Transatlantic Crossing

Oceans and Seas » Atlantic » Saint Helena
April 5th 2011
Published: April 20th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

April 5th, 2011
It’s been a month since my last entry. St. Helena has come and gone since last entry. The island is beautiful and I could have easily spent more time there exploring it. We got 1 ½ days off while there: one spent on a day long tour of the island which included seeing Napolean’s place of residence and tomb and other points of interest. The island is lush and green with tropical flowers, lots of flax, incredibly friendly and kind people who call themselves “saints” and they have a local language called “saints”. But their English is Britishly polite (everyone says ‘hi ‘ to each other, even drivers in cars as they pass) and most of them have warm sun-darkened skin of “islanders” with a handful of fairer-skinned Europeans. The roads are mostly switchback as it is a high island. I even saw a Ford there. They receive a provisioning mail ship at an increased interval of one time a month from Ascension island. There is even a huge long waterfall they call “heart waterfall” because the place where it comes out of in rocks is in a shape of a heart. There is also the notorious “jacob’s ladder” 699 steps up a huge long stairway to a vantage point, high on a cliff. A group of us climbed it and basically wandered onto someone’s property who had a little spot perched at the top of the cliff looking over the expansive sea that is so large you could actually see the curve of the horizon. Plus, this person had a mast with yardarms up in his yard as a flag pole – which seemed to have its own homing mechanism on us. This man did come home while we were hanging out on his property (who could resist the view of the setting sun from his lot? We couldn’t) – he happened to be the attorney general, a reclusive middle aged bachelor who was luckily not upset at a group of sailors trespassing on his property for the sun set and in fact provided us wine glasses for our bottle of wine we brought (but could not be convinced to join us).
So, left St. Helena March . . . I forget, the 17th?
One of the 1st few days out from Antigua we had the first open water swim call of the whole voyage – the wind was dead upon the day leaving Antigua, St. Patty’s day (we did have a proper jig on the hatch during our departure) – what a disappointment to lose the wind though. But, we certainly made good use of it a few days later with the swim call which was great fun. We rigged a rope swing from one of the yard arms and people were swinging off that, jumping off the bow and the fore course yard arm. There were plenty of floaty toys in the oversized swim pool and it was cool being in the open ocean like that. The swells were gentle, long but only 3-5 feet high. I went off the swing rope a hand full of times until my arm strength couldn’t hold me anymore. Our swim call was also momentarily paused also to let a man-of-war float by. It was so strange bcz I thought it was a coke bottle floating in the water. And the lookouts called it, so we all scrambled to get out as it floated by. It had a clear pink sail on it the size of a coke bottle and you could see the tenticles hanging down with the symobiotic fish hanging out in them. So seemingly benign but I guess quite dangerous. So, the lookouts served us well (for things like that and sharks). And then 15 minutes later after we all watched it sail by, pool was open again and the fun and splashing and high jumps resumed. Right at the end of it, 3minutes were called left of swim call and I wanted to jump from the starboard fore course yard arm but was too scared and figured I’d wait til next time. But, kaitlyn mentioned there may not be a next time seeing as how that was the first one in a year. So, that sealed it. Holy crap. I didn’t actually believe I would do it. I think we estimated it was 30-40 feet high from the water? It was so far from the water! And if it wasn’t for Davey coming up to encourage me and help time the swell for when to jump, I wouldn’t have done it. But I did and it was great way to end a great day! Actually, I think that was one of the best days on board. I was on galley, it was Sunday and I was making my famous couscous and dad’s potato salad and the mates pulled out the barbeque and lashed it on the well deck to bbq spring buck they caught in south Africa and we got a swim call and a great bbq. The whole day was so much fun and I got to sleep in the next day, being the day after galley day on the 12-4.
With 3,800 miles to go to Antigua. We have a little under 1550 left which means we have crossed the equator and are now attempting to catch some wind and current off the coast of brazil. The 12-4 watch continued to serve me well, oddly enough. And then 2 weekends ago we were informed that we would start saving our slops (uh-oh) and the watches changed – so now, I am on the 4-8 watch. I was looking forward to the watch change for the change of it. However, the adjustment has not gone as smoothly as going to 12-4. Last week, I spent a lot of the week sleeping during my off watch hours which surprised me because I was looking forward to being more productive during the day, but oh well. Also, we have had to motor more than expected across the atlantic bcz there was apparently some system that was sucking up all the trade winds. What?! But, rest assure, we would find our wind at the equator. In addition, the ITCZ (intertropical conversion zone) near the equator is known to get a little squally. Then as we neared the equator, the equatorial crossing ceremony including king neptune’s visit (a long sailing tradition) became the focus of much time and energy as the crew became divided between “shellbacks”: those who have crossed the equator before and “pollywogs” those who have not. Without giving too much detail, the week included secret meetings, teasing/jabs, letters of threat of losing hair(in the old time tradition, the sailors were more or less haized and at the crossing, were tarred & slopped and their heads were shaved), and graffiti around the ship. Frank even wrote a terribly amusing letter pleading for my locks to be saved from the shears, but not without a bunch of insults to my pollywog status. After rereading it several times, I was finally able to gather that his request for my hair to not be cut was for his benefit, not mine (at least that was the argument he was giving to king Neptune). Everyone got a kick out of it – but despite my attempt to fly below the radar of attention, the letter certainly did more harm than good!
