive humidity remained, even when blue skies appeared in the afternoon, we were gasping in relief when we walked into a store and it’s air con hit us.
From Times Square we meandered on to Central Park and then to 5th Avenue where I felt glad that none of the shops were yet open as I would have felt disgustingly underdressed wandering around any of Tiffany’s, Gucci, Prada, Armarni etc. By the time we got as far down as the Rockerfella building though, the shops had opened and we went into Banana Republic, where I casually picked up a hat and tried it on.
It was love at first sight, I tried to say I shouldn’t really buy it, but S told me I had to… Ok, so I’m weak when it comes to hats. It is beautiful though, a 20’s style blue felt cloche (apologies to any men who are reading this, if I were you, I wouldn’t worry too much about this entry, it’s all about shops, shoes and handbags from here…)
We admired the Rockerfella’s architecture for a while, and then headed back toward 7th Avenue and Broadway where we stopped for an early lunch at Ruby Tuesdays, I had a crab burger which was very good, but I was most intrigued by the bun, which I think was brioche….Anyway, I digress. From lunch we stopped off at Mid Town Comics, which T has been sent to by G (G being one of the 3rd engineers and T his girlfriend) I got hugely tempted by several things but decided that buying all three volumes of Sandman (at $99 each) was a little excessive, especially as I’d have to carry them for the rest of the day. Likewise 6 volumes of SIP pocketbooks…
From there we embarked on my major mission of the day, which was camera shopping, my darling dad had found two stores which did cameras at sensible prices, one of which wasn’t too far from where we were so we cut across to 9th Avenue, through some slightly less classy streets, complete with guys yelling it each other about “Doin’ it the Nu Yoike way” or some such classic street banter. On the way we saw a shoe shop, and as I was after something cheap to wear with my whites uniform we popped in, where eventually I found a pair that would do, S also found some shoes, which made sense really as it was buy one get a second ½ price. From there it wasn’t too much further to the camera shop, and oh by gum what a camera shop, Dad would have been in heaven! There were different departments for film photography, digital, point and shoot, lighting, movies… You had to queue to see an advisor in the department you were shopping in (99% chance he’d be Jewish) They then looked up what kind of thing you wanted and got various models to show you, when you’d decided they give you a receipt for it and sent it to the collection point in a box on a roller conveyor system. You then had to go to the payment point, pay and then go to collect it further on, bit of a palaver! However I now have myself a neat little Fugi A150, which does everything I need and more, and only cost me $124.01 after tax.
We had less than two hours left by then so we headed back to Macy’s, where we perused the shoes and handbags at length. I am now the proud owner of a beautiful green leather handbag which has pockets galore and it’s own umbrella and purse! Happy then that we had fulfilled the C/O’s orders (“Book tour, buy shoes and handbags”) we went to the pick up point where a bus was conveniently waiting.
The ship wasn’t due to sail for an hour and a half when we got back so I decided to wander up to deck 13 for a spot of sunbathing on the phone. After half an hour of swearing at said phone and nearly throwing it overboard I gave up, it wouldn’t change to USA roaming, nor would it find any kind of network, turned out that the whole ship’s satellite system was down, so that might have had something to do with it. The sailaway was fantastic to be on deck for though, got some wonderful views of the city from there, especially when we went under the bridge only clearing it by about 4 meters!

August 24th
Today balanced yesterday rather nicely… I spent the day first following two of the guys, who were sanding, with grey primer and then re-tracing my steps (or to be more honest, bottom shuffles) with yellow paint. We were on Burma road, which is a crew area, but also the main thoroughfare for the working ship. Apparently, painting is a spectator sport!
Another cocktail party this evening, after which we caught the first bit of the Music of Sting show and then went for Chinese with Seco and Envo.

August 25th
Another day that started with painting, but not for too long, I phoned the C/O at 0930 to ask where we should be for the fire drill at 1000. Once again we joined the deck fire team at the muster station and were then directed to the fw’d mooring deck. The scenario was that two crew members had been last seen painting on stairway 1 which had filled with smoke, probably due to painting materials catching alight. From the mooring deck (deck 3) the fire teams had to search and rescue below first and then move up the stairway, which with a charged hose is pretty difficult, but when you have the added bonus of the stairway actually being filled with smoke and the weather being so hot and humid that you break a sweat without doing anything, then the scenario starts to feel pretty real! The C/O put us in the stair way to observe what was going on, the fake smoke made me choke so I used my hat as a mask as I didn’t want to start people worrying about me collapsing, but it was great to be able to see first hand what was going on as they found the two dummies and got them back down the companionways.
There was a full crew muster, which meant I had to get back up to deck 11 by the stairs to grab my lifejacket and then get back to my raft station, this job really is getting me fit!! After that we had touch drills on the bridge, where the officers have to talk though the procedures for different emergencies, ie steering gear failure, MOB, collision, grounding etc.
After lunch I was back on painting until after smoko when we went to the deck fire team’s debrief on the mooring deck. The guys had found it much more difficult with smoke taking vis down to 1/2mtr, and they learnt that their comms need to be better, gauge checks got missed, as did ladder and handrail cooling, also that casualties should be lowered down ladders/steep companionways not carried.
While we were getting ready for cocktails A gave us a heads up that there was a medevac happening later and there was a briefing at 1930. We showed our faces at the party for half an hour and then scooted back to our cabin to change and get some dinner before things started to happen. The ship had already started heading north in order to get closer to Canada where the helicopter was coming from, as we were pretty far out and they only have a range of 300 miles maximum. After the briefing we went to collect the high expansion foam kit with th SO and get it all up to deck 13 before we had a bit of time to relax. The fire team had been instructed to start getting ready at 2045, so they got there 10 minutes before and were all dressed and ready by the time I arrived! Up on deck we helped run out hoses, both deck and engine fire teams were there, with water hoses, foam hoses and high expansion foam so there was a lot to get ready for the rendezvous at 1045. The passengers had been removed from the cabins directly below the deck, and all had been instructed that the open decks were all closed and they must keep off the balconies too, so I felt rather privileged to be allowed to stand on the deck and watch (from as far back as possible). I videoed the whole operation with my new camera and we all breathed a sigh of relief when the helicopter left, the last thing anyone wants is to have to use any of the fire kit that’s standing by. People started clearing up and S and I helped put hoses away, which gained us brownie points for not just disappearing and we got told to turn to at 1000 next day as we’d not run off like most people. Bonus!

