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At sea - Week 1

At Sea - Week 1

When last heard from, we were just on the point of leaving Bermuda’s St George’s Harbour at 15:30 on Tuesday April 16, with pilot aboard and followed by the pilot boat. Pilot escorted us from our dockside mooring to the opening of the narrow passage that opens out to the Atlantic and then having hopped aboard the pilot boat that had pulled up alongside, left us to the open sea.

Leaving Bermuda

Leaving Bermuda

Every scrap of sail that she could carry was then raised, the inner and outer jib, the staysail, and the fore, main and mizzen sails. Winds were from the NW at about 10-12 knots gusting to 15 and we were making about 6-7 knots through the water and on a SE course. Not the best heading for the Azores, we needed to be pointing NE, but had to work with what the winds gave us.

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I’m not usually suceptible to sea sickness but I knew I was in trouble from the off. We had swells that were about 3-4 metres in height running parallel to the boat coming on to our port side and as we rose to meet them we were rolling pretty severely. Added to that was the slight pitch from our 6 knot forward advance as we met the seas. My first watch was due to start at 1800 and at 1730 our watch was told that we had 1/2 hour for dinner before the start of our watch. I stepped down into the saloon where we take our meals and I saw from the blackboard that the night’s menu was a pea and mint risotto. That did it for me. I just kept walking through the saloon and down the companionway stairs to my cabin, covered in a cold, clammy sweat and I knew that the time had come to pray for a quick death, painful or painless couldn’t have mattered less, so long as it was quick.

Swallowed a Kwells anti-nausea pill as well as a couple of Advil PM’s, fell into my bunk and consigned myself to my fate. Fortunately, thanks to the Advil PM’s, fairly quickly fell asleep but with the less than comforting thought running through my mind that no matter what I did or said or how badly I felt, there was no getting off the boat for the next 15 or 16 days.

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Awoke next morning feeling significantly better, at least in comparison to the previous night, but by no means at the top of my form. Winds had come up considerably in the night and our first full day at sea was a template for the next 7 or 8 days. Over that period winds varied from Force 6 to Force 8 and the seas were running at 3 or 4 metres with periodic swells as high as 8 metres which I have to tell you is pretty exciting as you watch the wall of water approach the ship. We were sailing through a high pressure cell so the sun was shining brilliantly, the sky was blue and relatively clear of clouds and the colour of the sea was a deep, limpid indigo, Venetian glass brought to life. If it weren’t for the 8 meters swells that were trying to sink us, it would have been perfect!

Taking in the outer jib

Taking in the outer jib

Sea legs came in a day or so but it I continue to take a prophylactic Kwells in the morning and the evening just in case.

During virtually all of this time we have been unchangingly on the port tack which has been just fine for me but less than perfect for half the boat’s crew. My cabin and bunk are on the starboard side, which because it’s on the leeward side on the port tack, means that the ship’s heel rolls me downhill tightly into the side of the ship while I’m in my bunk. The half of the crew on the port side are on the high side of the heel and so need to wedge themselves into their bunks with pillows and lay boards so as not to be rolled out of their bunks onto the cabin floor.

Unlike Tecla on last fall’s sail from Iceland, our watch rotation includes 2 dog watches which makes for a fairer watch schedule but does make it very difficult to get into a routine. What is a dog watch you ask. There are 3 watch teams rotating 4 hours on watch and 8 hours off. Without a dog watch system, you stay on one assigned watch timetable, so if you’re on the 4 o’clock to 8 o’clock watch then you’re permanently on watch during those time periods, AM and PM. Not much fun to have get up every day at 4AM for your watch.

Seas returning to normal

Seas returning to normal

With a dog watch, the normal 4 hour watch period between 4PM and 8PM is broken into two short 2 hour dog watches which forces time assignments to move every day, giving everyone a turn at different times. So, without a dog watch, if I’m on the noon to 4 watch I know that my next watch will start at midnight ’till 4AM. However with a dog watch, when my watch finishes at 4PM, the next watch goes from 4PM to 6PM, the 2’nd watch group goes from 6PM to 8PM and then we’re on watch again at 8PM ’till midnight. In this way every watch group rotates time assignments around the clock, fairer but harder to get into a comfortable sleeping routine.

Highlights? Low moments?

Highlight - Easter Sunday, Ruth our chef hardboiled 24 eggs and we had an egg decorating contest in the dining saloon. Great fun and some very creative efforts but trying to draw on an egg when you’re bouncing all over the ocean in a Force 8 is a challenge that must be experienced!

Worst is over!

Worst is over!

Highlight - Helming the ship in a Force 8 with 6 - 8 metre seas coming at the ship sideways from the port side with the sun shining in a bright blue sky. The ship is making 9 to 10 knots, the tops are being blown off the waves, the air is filled with white foam and you watch as a wall of water approaches the port side. The ship rises sideways along the swell and as it reaches the top of the swell and meets the full force of the wind, is heeled over with the starboard rail underwater. As exciting as this is, what follows next is quite eerie. As the ship slides down the far side of the swell, you look for the next swell which is approaching like a moving wall a couple of hundred metres away but the space between the ship and the next swell is flat and calm without a ripple. The wind is howling in the rigging but the trough is quiet and calm water like a bright blue billiard table, peace in the midst of turmoil and then the next swell lifts the boat.

Low moment - We flew like the wind for the first 6 or 7 days but sadly, while our required direction of travel to reach the Azores is NE, the winds which were speeding us along were not allowing us to make any northing. Wondered if we’d ever make the Azores as we were forced to sail SE and while the forecast kept promising more favourable winds, they weren’t arriving and we kept adding Southerly miles to our route which need to be made up. If anyone followed the GPS track of the ship’s route on the website I know that it must have appeared as if we were sailing away from our destination! We had approximately 2,000 nautical miles to make to the Azores but our initial heading meant that we were adding miles to that total.

Low moment - Continual rolling and heeling made every activity fraught and tricky. Moving about was perilous and needed to be planned, grab a life line and wait for the roll, take a couple of steps and then wait and repeat. Lifebelts were permanently required while on deck and for any activity that required both hands, we tied on to lifelines. The sound of the wind in the rigging and of the ship banging into the seas was ever present and a permanent backdrop to any conversation.

Meals are a challenge for both galley food prep and for the hungry sailors, nothing is ever level nor is the heel consistent as the ship is rolling continuously so that one hand is required to keep the plate’s contents in the dish balanced at a manageable level and to prevent the plate being pitched to the floor, wearing lunch not unheard of.

The passage up from Cuba to Bermuda was apparently very easy, not much wind and what wind there was was contrary so that the ship motored up rather than sailed but the seas were calm and flat and the sailing was very comfortable. I don’t think anyone was prepared for the conditions that we met as soon as we left Bermuda and certainly no one expected them to last as long as they did.

This post is being written retrospectively as it was impossible to keep the laptop from being tossed from one side of the cabin to the other so I know that we survived the first week but at the time it felt as if we were on an endless, repeating loop.

Stay tuned, things get better!

At sea - Week 2

At sea - Week 2

Last day in port!

Last day in port!