So, as the time passed last week, the weather also got worse. Squalls near the equator are typical, but once you cross, it’s supposed to improve as is the weather. Which means I slept more. The pollywogs were getting increasingly more paranoid with each day thinking it would be the day of the ceremony, bcz there is no preparation for it on our account. It is more or less “sprung” upon us. Knowing looks and suspicious behaviors only added to this. Friday was april 1st, and being the day that we officially crossed, I was certain that would be the day of the ceremony. But, the only “prank” that was pulled was one of the shipmates on the watch before us, strung up Dapper’s boxers on the pig stick (the flag pole at the very top of the main mast). Which really surprised me. I expected more pranks on april 1st with this lot.
So, Saturday ended up being the day. During the afternoon, a shell horn was blown and the proceedings began. And funny enough, a force 7 squall blew thru right during my sentencing, forcing a 45minute intermission in the festivities.
Aside from the equator crossing. The other exciting things worth reporting is we have passed 1 tanker during the day which was impressively huge. And another at night – which also surprised me. I expected to pass more tankers. There has not been as much sea life since leaving St. Helena as there was leaving cape town. We have caught some major fish – oh! Which includes my fishing related injury. Basically, we were pulling in a 20+ pound mahi mahi and I had the lead in my hand as Davey gaffed it and was pulling it up on board and the fish gave a last thrash, off the line and the lead ran thru my hand, the clasp catching my finger. Ow. I got the deapest cut I recall, it bled pretty good. But a week and a half later, it already has new skin over it and is healing pretty well. I was so excited to pull in a huge fish, but man, it got me. The fish caught has been much appreciated to add to our meals, bcz I am meated out. We have been eating nothing but red meat since leaving cape town bcz of all the meat they got there and our only break from the red meat is if you just choose not to eat it (which I’ve been doing with increasing frequency) or if we catch a fish big enough to feed all of us (which has luckily happened a handful of times). Plus most of our fresh vegetables are gone: all we have left is a squash and onions. Which means the cook and we (on galley Sunday when the cook gets a day off) have to get creative with canned mixed veggies, corn, beet root, green beans. The starch is usually rice or pasta. Altho the cook has since tried recreating the couscous recipe I’ve made and he cooks fresh bread every day which as lovely as it is gets to be a bit much for every meal.
We have also concluded 3 weeks of our courses: engine room, rigging, navigation. This week is our last week of workshops about deck maintenance. I have also been learning celestial naviagion and how to use a sextant. I’ve shot the noon sun a couple of times and did calculations to find our latitude and was only a few miles off with my calculated latitude. This morning I had my first class on star calculations now that I’ve been learning more about the stars on the 4-8 watch. The stars and constellations we can see now include the summer triangle: vega, denebe and altair; Spica, the southern cross, scorpio, sagitarius, leo, virgo, corona borealis, corona australialis, centaurus, the swan, the big dipper and orion’s belt and I forget the others.
So, I think I’ve got all the highlights of the last month down. My ditty bag is almost done needing only a handle and to finish sanding and varnish and attach the wooden bottom to it. My sheath is done but getting a new lanyard, splicing them and needing to fix something that broke on it. And I just received my watch wake-up time so it is time for me to go. I hope it stays dry during our watch, I’m ready for the rains to stop. I hear it’s dry for the moment . . . and maybe we’ll see a sunset tonight which we haven’t seen in several nights. Alright, that’s all for now . . . .