August 26th
Lie in- Oh what bliss it was to wake up at 0700 and turn over and snuggle back down for another two hours! And when we got to the paint store at 1000, all ready to go, the boatswain said, “Coffee time now!” Ah well…
The main part of my day was taken up by painting, although after afternoon smoko we joined the SO and the deck fire team for a walkthrough of one of the galley areas on deck 7. They’re going over a different part of the ship each day at the moment, and as S and I will be put into the fire team at some point it makes a lot of sense to learn as much as we can!

Last leg

12th June 2008

Days 59 – 64
Faial to Sao Miguel

Our first full day in Horta was a very relaxed affair, we pottered about the town a little, looking at the shops, the most popular of which was “The Chinese Shop” it sold anything and everything, from ball dresses to toy catapults, with some very dodgy items in between! The weather wasn’t particularly kind that day, with occasional showers and general greyness, but a few people went for walks along the shore anyway and most of us ended up in Peters bar at some point. They do very good steaks there, which, of course, was the main attraction ;-). We didn’t stay out all that late that evening and I ended up sitting on deck with a small contingent, sharing a few songs before hitting my bunk.

The next day was much better, we had a large grey cloud sitting above us for the first part of the morning, but there was blue sky on either side of it and eventually it got the message and went elsewhere. There were two excursions organised for the day; Lesley, David and a few others had booked a taxi to take them up to the Caldeira and pick them up after a couple of hours, and Clover had signed six of us up for a jeep tour of the island. We met our guide at about half two and set off, going inland though immaculate little villages and lush green pasture land. Being a volcanic island, it goes up pretty fast as you move in and we soon started to Ooh and Ah over the view. We went past a couple of little baby volcano hills, there are many of these around the island, they’re called smoke pots locally, little offshoots from the main vent of the mountain, I just thought they were cute! Our guide was exceedingly friendly and chatty, telling us all about everything we saw and his life on the island too, he moved from Lisbon because he fell in love with a girl, and fell in love with the island, and I can quite see why! He took us off the main roads, down bumpy forest trails where exciting spicy woodland smells came in though the windows, I wish I could have bottled that smell, it was all mossy and peaty, dried pine needles and wet leaves… heavenly.

Our first stop was at a forest park, one of several places around the island where families gather at weekends. The trees are mainly laurel and a type of brazilian pine with towering tree ferns among them too. Cinder paths have been laid, rough stone or wooden tables with little matching seats or benches dotted between the trees and they’ve built a barbeque hut, beyond compare, out of the volcanic stone. It was five sided with a fire place on each face, free wood stacked underneath each, and a central flue up the middle. The whole place was beautifully clean, without a single piece of litter, even though the area is obviously well used by the islanders. I passed a long low building which was open on one side and divided into about six rooms, each with a long table down the middle, the one on the end was full of a large family party having a meal, they were having a grand old time and offered me drinks in return for taking their picture, I was greatly tempted, but I didn’t have long and had to pass.

We continued on to the furthest end from Horta, where the newest part of the land rears up in front of the lighthouse that used to mark the coast. The landscape here is in stark contrast to the lush greenness of the rest of the island, brown and grey and dusty, it is already eroding fast, leaving contour lines along the slopes and small canyons where the rain has washed the soft ground away. The volcano erupted in 1957, burying the few houses that were there and obliterating the harbour. The slipway is all that is left, the rocks around it make a sheltered pool of water where the islanders swim in summer, with the waves crashing ferociously on the other side. It wasn’t warm enough to swim there yet but there were a few people with fishing lines instead, I didn’t see many fish but in the rock pools there was a collection of Men o’ War that would have made me think twice about jumping in, no matter what the weather!

Our journey took us along the north coast for a while before we turned inland once more and headed for the main attraction, pausing briefly at Lovers Fount to taste the fresh spring water straight from the ground, and then taking the least foggy route to the top. The grey cloud that had been sitting above the peak all morning looked fairly set to stay but we decided it was worth a go anyway. When we got to the end of the road and got out it was low but still above us. The edge of the rim is quite sharp, wide enough for a path (which is the route the other party from the ship had chosen for their walk) but not wide enough for people to stand comfortably and enjoy the view. So they’ve put in a viewing platform just down from the top on the inside, connecting the outside world via a moss lined tunnel through the rock. Going through the tunnel and stepping out the other side feels like stepping into another world, the Caldeira drops away suddenly inside the rim, 400 meters down to the floor, where a miniature version of a volcano sits, covered in what looks like moss from so high up, but is in fact bushes and trees. Beside this hillock are two lakes, which come and go with the weather, they used to be a permanent lagoon but seismic movements have opened up cracks which drains the water into the rock below. The cloud was just above our heads, hiding the opposite rim from sight, but the wind was blowing into our faces, making the clouds fall and then drift up again so we caught glimpses of the other side from time to time. Outside the Caldeira the view was stunning, all the way down to the coast, which was bathed in glorious sunshine.

