Saturday, June 30, 2012

Norway to Ireland 2011: Dolphins in the North Sea

Day 5     Thursday             June 23, 2011
It was much calmer overnight than the previous night so I actually got some rest. I think I got six hours, although I did wake up during the watch change at 4am because they turned on the lights in our banjer, not theirs, and they were noisy.

Pieter Bellen at the helm
My first watch assignment today was at the helm. Not only that, but I forgot to mention that the captain turned off the engine last evening while I was on lookout so we were now completely under sail. No more motor sailing for several days. Yes! That meant that I was asked to steer by the wind gauge, not the compass. Trying to keep the ship between 55 and 60 degrees off the wind is actually quite challenging. Under 50 degrees and you’re in danger of tacking involuntarily. Not a good thing.

Back to school again with Henrik after my stint at the helm. We learn that we have six sails to take aloft before we make Waterford. These are sails that would have been easier to rig in port, but circumstances didn’t allow. That means bending them on while underway. Today we’re going to bend on the kryss and store bramstagseils (mizzen and main topgallant staysails).  This work is kind of a cross between sewing and rock climbing. Basically, hanging onto a shroud or the mast with one hand and threading a needle with the other. I enjoyed the company of a  17-year-old Finn named Olli whom I learned earlier is a volunteer, not part of the permanent crew, and just joined the ship two weeks ago. He’s an amazingly nimble fellow.

By the end of the day we’ll have 13 of the 27 sails set. With the wind freshening this afternoon, we should be doing fairly good speed by evening.

Dolphins in the North Sea!
After lunch (it being a gorgeous afternoon, we spent a couple hours on deck. About 1:30 someone shouted “dolphins!” Suddenly, the foredeck was filled with about 30 people hanging over the bow with cameras. It was a wonderful moment that lasted about ½ hour. Two pair of dolphins kept jumping and diving just in front of the boat. They clearly were playing games with the ship and probably had no idea there was an audience. It was pure exhilaration for both them and us.

During the evening watch, the captain decided we had too much sail out, so the order came down to take in the store bram sail. We were averaging about 8 or 8 ½ knots all day so we were moving along at a pretty good clip. I thought it odd that this was the plan since an earlier watch had just set the same sail. Henrik asked for volunteers and the response wasn’t enthusiastic, so I raised my hand and went to get a safety harness. Handling the sails requires 6-8 people to do it efficiently and especially in a stiff breeze.

Going up was OK, although the pitching of the ship was stronger than the other times I’d been aloft.  When we reached the second platform, however, one of our number chose not to go out on the yard. The footrope on the starboard side wasn’t ideal for a tall person. I started having second thoughts myself. However, somebody had to go or this operation was going to stretch out much longer. Taking that first step onto the rope was a combination of pure adrenaline rush and absolute terror, but I managed it. Now it was necessary to get a good handhold and sync my movements with the heaving of the bow so I didn’t go over the yard—the foot rope really wasn’t deep enough for someone over 6’. Oh well. One of the Belgians, Eva, joined me on my left and the four of us were able to furl and secure the sail. I recalled my day on the ropes course with my team from work last summer and realized that this was a far greater challenge and obstacle to overcome. I was satisfied to reach he deck safely and also felt a tremendous sense of relief, even if I was 20 minutes late for lookout!

Day 6     Friday   June 24, 2011
The only way I know what day it is to look at the previous entry in this log. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter to life on the ship. It’s hard to believe that after just 2 ½ days at sea, I have packed away my other life into a little box for safekeeping. Little of it is relevant to daily life on the Christian Radich. You and your watch mates work together, eat together, sleep together, and have time off together. This happened by circumstance obviously, not by choice, but it’s OK and is quite easily and quickly accepted. It would be difficult to remain aloof and alone on the ship and if you tried , it would most likely get to be very uncomfortable.

I had my first shower this morning and it was delightful. However, it was unlike any I’ve taken before, because the ship was rolling and pitching constantly so cleaning with one hand was interesting. I waited until this morning because I couldn’t locate my towel for two days. This is the third time on the trip that I’ve not been able to find something in my belongings and it’s frustrating. I hope that it doesn’t happen too many more times!

The wind is waning this morning. Yesterday we clipped along at over 8 knots, but we’re down under 5 knots right now. Still headed southwest with a WNW wind. We’ll find out after lunch when we will reach the Channel and what the weather forecast for tonight and tomorrow.

Since yesterday evening we’ve always had at least one oil rig in sight, sometimes more. We actually had to sail around a large cluster of them during the night.

This morning we had Henrik give us another lesson in tending the sails and the braces depending on the ship’s angle to the wind. We’re still sailing close-hauled, but hopefully we’ll get wind on the beam at some point and of course we’ll have to change everything when we approach port in Waterford: take in all sails and square up the yards.

The rest of our morning watch was a bust as the wind continued to drop. By the time we finished lunch and met with the captain, it sounded more and more like we’d be going motor sailing sooner than expected, both so that we could keep on schedule and also because the wind was shifting back to the SW so we’d be trying to sail directly into it, a feat that’s physically not possible. Indeed, while we were relaxing, reading, and napping, the 12-4 watch pulled in all of the square sails.

I mentioned the food once. It’s quite remarkable what two people can do. The first night we had whitefish with an onion baste. The next night we had beef stroganoff; last night meatballs, and tonight pork chops. The bread is all fresh and wonderful and the side dishes excellent. Fresh fruit, coffee, and tea 24/7, and good desserts. This afternoon we had hot chocolate and brownies.

By the time the evening watch began, the wind had freshened, but we were done sailing because the 4-8 watch had taken in all the square sails as I said. We were back under power and the boat was starting to behave like a bucking horse or a carnival ride again, depending on the metaphor you prefer.

I had the helm at 2100 hours and although it wasn’t hard to keep the ship on course, the pressure on the rudder was intense and after an hour your arms really start to feel some strain. It’s an amazing feeling of awe and admiration, though, to be piloting such an elegant vessel through such an elemental process.

While I was gone the rest of the watch were getting a lesson in rope splicing, something I’d never tried. I was able to catch up to them when I returned and have yet another skill to take home with me. All the while we worked the ropes we were passing oil rigs in the night. I counted 17 visible between the C. Radich and the eastern horizon.

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