The question most often asked of me as a sailor is; “Have you been in any storms?” People have a real fascination with storms at sea, and they often seem to have some misconception that the sea is always stormy or rough. I suppose the mariner’s themselves are to blame as I doubt they spend their time in a port watering hole talking about their adrenaline-heart-pounding “sunny day with a beam reach” and BBQ on deck. Rough seas, squalls and gales are all exciting to see, but they are a real pain to work and sleep in!
Above deck it is a wet and salty affair, with spray dousing even the wheelhouse, the lee rail dipping into the occasional wave, and torrents of water rushing from the scuppers trying to grab at sailor’s ankles, trying to mischievously pull them into the lee scupper to give their beards a good rinsing!
Below decks it is akin to being in an earthquake that can go on for days; everything not tied down, falls down. Pots, pans, big wrenches, books and loose doors all reach out from the walls to try to tap your nose. A normal corridor turns into a twisted funhouse as you keep your balance in a space moving at wild angles – and those spry enough to manage without difficulty get to push their skills by ascending rolling stairways with pots of steaming hot coffee, knowing that it must not spill because a cold and wet crew needs that coffee. Over time you learn to time your movements and brace against the big rolls. As Diven says of rolling; “hold onto your coffee cups and tack your sandwich.” – Decidedly sound advice after I saw a bowl of soup end up in someone’s lap at lunch! No amount of advice however can fix the sleeping problem – I haven’t yet met anyone who says they can still sleep well being tossed to-and-fro in their bunk.
Its fun at first, but after the first hour this rolling gets old – cleaning everything that’s breaking and breaking more things as you thrash about cleaning the things that are already broke is a bit frustrating! My real pity goes to our cook who simply wants a nice day for a lovely meal on deck. She woke me yesterday morning with a grumble about us having “another day in the Drake.” If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be those poor ants getting shaken up in the ant farm by the bad kid in science class, well, this is the time and place!
From "The Folly Tattoo of Andy Dodds" Juner 29, 2009
Andy Dodd was convinced that going to sea was the “most foolish, irresponsible decision” that he had ever made. It was Andy’s first four hours on a ship, and the barque Europa was being rocked by heavy swells that were bolstered by Force seven winds. In the midst of this discomforting hazing Andy could not stop looking at the freshly inked tattoo on his arm – an image of the Europa under full sail. “What have I done?” he thought.
From "Strange Place, Time, Situation" December 12, 2010
A strange place, a strange time, and an even stranger situation, the bark Europa closes in on a half-submerged pile of steel. Clad in the rust of time, crowned with bird droppings and enthroned within a crescent wall of alabaster snow, she, the Governoren, lies silent. Creeping forward with the caution the superstitious reserve for graveyards, the Europa moves slowly, as if seeking not to disturb the long-sleeping hulk. Aloft on my perch on the Europa‘s bowsprit, I soon find myself hovering above a twisted pile of metal, above broken mast and crumpled windlass.
Far from silent, a flock of alarmed Antarctic terns screech obscenities at us as they dart about – their once peaceful fo’c'sle home intruded upon by our tri-masted ship and its curious mob of peeping people. Then, “crack!,” like the snapping of a twig at midnight, a sheet of ice is clove in two by the sturdy, steel stem of Europa. Heads and shifting eyes exchange looks on our crowded foredeck as nearly everyone wonders in surprise and awe at the daring of our captain as we inch ourselves to within meters of the grounded old vessel, close enough that we could have plundered her scrap-strewn deck with our boat-hook!
For a long moment we lie there, gazing at the wreckage. Once a Norwegian whaling ship, the Governoren ended her last day in fire and ice as a stricken crew ran the ship aground, desperate to escape an uncontrolled blaze. That was 1915 – here, 95 years later, she lies in surprisingly good condition – preserved by the cold that inhibits natural decomposers – a chill grave of ice and frigid water on Enterprise Island.
From "A Steady Wind Takes Us Into Limbo" - June 23, 2009
Have you ever wondered what it would feel like, to be on the bow of a tall-ship underway? Maybe I can give you an idea.