Our last stop was on a hill overlooking Horta and the harbour before we were dropped off at the quayside. Back on the boat we met the other group who’d been out, their day had not gone so well unfortunately, the clouds had been lower that morning and they had found themselves in thick fog as they walked the rim path. Even worse, Anthony slipped on some wet grass and sprained his ankle. The police were called and came out to find them, using the siren to draw the party to the car, and they were taken down to the town in style. At the police station they found the taxi driver who was supposed to pick them up had reported them for fare dodging when they hadn’t showed up to be taken home, all in all, not such a great day! It all got sorted out though, Anthony was X-rayed at the hospital and is now hobbling about with his ankle strapped up and taking it easy as much as possible, hopefully he’ll be recovered enough for the Tall Ships Race, which he’s set his heart on doing.

One of the things that makes Horta so special is the paintings, done by the crews that have passed through, on the harbour walls and quays. It’s a tradition that goes back a long way and is supposed to ensure safe passage home. Not wanting to risk anything, and also because it’s nice to leave your mark on a place, Polly and Jessie set to with the paints and produced a stunning design for us. Jules also did a painting, based on one of her beautiful photos of the ship at sunset, so theoretically, we should have a really great passage home!

We left Horta after lunch the next day and had a very pleasant afternoons sailing between the islands of Pico and Sao Jorge. I felt rather disorientated that night when I wandered out on deck, there were lights all around us and I’ve become so used to staring out at nothing in the dark now that it was a complete shock!

In the morning we met the Tall Ships Youth Trust ship Stavros S. Niarchos off the south end of Sao Jorge and made a few evolutions with them. I got sent out in the RIB with my camera to record the occasion and got some lovely shots of the pair of us. We couldn’t hang about for long though as we still had over 100 miles to go to get to our destination, so we waved goodbye and carried on. The skies remained grey but we made good time and by breakfast the next day we were cruising along the coast of Sao Miguel.

We anchored off the town of Vila Franca do Campo, near to a tiny volcanic island called Baxia das Cracas. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but when we took the RIB in we were presented with the most beautiful lagoon, surrounded by rocks ranging from a few feet above the water to towering cliffs. I and some of the others spent the afternoon there, scrambling up the rocks to admire the view, paddling along the weird semi circular beach that had water on both sides and enjoying the sunshine. A few brave souls went swimming too, myself included, I borrowed a snorkel and mask and saw lots of beautifully coloured fish in the rocky parts where the water was washing through the cracks in the cliff from the other side. I went out to the deepest part too, swimming happily along until I saw a jelly fish, at which point I back-tracked at great speed! After my swim I climbed up another part of the cliffs and was rewarded by another fantastic view but I also enraged the nesting seagulls who dive-bombed me, screaming their displeasure, it was worth it though and I returned to the ship a happy girl.

We’d picked up some new people earlier in the afternoon; Nick, who left us in Antigua; Bob, who’s another old Astrid fan; Ben, Alison’s son, and Georgie, who’s an old school friend of Jessie’s. She’d kept it a secret that she was coming out and so the two greeted each other with much squealing and tears. The watches have been re-jigged and I am now Forward Port watch’s leader, with LJon, Ben, Georgie and Nick as my team. Polly’s now leader of After Starboard, and has Rachel, Mick, Ray and James with her, Rob is still Aft Port, but now has Eric, David, Lesley and Anthony on his team. Poor Ant has lost his watch to Alison as he can’t really do the job on a sprained ankle, so she is now in charge of Forward Starboard, with Jules, Jessie, Terry and Bob to keep her company. We have sadly lost a couple of crew, Becky has gone back to her other job and Oli is taking some leave. Lucinda is doing a fantastic job in the galley now, but we shall continue to miss both leavers greatly. Clover is still with us, but is not in the watch system any more, as the medic she needs to be available at all times and so she is now going to fill her days as a day worker, helping Bosun Keith with the battle against rust, which we are currently winning, I am pleased to say.

There was a festive air that evening on the ship, we ate a fine feast on deck to welcome the newcomers and celebrate our achievements so far, the weather helped matters by being gorgeous too. We were visited by a local fishing boat, who first tried to sell us fish and then rather cheekily asked for beer too. They went away but then returned a little later asking us for a battery, as we didn’t have such a thing there was little we could do and they started back to the shore, at which point their engine died so we ended up launching the RIB and giving them a tow back. Silly Portuguese people!

We motored to Porta Delgada the next morning, had a wander around the town in the afternoon and then whole crew had a meal in a mariners bar that Captain Mike knows of old. The owner put on a slap up meal for us and we stayed long into the night, wobbling home merrily in the small hours.

TA2 Days 65-68
Sao Miguel and Northwards

After watching the Stavros come into the harbour we moved off and set sail for Old Blighty. It was a beautiful day and we put all the square sails up hopefully, unfortunately there was very little wind, as we were sheltered by the high cliffs of the south coast, so we took them down again and motored until we got around the headland. Once round the corner we got into a big swell on our nose, and found some wind blowing from the north west, so up the sails went again and we started on the long passage north, accompanied for a while by some large grey dolphins who put on a lovely show for us!

