Sunday, July 22, 2012

Norway to Ireland 2011: The English Channel

Even though it's been some weeks since my last post, I'm going to continue to publish the journal that I kept on my Tall Ships adventure last summer. This episode is at about the halfway point in the voyage when we went through the English Channel.

Day 7     Saturday              June 25, 2011
True to the captain’s predictions yesterday, we should be entering the English Channel by nightfall today. We’ve been steaming for almost 24 hours now and the combination of our speed and the fact that the waves are coming right into our bow (we’re only 20 degrees off the wind) has made for an incredibly active ride. We woke this morning to rain and heavy seas so the first part of the morning watch was spent learning to make a Bensel, another way to make a bight in a rope that's different from the splicing we learned yesterday.

After mid-morning, the Captain passed the word that we should change the braces (in spite of the rain) in preparation for a coming wind shift and resumption of sailing once we pass Dover in the channel. That meant our watch needed to slack a couple dozen lines, haul away on 9 braces and re-coil all the lines.  It took about an hour and was really hard work, but quite satisfying to get praise for having done it well.

The 8-12 watch in the English Channel
Lunch was heartily welcomed by everyone, both for a break from the morning’s work and because everyone was famished.  Other days lunch has been followed by immediate napping, but today most of us went right back on deck. Water was now covering the deck on the lee side of the boat and the sea was coming over the bow. The lookout had been shifted from the bow to the quarterdeck to avoid being swept overboard and safety lines were now set on the main deck to allow sure footing across the open deck. I shot a couple of short movies both from the quarterdeck and bakken.

The heavy weather continued into the evening and through most of the night. I had lookout at 2100 hours and about halfway through the hour we encountered fog which also lasted all night. The 2nd Mate (Steiner) gave us a look at the ship’s ASI which thoroughly convinced us that we had zero chance of being run down at night, even in fog.

Day 8     Sunday                 June 26, 2011
The only weather change in the morning was that the sea was calmer, which also meant that the wind had dropped. Great. So far we’ve sailed only two of the five days and motored the rest. She’s a beautiful boat and all and I’m on vacation, but all of us, including the crew, came to sail!

I had the helm for the first hour of the watch and the only excitement there was when the Captain asked me to change course by 15 degrees to avoid a fishing boat “going in circles in front of us.” However, as soon as I gave up the wheel, we were directed to set three sengestagseils, one at each mast. Now we’re getting somewhere!

Except as soon as we tied them off and coiled the lines, we were given buckets of soap and water, and brushes, and told to wash the deck. Seriously!! Actually, with the fresh breeze yesterday for about 18 hours, we shipped a ton of salt water and the salt isn’t good for the varnished floors below decks, so we scrubbed and rinsed the entire main deck.

Watching Windjammer in the banjer
I should give a mention to Jan Petter Hanson, an Oslo filmmaker who works for Munch Films. He and his daughter are along for the ride and he’s filming and interviewing everyone for a piece that will be shown on Norwegian television in the fall. I doubt I’ll get to see it, but it shows the tremendous love and respect that the Norwegians have for the Christian Radich and her two companion vessels, the Statsraad Lehmkuhl and the Soerlandet, and I love that. Yesterday, he had a crowd around his laptop because he’s got bits of the movie Windjammer on his hard drive and lots of behind the scenes footage. I feel like I’m in heaven!

Day 9     Monday               June 27, 2011
I’ve only got about 20 minutes before we go on evening watch, but I just realized that I haven’t written anything since this time yesterday. We had some excitement this afternoon when I’ve normally made my entries.

Penzance Bay
Penzance Bay lies on the south coast of England just east of Land’s End, England’s westernmost spit of land. I’m told that Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance was inspired by this bay, at least the name. Don’t know if that’s true, but I’ll go with it. The officer of the watch (Steinar, I think) took a little detour into the bay to take us close to a small island topped by a magnificent castle the name of which I haven’t yet heard. While making this side trip, a Sea King helicopter flew by a couple of times and we joked that it was probably Prince William at the controls.

During the morning watch we got another soaking with some spectacular lightning and thunderclaps. This turn in the weather required that we take in what little sail was yet flying, the three last staysails.  We went to bed last night with a good bit of sail up (although it wasn’t doing much), but overnight the wind died and the other watches took in all but the three staysails.

Before the rain we had a lesson on tacking since that’s what we’ll need to do on the run up the west coast of England on the last leg to Waterford. Making a tack in a full-rigged ship is about an hour’s work, most of it in preparation. The actual change in the position of the ship takes about 15 minutes.

Nils then told us a couple of sailing stories from the annals of the British and Danish navies. One was about a shipwreck in the Scilly Islands in which an English widow removed the gold teeth and fillings from the drowned sailors that washed up on shore and the other was about a Danish shipbuilding company which planted trees to be used in the construction of a ship for the king that matured in 2005 after the government had forgotten about them in the ensuing decades.

Next up: The West Coast of England

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