Standing on the foredeck of a square-rigger, close-hauled and making good speed, is an awesome experience, especially at night. The deck bucks up and down with the waves, as if it were a never-ending roller-coaster ride. The methodical hammer blows of the bow smashes waves asunder, sending spray up the sides to land in your face. The seas crackle, as if like static. Bio-luminescent creatures, disturbed by our thundering presence, flash green in their multitudes, like twinkling stars in the black wake of our ship. Taut canvas ripples with the wind, whistling through the rigging, sounding as if a gallery of jeering ghosts were aloft. Far and away from land, with no light pollution, clouds become stains of spilled ink on an unimaginably clear, starry canvas, their presence betrayed only by their smothering of the celestial skies. Inky tendrils of clouds, like a creeping hand, deviously envelop the sky in complete darkness. Meanwhile our lamps in the deckhouse sway, shifting shadows to dance across the deck.Really though, it is something you will have to experience for yourself, which you can do. Just as many of the trainees on our ship are experiencing.
From "Surfing Toward Ireland" August 7, 2009
The excitement on deck could be seen on the grinning faces around me, as we watched dark, steamrolling mountains of water plow through the ocean, their crests spiraling upwards, higher and higher, becoming vivid crowns of white-tipped aqua color. Often looking back we could see them come, closer and closer, as tall as our stern, looking like they would crash over us, only for our vessel to be lifted up onto their broad shoulders and carried forward before being left behind in the trough. The noise from these surging behemoths with the accompanying howling of the wind through the rigging was a sonic spectacle, the entire effect humbling our comparatively small island of a vessel in this massively powerful ocean.
From "Rough Seas and Screaming Trainees" July 21, 2009
“Pull you maggots, pull!” Looking around him on the quarterdeck he says in an annoyed voice, “I didn’t come to the North Sea to be becalmed!”
But becalmed we were. The little wind we had the night before had died with a whimper. We all were expecting the seas on the Grand Banks to be rougher, more cold – we had all been inundated with the sea stories of the Nova Scotia fishing schooners and the awful storms and biting cold they had to brave. We had been mentally preparing ourselves for some of the same – instead we had little of either. Floundering about, we wore ship in a long maneuver, then found ourselves with a morning watch filled with bracing and adjusting sails as a confused wind refused to settle on any direction. Then the rain came, showering the deck for the entire morning. It was rain without wind however. Finally, retiring to our bunks, the starboard watch put in to sleep.
0120 – 60.02.9′S x 62.55.4′W
“Oh! Here it comes!” shouts Rensje from the galley. Quickly, everyone halts to lock their legs, brace their arms and clench their hands onto something more solid. A moment passes. Then, “THUD!” The entire ship, stem to stern, heaves with a shove from a rude swell. “Clang!” “Bang!” “Dwong!” – The pots in the galley, like a dozen crude bells, ring out a cacophonous symphony that could only be mimicked by inebriated monks on a feast day. The collective clink of a hundred pieces of glassware is followed by bumps and thuds as a few unlucky legs lose traction on their rubber boots; they fall, only to be caught by the opposing wall. Sometimes, a bowl of oily soup may crash to the floor, or the entire ordeal punctuated by the shattering of crockery. This is just the galley! Up forward the forepeak full of rigging equipment literally quakes and rattles with the din of a giant toolbox shaken asunder.
From "The Smell of Aitcho" February 11, 2011
It is easy to know when you have arrived in Antarctica -you smell it, before you see it. Aloft, furling the main upper topsail yard, miles away from our destination, I could hear deckhand Daniel Baxter exclaim through the wind, “It’s the smell of Aitcho!” A moment later my nostrils received the full force of his statement. The stale, nose-cringing smell of a damp basement of forgotten rodent cages – the smell of rocky beaches covered in generations of penguin droppings. The smell of Aitcho.
I know we are not the only two to share such sentiments. On his anchor watch, Tom Wijnhoven expressed his disbelief about the southern odor, “Nobody warned us! You can watch them on TV, but you can’t smell them!”
“We even doubt whether these are islands!” added Constant Kruger, who then forwarded his theory that the islands of Aitcho are just that –a great, crustified mass of penguin poo-doo.
From "Becalmed" - June 24, 2009
”I need wind!,” grumbled Captain Klaas as he stepped out onto the spanker boom on the quarterdeck. With spry steps on the log-like boom, balanced over the water on the port side, he moved to the end to untangle the line for the Dutch flag, caught in a flag halyard block. Passing the flag to me he came back inboard, moving with the balance of an acrobat.
Back on deck he looked about the calm sea, again at his luffing sails and moved about the deck, easing this line or hauling on this one, trimming his sails. He held a disapproving look as he looked out on the calm ocean around us.
”Captain Klaas, are there any weather depressions around us?” asked a trainee looking for an explanation for our nearly becalmed condition.
”No depressions, no. Just me,” he answered gruffly.