Our first day back at sea was decreed mental health day due to tiredness and sea sickness, so no happy hour and no classes 🙂 We were sailing well first thing in the morning on my watch but by late afternoon the wind had moved around further to the north, forcing us to head toward the Spanish coast, which we don’t want to do, so at sunset all hands handed sail in record time and we put the motor on for the night, hoping to find some better wind in the morning.

The news was good at morning meeting, the wind had come back round to the west a bit and we could start sailing again. The sun was shinning and we were cracking on nicely, when disaster struck. The main fuel line for the engine and generators had fractured and diesel was leaking into the bilge. The ship went into total blackout, no running water, no heads, no air con, anything that wasn’t immediately vital was turned off to save the emergency power supplies. Clover quickly got a ‘chuck-a-bucket’ system organised for those needing to relieve themselves and the engineer and crew got on with trying to sort out a repair. We were still under sail, enjoying the peaceful sounds of nothing but water and rigging and when we spotted a cargo ship on the horizon heading our way. We hailed them and asked if they had any engineering supplies we could have. As luck would have it, they had a spare pipe and LJon and Bosun Keith were sent over in the RIB to collect it. We hove to and they were soon back with the precious pipe.

It wasn’t quite as simple as all that though, the pipe wasn’t an exact match and the fittings needed to be altered to connect it properly, to do this the engineers needed a welder, which we have, but we had no power….. Somehow, miraculously, Chiefy got one of the generators going, giving Mick, who’d volunteered his skills as a agricultural engineer, the power he needed to do the welding. Meanwhile, we tacked ship and started sailing back in the direction we had come from, the Azores were still less than 200 miles away, by far the closest land, and if the worst came to the worst and we couldn’t get it fixed, we’d only be looking at corned beef sandwiches for a couple of days. However, by the late afternoon I heard a familiar sound, the air con starting up again, and then the engine coming on! We tacked once more and set sail for home again, marvelling over such amenities as flushing heads and electric light!

After about an hour of sailing, it became apparent that the wind wasn’t going to play nicely, so we took in the squares, leaving the spanker and jib up, and motor sailed through the night.

Today the wind has continued to play it’s own little game, it’s far too northerly to sail in the direction we want to go in, so we are continuing to motor- sail, keeping as close to the wind as we can. Watch this morning wasn’t a particularly fun experience, cold and grey with intermittent drizzle, a lovely welcome back on deck for Ant, who’s been swapped into my watch with Nick and is now fit enough to stand (well, sit, really) lookout duty.

I can smell chocolate cake wafting out of the galley as I write, it’s Jessie’s birthday today so I expect there shall be some fun and games later.

TA2 Days 68 (Continued) and 69.
Still going North.

Well, Jessie is now a grand old lady of 19 years and we acknowledged her birthday in the traditional Pelican manner- as a special treat she didn’t have to scrub the heads yesterday, just change the bin bags and top up the bog rolls! We also had a little party in the evening for her, Jules organised some geography based fun and games to entertain us before the cake was finally brought out. The smells of which, wafting from the galley all afternoon as I got myself up to date on the blog, had me near drooling, and we were not disappointed by the final product!

The wind had died almost completely by this morning, which made our passage much smoother, we still had a swell coming over from the north west but were no longer crashing down into the troughs so much. There was hope on the horizon that a wind in the right direction was coming our way, but meanwhile we continued to motor. It has been a good day for whales though, which always brightens us up, I was on helm at about 1300 when two big Minki whales surfaced about 20 yards from us on the port beam. The previous watch had also had sightings and later in the afternoon we were visited by yet more, all fairly close to the boat, which surprised me a little as I would have thought the noise of the engine would have put them off.

Our hopes and prayers for a decent wind were finally answered this evening, just after first sitting for supper the watches on deck were called to put up the sails and the engine was turned off. After 2 days of motoring it was weirdly quiet; we still have the generators going, which previously we would have considered to be quite noisy, but we now appreciate them a whole lot more, given recent events! Right, off to bed for me, I’ve only got an hour and a half before watch!!

TA2 Days 70-72
Heading Northeast now….

The wind dropped off again to a rather pathetic force 3 on Sunday and we made slow progress as we waited for the weather to change. According to the forecast, there was wind blowing strongly and in the right direction just above us, so we plodded on. The weather has become noticeably colder as we come north, and all but a brave few are now in long trousers. Most of us are choosing to spend much less time on deck, opting more for the snug warmth of our pits or the elegance of the saloon. Polly was up on the Poop for much of the afternoon though, working on two massive Turks head knot mats around the spanker sheet blocks. We had been using a doormat up until now to protect the deck, but these look far better and stand no chance of being washed overboard either. I meant to get some rest that day but ended up doing homework and learning how to do a good whipping with Keith. (That’s rope work, not the other sort…. Oh I’m not making it sound any better am I?) Anyway…

We came up on deck for watch at 0400 yesterday morning and all was much the same, about 5 knots of wind were taking us no-where fast. The Mate decided to bring the furling jib in as it wasn’t doing much, and thank god he did. As we were up on the foredeck handing it in the wind suddenly picked up to 20 knots and whipped round to the other side of us, sending sails flogging all over the place and the watch into a frenzy of activity. We sheeted in the remaining jib, braced the yards and sheeted in the coarse, took in the royal, went aloft to stow it, then came down again to take in the t’gallant and then back up to stow that one. We were absolutely knackered after all that but still had to do a deck scrub before breakfast! The wind blew a hoolie all day, at one point we got up to 9 kt when I was on the helm in the evening, albeit only briefly, most of the time she was doing about 8.5 kt. We were in a huge swell, rollers 5 meters high came sweeping past, tipping the ship alarmingly at times, it looked as if we were in for a lumpy night.

