Jeanie Johnston Chronicle
2nd Report from the ship by Denis Franklin MD
who sailed on the Savannah to Charleston voyage
during the 2003 tour of US and Canadian ports.
Jeanie Johnston sails into the sunset in the gulf stream
Denis Franklin MD is a retired Doctor and a Merchant Marine Staff Officer living in California who has had a love affair with the sea for many years. He is an ardent fan of tall ships and his knowledge of sailing and enthusiasm for Jeanie shines through his report. Denis is also an accomplished Chantey singer and musician. Here is the second of Denis's entertaining reports, read the first one here.

"Up and Over" on the Jeanie Johnston's Voyage from Charleston to Savannah, May, 2003

Five weeks at sea during all of February and a week into March and not a single sick day, and now, when I have only three days in which to experience sailing on a tall ship and I'm queasy the first morning.

My medical opinion, shared, I have heard, by NASA researchers at Moffett Field in California, is that it takes the brain about three days to adapt to motion in the environment. In my own experience, of which I have only a modest amount, even if the motion is minimal and seasickness is not experienced during the first three days, adaptive protection will have been developed for rougher seas experienced later.

However in the present case we were experiencing 25 knot winds and five foot seas very shortly after emerging into the Atlantic from the mouth of the Savannah river an hour before midnight. Thus by the time I went on watch at four a.m. I needed to emerge from my berth and make my way with great caution to the head below and then to my station in the bow where I was forward lookout for the first half hour of the watch.

Jeanie had engaged herself in dancing rather more lightly into the waves than I recall the similar sized, diesel-powered research ship having done in February. The Scripps ship had plowed deeper through the crests I thought, rather flattening out the bumps. But Jeanie was riding up one side of each swell and down the other, with a rapid pitching motion to which my stomach took an instant dislike. I thought the shorter period of her pitching might also be due to the longer swells attributed to the Pacific. By breakfast time, after a break and then a trick at the helm, I was still on my feet but not at all hungry. At the end of my watch I had to decline an invitation to join a party cleaning the heads and showers two decks below and was assigned to scrubbing and rinsing the rubber anti-skid pads from the showers once they had been brought up on deck.

Chancing a quick trip below I retrieved a scopolamine patch from my "lifeboat getaway bag" and reluctantly stuck it behind my ear. I don't like being dopey from the drug, but I HATE being nauseated, which renders me immobile and useless. After a couple of hours the swells were down to three feet, the patch was working and I was hungry for lunch. Taking pity on one of my shipmates who was at sea for the first time and, though normally cheerful and vivacious was looking quite pale and quiet, I gave her another of my precious patches which fixed her up equally quickly. The seas remained calm for the rest of the three days and neither she nor I ever had another moment of illness.

I do not recall whether it was Monday evening as we motored down the Savannah River, or Tuesday morning sailing east before a fresh westerly breeze, but there came a time when Adrian, the junior officer of the forewatch to which to which I was assigned, announced that it was time for all sail trainees to perform what the permanent crew called, "Up and Over". Basically this was to be a test of the one shipboard physical ability I had feared age might well have stolen from me, and would bring to a head a concern that I had nurtured since meeting Jeanie in Fenit two years before, that I might not be able to spring aloft into the rigging with my younger, thinner and fitter shipmates. One at a time, wearing the safety belt that was to be pulled tight around our waists every time we were on watch, aloft, or outboard of the rail, we were to climb the shrouds to the first platform on the mast, at the level of the yard for the lowest sail, the course, traverse the platform and go down the other side: Up, as they said, and Over.

There is only one, shall we say, " unusual" difficulty with this task. The ladder-like rigging that one climbs is composed of four uprights starting about 15 inches apart, the stays, that, fastened to the hull by chainplates, go up from the rail and attach to the mast at an apex a few inches under the deck of the platform. The stays are laced horizontally with ratl'ns (ratlines) for footholds and the "ladder" gets narrower as you go up. In many old sailing ships there were two ways to get onto the platform. Next to the mast there was an opening called a "lubbers hole", for those willing to admit they were not agile sailors to clamber up onto the platform. But most real sailors, rather than the lubbers hole, would have used a second ladder of vertical ropes (and the usual ratl'ns) beginning with an attachment several feet below the platform and going out to the overhang of the platform and then up to the next higher platform at the yard for the topsail. This route necessitates that for a distance of six feet or so, one is climbing a ladder that is hanging backward at an angle of ten or fifteen degrees.

Though while working aloft in modern times one snaps onto a safety line with one's harness, there is no way to attach the harness while climbing up or down. Therefore climbing the overhanging shroud is best accomplished when the ship is heeling or has rolled to the opposite side, since if you get caught out there at the end of a roll in your direction, the centrifugal forces will want to be pulling you off the ladder. The only mitigation is that such forces may tend to pull you outboard where you will land in the sea instead of straight down on deck. Mitigation, that is, if you can swim.

Here the lowest platform is seen at the left, and the backward hanging
Here the lowest platform is seen at the left,
and the backward hanging ladder that goes round the outside.

As my watchmates began their challenge there was little or no roll to the ship's motion: as I have said, a mixed blessing. Some scampered, some climbed with evident trepidation and some balked entirely. Personally I considered the third category for a long moment. But it seems nature has played a dirty trick on me. Evidently I still have just enough circulating testosterone to trigger a spasm of male pride, if not enough to permit my exercise regimen to produce much in the way of muscle or melt away my 50 pound belly.

As I hauled my way creaking to the caprail and took hold of the shrouds with what once were strong arms ending in capable hands, I faced a moment of undeniable truth. One foot up to a ratl'n, and the next. Alternating higher handholds and footholds I rose up the shrouds, very soon attaining a height from which a fall would be fatal. Just a few years ago I regularly went up my ham radio tower at home to effect adjustments and repairs, but even then I noticed how quickly my muscles cramped and developed an annoying tremor. Now arms that I once would have trusted with my life so long as I retained a single handhold, quivered with the strain merely of holding me in against the stays and the realization grew unavoidably in my mind that if I lost and could not quickly regain my foothold I could not long support my bloated weight with my arms alone, and would fall.

As I hauled myself over the safety rail and onto the platform, encouraged by Alice who waited there, a slender, twenty something crew person who went up into the rigging like a monkey, I knew that I would not be working aloft on the yards during this voyage or perhaps, now, ever again in my life, having missed the chance when I was younger and stronger. It felt like a big milestone in my life, and not at all one the sight of which I welcomed. After a breather on the platform I proceeded down past the opposite overhang and returned to the deck to which I finally accepted I might now forever be consigned. Even months before the trip I had more or less anticipated what had eventually transpired during this physical test, and had predetermined still to enjoy the adventure as fully as I was able by doing my part capably handling lines on the deck. So I resolved to make the best of it.

Later, though, photographing my shipmates scattered about on the yards taking in sail, I got to thinking. If I lost forty or fifty pounds and added some pull-ups to my swimming regimen ashore, perhaps on another voyage in a few months time I might try "Up and Over" again.

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