April 14th, 2011
Well, after a solid week of squalls, the rain finally abated. The captain said this was the longest ITCZ he’s ever encountered. The wind also picked up as promise after crossing the equator enabling us to keep the engine off as we cruised along at anywhere between 7-9 knots, fully set (minus stunc’ls when we were going too fast). We have also connected into a decent current off of brazil that helped give us a push. When we were passing the mouth of the Amazon, the water turned a dark blue which was interesting. Since the weather turned sunnier again and the rain finally stopped, I finally stopped sleeping all the time. Last weekend, we had another proper marlin spike: Caribbean reggae themed to get ready for our arrival. It was also a bbq which meant we pulled the bbq back out and lashed it on the well deck to cook up some of the awesome fish we’ve been catching (haven’t gotten too close to the fishing lines since my injury, tho). Been doing more phyisio onboard as there are a handful of overuse injuries, stiff necks, even a strained rectus abdominis. The exercise-yoga-pilates-strengthening sessions I’ve been leading at 8:30 have also resumed since it became dry enough to do so which has been much appreciated by other shipmates as well as myself. I don’t think I would be as consistent with my routine if it wasn’t for my shipmates asking daily if we are working out that evening and they keep showing up for it. We also seem to be attracting less comments and looks from those that aren’t working out with us as they have also gotten used to us taking over some space for our exercises.
The beginning of the week was especially busy for me because I finally didn’t take any naps during the day and layed in with the riggers making a new swim rope ladder (by sewing blocks on and seizing rope together). This means, though, that I was up working from 4am – 8pm because I stood watch before and after the normal work day hours. It was so fun, though, bcz I had a fun work partner, Nadja and we jibber-jabbered all day while we were making it. But I sure was exhausted the next day – layed in for half a day and basically been sleeping since then when not on watch (my 2hr nap yesterday turned into a 5 hr sleep, needless to say I needed it and I’ve long since tried to fight the “rhythm of the ship” as others say).
We are less than 200 miles to Antigua which should put us there tomorrow mid day. The crew is getting excited to get back to port. Conversations during down times on watch include foods that will be sought out first (smoothies, salads, cold beer, pina coladas, ice cream are usually at the top of the list). Dirty laundry is piling up (yes, many of us have done it a few times – I’ve had to do it weekly, not having many clothes on board – but I am looking forward to getting my clothes cleaned in fresh water). And there’s of course the people that will be there waiting for us. I’m looking forward to seeing Frank – I can’t believe it’s been since before Christmas since last I saw him! The captain’s sister and brother will be there as well as Ollie an old shipmate who had to leave for a few months to shoot a series (he’s a Canadian tv actor) in addition to some other shipmates family members. Honestly, it sounds like it’s going to be a Rarotonga reunion which means it’s probably going to be a riproaring good time. In addition, there is the Classics that is going on which is a 4 or 5 day sail boats race of “classic” sailboats. Apparently bcz we couldn’t arrive today to get lined up on other boats to race, our arrival is going to be timed during the race. Sailing in on full stunc’ls midrace is sure to make quite a memorable entrance. After that, we are going to get lined up to sail on other boats that need crew which will give us plenty of practice with small boat handling (small boat being defined as anything less than 100’).
Seems I have married myself into the crew. Especially since the crossing we seemed to be better bonded together with less division between the newer people and more seasoned people. It even seems like we have also gained a group consciousness within our individualities. I kinda feel like I’m living on board with my extended family complete with goofy aunts, quarky uncles, cousins, annoying brothers to tease, and sisters to protect. And of course there’s the “old man” which is how I’ve heard the captain referred in conversation; the patriarch of the ship.
I think less of tossing items over board like when cutting vegetables and tossing the scraps, doing dishes and tossing the plate scraps, eating and tossing bones, drinking a beer and tossing the bottle. Rest assure, plastics are bleached and not tossed overboard – being bagged up and saved for disposal when we get to port. Dirt under the nails bothers me less. I’ve also gotten lazier with my sunscreen application (but that’s also bcz since the watch change and sleeping during most days, I wasn’t out in the sun). Knowing which lines to go to when commands are given is taking less thought. Even the communal power showers feel more natural (I felt so self-conscious the first time).
And there’s of course the potential job situation I need to address upon my arrival (after making the necessary phone calls to family of my safe arrival). I received an e-mail in St. Helena regarding an opening that I am interested in, but being in St. Helena with a month of no email access ahead of me, I was not able to do much about it. So, we shall see what comes of that in the next week. Either the job is still available and I am considered possibly getting it, which will probably mean I will have to get off the ship sooner than later to fly back early to start work. Or the job is no longer available/I don’t get it and I get to continue sailing back all the way to Lunenberg. It’s pretty much a win win situation (without focusing on the downside of each scenario) – so, we’ll see which “win” situation pans out.
With today being our last full day at sea, I’m going to use it to finish up that last bit of my projects: fixing the bottom of my ditty bag on and serving the handle and adjusting my sheath to better fit my rig. So, that’s all for now.


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