This morning I awoke refreshed, having used my earplugs last night I missed the beeping that was coming through the tannoy and keeping everyone else awake most of the night. The wind had fallen off a fair bit by breakfast and we wore ship at about midday as the wind is slowly moving round again, the lumpiness has dropped off along with the wind, although we are still bobbing about a fair bit, I’m hoping it might become a little flatter by 4 (in about an hour) as we have ‘THE GREAT PELICAN EGG DROP’ then. Each watch has been given an egg (ours is named Derek) and the challenge is to construct something to prevent the egg from breaking when dropped from the main top platform, points are awarded for design, presentation, keeping it whole and highest drop achived. I have high hopes for our watch’s entry, the ‘Blue Beehive’ a multi layered cocoon, involving (in order from inside out) loo paper, an ear bud tub, cereal that no-one wants to eat, a plastic jar, my travel pillow and some fantastic knotwork ;-).

Afterwards…

Well, our egg survived but we were pipped to the post by Aft Starboard’s Bumblebee which flew a little further than our behive, and their secondary entry deserves much accolade too, the prototype for next year’s competition which was Ray’s ingenious design, he’s come up with a mind power tube through which the egg will travel as it falls, slowing itself down with the power of it’s own thoughts. Going through three stages, it first enters the Bosun’s section, where it finds itself in ‘Happy Hour’ and relaxes, experiencing a sense of laise faire, thus slowing down. In the second section it enters the wheel house, a place of poor communication and misinformation, so confused it becomes by all this, that it stops in it’s descent completely. In the third section, if all else fails and it makes it that far, it enters the galley, where it will find itself in a poaching centrifuge, which will scare it so much that it goes shooting back up the tube!

Forward Starboard came third, their egg remaining whole in it’s rocket, which came with instructions for safe landing on the side, which must have made all the difference. In final place was Aft Port’s entry, a bag of jelly, which went splat, along with their egg.

We celebrated David’s birthday that evening, Lesley had made him a chocolate cake which we ate with gusto, washing it down with a glass or two of wine. I found myself annoyed that I’d had a drink later, as when we were changing watch at midnight we needed to hand the royal, I’ve not been up the mast in the dark and was looking forward to this new experience, but as I’d had a drink hours earlier, the captain wouldn’t allow me to go up.

TA2 Day 73
Getting there..

I was on mess duty that day and thanked my lucky stars for it as the weather was truly antisocial. We were battling through wind and rain in a big swell, which had gotten bigger since we’d gone up from the deep ocean to the comparative shallows of the continental ledge, waves were flying over the deck on a regular basis and everyone spent several minutes dripping in the doorway before coming in properly! It was interesting being in the galley, I had to stand guard over things many a time, in case they decided to hurl themselves across the room, as it was, only three plates died that day, and Lucinda produced two stunning meals for us all, that woman deserves a medal!

TA2 Days 74 – 77
The English Channel!!!

The next day the weather had calmed itself and we had a good day’s sailing, we were getting into the bottom end of the English Channel by then and starting to see lots of ships, it made good revision for our RYA lights and shapes and rules of the road lessons, actually putting these things into practice hammers home how important they are. On dead watch (0000- 04000) that morning, amongst several other sets of lights around us, we spotted a single green light- a yacht, what we didn’t realise was how close it was until quite late, I was on helm at the time and suddenly found myself getting orders like “Port 20!, Starboard 10!” Once we had gone around it’s stern, it was easier to see how close it was, Ben radioed them and told them that they weren’t showing up on the radar, which came as a surprise to them I think, as they told us they had a radar reflector hoisted. Just goes to show the importance of keeping a good look out!

Later that day we gained a new member of crew, a racing pigeon, who stayed with us for about 24 hours, cadging a lift to France, he pottered around the deck, pecking at any brown shoes he saw in the hopes of food!

When I came up on deck for watch the next morning at 0400 we could see Alderny. The previous watch had been looking at it for some time too, the tide was against us at a rate of about 6kts so we weren’t actually making any progress. They said that at one point the ship had gone backwards! Luckily the tide turned soon after and we left the island behind as we headed for the French mainland. A good deck scrub got rid of the pigeon poo left by our feathered friend, (although he swiftly started undoing our good work!) and we finally got into Cherbourg just before midday.

Everyone was keen to get ashore and the ship was left eerily quiet, I decided to hang back and enjoy the calm before going ashore a little later. When I did head out, I expected to bump into people in the nearest bar, but they’d all managed to get a little further than the sea front, so I got myself an English newspaper and spent the afternoon sipping kir outside a little café bar and catching up on events back home, lovely and peaceful! Mick and Rachel found me there at about 6 and we went on together for a meal, indulging ourselves in a glut of seafood before meandering on to the Marina bar where we met up with Ben and Jules for one more drink. It was meant to be an early night for me as we had our RYA exam in the morning, but we ended up wandering home at nearly midnight!

We sat the exam after happy hour, generally it went well, though the French journalist who popped in near the end and started taking photos of us was a little off-putting! After that we were free to spend the afternoon as we wished before dinner. Lucinda did us an amazing ‘Last Supper’ of roast beef with all the trimmings and then, feeling rather full we headed out toward England. We were accompanied out of the harbour by a dolphin, who seemed to enjoy playing chicken with the RIB as it nudged the ship off the mooring. Sadly the wind was in exactly the wrong direction for us, so our last night at sea was done under motor. Forward Port stood our last watch of the voyage from 2000 to 0000, dodging ships in the busy traffic of the Channel made it a lot more exciting than usual too! It was a lovely night though and we were treated to one last stunning sunset before the stars came out to see us on our way.

TA2 Day 77
Weymouth!!!!!!!!!!

It was rather an odd sensation after all these months to come out on deck and see such a familiar coastline, there was Portland Bill, the chalk man and his horse, the cliffs of the Dorset coast, Portland Harbour, and nestling in the middle, Weymouth. We set sails one more time to do a little showing off out in the bay and then it was all hands aloft to stow for the last time. As we approached the harbour a small flotilla came out to greet us, friends and family shouting greetings across the water to the crew from yachts, dingys and small motor boats. We couldn’t stop and chat though as we had to man the yards as we came in, our PA system blasting out Monty Python and firecrackers exploding as a certain crewmember chucked them out from where they were standing on the topsail. I’d bagged myself a spot on the royal the night before so I had a fantastic view of everything. There was a band playing on the quay and a good crowd had turned out to see us come in. Something had to go wrong though, the wind was blowing us off the quay so it took us ages to get alongside, and we bumped the bow a bit, which was rather embarrassing! Still, it was only a little bump and nothing got broken, and all else was forgotten as the gangplank was put out and loved ones came aboard to welcome us home, drinks were laid on and the party started!

So that’s it, we’re home, my grand adventure is over…. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over the last few days, working out what to do next and the conclusion I’ve come to is fairly obvious if you know me. This is in my blood, metaphorically speaking, there’s no way I’ll ever be happy working on land, so I’ll be off to sea again. I’m already looking into enrolling on a deck officer course which would qualify me as an Officer of the Watch. With that under my belt I’ll be able to make good money on the tankers and cargo ships for some of the time, and then be able to go and play on the sailing ships for the rest. Running away to sea isn’t nearly so romantic as it sounds, the next three years will probably be quite dull a lot of the time, but I’ve finally found what it is I’m going to be good at, and in 10 years time I’m aiming to be Chief Officer on the Pelican, so watch this space!!

Life on the ocean wave – Crossing the Atlantic

21st May 2008

TA 2 Days 44 – 46
Bermuda to the Really Big Blue Yonder

How lovely it is to be sailing again, after all the waiting and uncertainty our freezer part arrived on Monday afternoon and the engineers worked late into the night to get it fitted and working for us, those guys deserve a medal. We were up early on Tuesday to get the frozen stores back on board before heading over to the dockyard to bunker alongside, and then we were off out into the big blue yonder. Bermuda disappeared over the horizon pretty quickly as we made way and the new crew started to find their sea legs. Some fared better than others, Mick turned the same colour as his shirt (pale green) and Terry turned ashen, poor loves. I am pleased to say that they’ve now returned to their normal colours and are doing fine. The highlight of the day was when Jules was surprised up on the foredeck by an orca (killer whale) blowing almost next to her, two more gracefully surfaced on the starboard bow briefly, only about 10m from the ship, a fantastic sight on our first day out! We had set off in fine sunshine with a stiff breeze but by the time Aft Starboard came up on deck for the First Dog watch (1600 – 1800), the sky was grey and dull and as we reached the end of the watch the rain started.

It was a miserable night for all the watches by all accounts, the rain was horizontal at times and when we got up for Morning watch (0400 – 0800) it was still going, it eased off gradually though, and as the first fingers of dawn reached out there were slivers of sky to be seen. By mid-morning it had become a glorious day with not a cloud in sight and we were able to take our ease on deck. Those of us doing the Day Skipper theory had a lesson on fixes and tides in the afternoon, which made my brain go a bit fuzzy as I was tired, but I got my head around it all later when doing my homework, always remember: True Virgins Make Dull Company!!

After a good nights unbroken sleep (the joy of a four watch system!) I was full of beans this morning, Forenoon watch passed uneventfully enough, with a nice break in the middle when Keith the Mate gave us a talk on sail trimming, I know now that we are not pushed by our sails, we are sucked by them, (unless we are running before the wind, when we are pushed). Polly’s brand new fishing lure has sadly been lost, something seems to have bitten it off over night, so she and Jessie are now improvising with some old bits and pieces they found on board, I hope they manage to get us something during the voyage, fresh fish is always such a treat! Everyone is settling down into the ships routine nicely now, hopefully in a day or so we’ll start some fun and games to keep us entertained, meanwhile we have lessons to get to grips with, and some sunbathing to do!

TA 2 days 47 – 49

It has begun. There is murder afoot. Four people were killed off today, and I have my suspicions that the sweet and lovely Mrs Hinton is the perpetrator of more than one of these heinous crimes. Alright, so I may have killed someone myself, and have my sights on my next victim, but it’s now kill or be killed on the Pelican, and it’s all Becky’s fault anyway…

Since I last wrote, we’ve had two days of glorious sunshine and today, which has been much less glorious but a heck of a lot of fun. On Friday we played with the mizzen topsail, which is the one sail that isn’t attached to any rigging and has to be hoisted up from the deck in a sausage. To prevent it from unravelling and flogging all over the place while it’s going up it’s tied with bits of rotten cotton, or in our case red knitting wool. Once in position above the spanker it gets sheeted out, the wool breaks as we heave on the rope, allowing the sail to unfurl. It worked first time, which I think even the Mate was slightly surprised at, though unfortunately our speed went down after we’d put it up. We also still have bits of red wool hanging off the rigging, which I think looks rather pretty, so I’m up for putting it up again!

Yesterday the wind started picking up a bit more, getting up to about 20 knots at times, the sunshine continued and after a busy morning of happy hour and rope-work lessons I found a bit of time to lounge on the foredeck after lunch. No sooner had I laid myself down on the deck though, and Keith the Mate was there asking me to pull on ropes because he wanted to play with the foresail. A voyage crew’s work is never done! I did get to go up the mast a couple of times though, which I always enjoy, I think in the end I managed about 20 minutes of sitting in the sun, and then it was time for class in the mess. We’re now learning how to calculate the course to steer, taking into account the tide, variation (the difference between magnetic north and true north, which is slowly but constantly changing) and deviation (how much your compass is out due to all the metal and electronic things you have around). It’s a bit of a brain ache sometimes, but I actually find all my mistakes are due to moments of utter blondeness, like pointing the plotter the wrong way along a line, even though it has a big blue arrow on one end of it saying COURSE! In the evening, as it was Saturday night, we had a pub quiz, with each round of questions compiled by a different watch. We were even allowed drinks, only two each, but in the middle of the Atlantic, after 5 days at sea, a glass of wine was a massive treat!! When the scores were totted up, Aft Starboard watch came second only to the permanent crew team, so we’re feeling quite smug with ourselves.

Today we had Morning watch (0400 – 0800) with a climb at the end of it to gasket the royal up; a sheet (that’s a rope to most of you) broke just as I was making tea to keep us going for the last hour, leaving one side of the sail flogging. The wind had increased steadily overnight and has stayed pretty consistent all day, it’s gone up to about 30 knots, which means we are now hooning along at an average of about 9.5 knots!! The sky has been grey all day and the sea has started throwing itself at us over the side occasionally, this is what I imagined it would be like! I’ve decided I like Sundays on board, we don’t have to do happy hour, (though the heads always get done) we don’t have lessons, and the captain invited the watch leaders to join the permanent crew for Sunday Service. This has me confused when I was told about it, apparently it’s a tradition, so I figured I’d just go along with it… What it turned out to be in fact was drinks (one each) and nibbles in the saloon, huzzah!! (Sshh though! It’s a bit naughty!!) After lunch the fun started, Becky has organised a game of Murder for us; each member of the crew has been given a contract on someone else, specifying a location and a weapon. To kill your victim you have to be in the right place and touch them with the object, you then take on their contract and pursue whoever they were supposed to kill. This should keep us entertained for days, as we are all now becoming increasingly paranoid and on the watch for people approaching us with random objects. Some of the locations are going to be very difficult to get the victim to as well, I thought James was looking at me funny this evening as we made ready to go up and stow the t’gallant, I was sure he was going to try and job me on the yardarm!

TA2 Days 50 – 58

Blimey! It’s been over a week since I wrote anything, and as we’ll be arriving in Horta tomorrow I need to get everything down so I can send the news home as soon as we get there, well, maybe after a visit to the much talked about Pete’s bar…

So, I last wrote on Sunday, when we were going great guns in winds up to force 7 and getting rather damp from the spray and waves coming over the side. My watch fared pretty well that day as we got a full nights sleep, but the other watches got the brunt of it in the small hours when the wind rose up a bit more and the rain started, apparently there was a waterfall coming off the spanker at one point! It calmed down as the daylight came in and by the time we came out on deck it was just another averagely grey day in a big old swell. We had good news at the morning meeting though, we’d done 200 miles in a 24 hour period!!(That was 3am-3am which I suppose is cheating a little, in the 0000-0000 period we only did 198 miles, but that still beats Pelican’s previous record!)

The day passed uneventfully until the evening when we were joined by a large pod of dolphins who played in the bow wake for quite a while, much to the delight of all on board as we’d not seen any up until that point. Since then we’ve seen quite a variety of dolphins and they’ve become a less of a novelty. We had a pod join us a few days ago which Ben announced to the ship over the tannoy in the most bored tone of voice possible, as if he was back at Kings Cross Station telling us the train was delayed.

Tuesday started off equally grey and wobbly, with a fair old mist around us too which made the world look smaller than usual. Just after lunch we spotted a mast on the horizon, a cause for some excitement as the closest we’ve been to another ship has been several miles. This one was a small yacht, looking very small against the swell which hadn’t abated since the stormy weather of the previous days. The bridge hailed it on the radio several times, but received no response, so the decision was quickly made to hand the sails and go and see if they were alright. The crew responded magnificently and we had the sails in in a trice. We motored back toward it, noticing as we got closer that it was looking distinctly haggard. The jibs, though stowed, were hanging over the side of the bowsprit, and the mizzen mast was down across the stern, lines were hanging in the water all over the place and there was a life ring over the side too. We launched the RIB as per the drill we’d practiced in Hamilton for emergencies and sent Keith, Keith and Little Jon over to investigate. We watched anxiously as they drove over the huge swells and Keith the Mate boarded the vessel, he checked it thoroughly and they then returned with a bag containing the ships documents, there had been no-one on board, but there were bags packed and ready to go on the bunks. The captain put a call out to the coastguard and they were able to shed a little light on the situation, the two person crew had been rescued by another boat a few days previously, leaving the boat to drift after she broke her tow. The documents that were retrieved told us some more about how they’d come to grief, Keith the Mate read us excepts from the log the next day as a lesson on how little problems can so easily mount up into disasters, and a reminder that tiredness is just as dangerous as a gale.

After the sobering events of the day we had a complete switch of mood for the evening, it was Alison’s wedding anniversary so we had a party to celebrate. Everyone got dressed up in their finest togs and we had cake and toasted the happy couple. As Alison’s husband isn’t on board, James kindly stood in for him as he and Alison share the same surname!

Wednesday passed peacefully enough, the weather had improved somewhat, but not enough to get everyone out sunbathing yet. The highlight of the afternoon was a pod of whales passing us, not particularly close, but still closer than most of the ones we’ve seen, they were being followed by dolphins too, leaping clear out of the water as they dashed along, presumably after the fish the whales were hunting.

By Thursday lunchtime the weather had improved beyond all measure, the sky was blue, the sun was shinning, but, unfortunately, this also meant that the wind had died! Captain Mike decided it was a good opportunity for a photo run in the RIB for those of us who wanted to get some pics of Peli in full sail. We had nearly everything up, including the Mizzen Topsail and she looked glorious against the blue sky, bearing down on the little RIB as we crossed in front of her to get the best aspects. Sadly the wind didn’t pick up at all and by late evening we were only doing abut 2.5 kt, it was only then that Mike finally admitted defeat and we stuck the engine on at about 10.

When I awoke in the morning things were peaceful again, which had to be a good sign. Sure enough the wind had picked up a bit so the donkey had been put to bed and the squares had been re-set. We had a lovely day sailing on smooth seas and the sun stayed with us all day which got everyone out on deck trying to boost our fading Caribbean tans.

Written on Wednesday, Horta.

The fair weather stayed with us for Saturday, it wasn’t quite as warm as the day before though so the tanning saloon didn’t open. Most of the day was spent creating our costumes for the evening’s party, it was open fancy dress and everyone rallied to the call magnificently (mainly because the rule was no costume, no beer!) We were an eclectic bunch that night, the party was made up of a priest (our esteemed Captain), a nun (Polly), a fireman (Oli), Colonel Gadafi (Rob), Bob the Builder (Engineer Mike), Somerset Maughan (Ray), Crocodile Dundee (Mick), an Admiral (Ben finding any excuse to put leggings on!), a greek goddess (Rachel), a diver (Lucinda), a mermaid (Becky), a gypsy (Jules), an engineer in a very tight boiler suit (Anthony in James’ suit), two jellyfish (David and Alison), a fender (Jessie), a south Cardinal buoy (Lesley), LJon came as Jessie (just an excuse to wear her bra and dress again!), James came as Francis, complete with the hairstyle and speech mannerisms, and I went as a carrot. As to why I decided on a carrot I am still at a loss, it seemed like a good idea at the time I suppose… We had a good laugh that night, our nun got groped quite a lot by the priest and the Admiral, (she didn’t seem to complain), and it seemed to me that there was a beautiful love affair starting between the fireman and our pseudo Jessie!

Sunday is a day of rest, so there was no happy hour and no lessons, we’ve been kept busy all through the week with our day skipper course and the subsequent homework, so it was nice to have a day off. The permanent crew and watchleaders held a Sunday service once again, purifying our souls with holy water (the fizzy kind, with a bit of gin to give it some flavour…) I do like Sundays!

On Monday it was back to the grindstone, the day skipper lessons aren’t getting any easier, we’re now working on calculating the tide fall to figure out if there’ll be enough water underneath the boat at low water, it involves tables and graphs and maths, which I’ve not had to deal with since school, which feels like a long time ago now! We were only about 90 miles from Horta in the evening, when Chiefy came up from the food store with some bad news, the freezer had died again, a cracked pipe this time. The freezer stays cold for quite a long time, especially if the door stays closed, but even so, we had to stick the motor on to get us to Horta as soon as we could. We took in the squares and while my watch and the watch due on after us ate supper, the other two watches went aloft to do a good harbour stow on them; finally I had my chance… I’d been waiting for Anthony to go aloft for the whole week, carrying my vicious weapon (dental floss) in my pocket. I eschewed pudding and timed my arrival on the main top to meet him as he came down and got him as he set foot on the platform, a most satisfying kill! That day was particularly bloody in fact, 3 or 4 people died, there’s only 7 of us left now, since Chiefy killed the black widow this morning (in the dive locker with a piece of toast!) I’ll give a full run down of the murders when the game is over, we who are left are busy puzzling over how to get our next victim, while trying to keep an eye on who’s still alive and how to avoid them!

Anyway, yesterday mornings wake up call was “We’ve arrived!” Peering out of the porthole we could see green stuff, with white and red bits on it too… Land! Houses! Uncensored amounts of BEER!! We moored up on a commercial berth while we waited for a big djinn place to shove off and then came across to the marina side of the harbour a few hours later. Then, finally, we were allowed ashore, by mid afternoon most of the crew was in Peters Bar, which we’ve heard so much about. It’s a proper mariners bar, the walls and ceilings covered in burgees and flags from boats that have passed through over the years, there are notes pinned to the wood above the bar for other boat crews to pick up and they also have a scrimshaw museum in the back which I’m hoping to have a nose round later. My watch pulled the short straw for night duty so I didn’t get wrecked, instead I got a good laugh at the drunkards as they wobbled back in the wee small hours. Still, now we’ve done our night we are free to go out for the next three nights, look out Horta, here I come!!!