|Jeanie Johnston Chronicle
Reports from the ship by a crew member
on the second leg of the US voyage.
This page is part 2. Read part 1 (to 28th Mar 03)
Also read the first leg reports (Kerry to Tenerife)
|By Tom Kindre |
aboard the Jeanie Johnston on the US voyage
Tom Kindre is a US Coast Guard Auxiliarist and a crew member aboard the Jeanie Johnston as she sails to the US. The second leg of the voyage commenced on Friday 14th March, with the departure from Tenerife in bright sunshine, a sharp contrast to the severe weather leaving Ireland. Below are his reports direct from the ship, since 29th March 03 - latest reports are at the top of this page, scroll down for earlier ones. Earlier reports since Tenerife are here and those from the first leg of the voyage are to be found here. You can also read the reports with earlier project pictures on the CG Aux website.
Pictures on this page are courtesy of Paul Dolan of FAS Tralee A.V. Unit who is sailing on the voyage, and Michael Diggin, a professional photographer based in Tralee, who flew to Tenerife to meet the ship. Their pictures will be posted on a separate page soon. Thanks to Paul, we now have short video clips of the voyage.
Jeanie Johnston Grand Voyage
By Tom Kindre, FSO-PB 16-10, D5-NR, aboard the Jeanie Johnson
Day 59. Tues, 15 April. Noon position: West Palm Beach. Distance to West Palm Beach: 0 miles.
The transatlantic adventure is over, and this is my last report. On Tuesday morning, after a voyage of 5,260 miles from Fenit, Ireland, interrupted by stops at Madeira and Tenerife, we picked up the pilot off the coast of Florida and headed for the Lake Worth Inlet to West Palm Beach. The Captain had suggested that I, as the only American aboard, take the wheel as the ship entered the Inlet and made her final approach. I donned my US Coast Guard Auxiliary uniform for the occasion. The pilot was, of course, directing our course minute by minute, so I was a mere figurehead at the wheel, but it was a proud moment nonetheless. The Coast Guard escorted us in, and dozens of small boats formed a welcoming flotilla. Many of them were probably local Coast Guard Auxiliary, but all we knew of them was that they were wishing us well. Reporters and photographers on the press boat yelled and waved as they circled the ship, and as we moved in to our dock in the customs area, cruise ships docked nearby gave us a deep-throated blast of welcome.
It is now Friday, 18 April. The crew was officially discharged yesterday, amid emotional farewells, exchanges of addresses and talk of a reunion in Tralee at Christmas time. What we have been through together has forged links that most of us are not likely to ever forget. For me, this marks the culmination of a strange symmetry comprising four years-- 1847, 1863, 1943 and 2003. In 1847, three things happened: (1) the Irish potato famine reached its peak, (2) the original Jeanie Johnston was launched, and (3) my grandmother, Joanna O'Brien, was born. In 1863, Joanna O'Brien emigrated to America. Eighty years later, on April 17, 1943, I embarked on my first Atlantic crossing on the wartime troopship Andes. Exactly 60 years after that, on April 17, 2003, I completed my second Atlantic crossing on the Jeanie Johnston (Although the ship arrived on 15 April, the 17th was the official end of the voyage because on that date the crew was discharged).
Whatever else the voyage may have accomplished, it has surely rendered irrelevant the opinions of those who have been critical of the Jeanie Johnston Project. The ship, and her professional crew, have performed beyond all expectations. Those of us who have seen the Jeanie battle her way through steep seas and fierce gales, her timbers creaking and groaning, never doubted her soundness; nor was there ever any reason to doubt. She has proved herself a triumph of the shipbuilders' art. It was an honor to have as a shipmate that gentle, self-effacing man, Peter O'Regan. Peter is the ship's engineering officer, but he is much more. He and his brother Ciaran built the ship, employing the oldtime woodworking skills of their family's Dingle shipyard and getting help where they could find it. Theirs is a genius that is rare in today's world. Another man I am proud to know is John Griffin, who met us here to savor quietly the moment of a lifetime-- seeing the living embodiment of his decade-old vision sail triumphantly into history. John's visionary spirit, and his dogged determination to bring his visions to life, mark him as an extraordinary human being.
Now that the voyage is over, what happens next? The ship's immediate future is a series of port visits up the US and Canadian coasts (These are listed on the web sites focuskerry.com/jeanie/ and jeaniejohnston.ie), and in October she will return to Ireland. After that, her future is uncertain. She could become a sail training ship; she could have a permanent berth as a floating museum; or she could become a Ship of Peace, with mixed crews combining both sides of the world's cultural divides: Catholic/Protestant, Israeli/Palestinian, black/white, Hindu/Muslim, Shiite/Sunni, etc.
To those of us who have voyaged with her, she is a creature of the sea, born to sail and not to sit at the dock. We can see her for a time commemorating the history of the famine and the Irish diaspora, but beyond that we hope she will become that Ship of Peace, making her way to the corners of the earth where divisiveness stifles progress. If people who are culturally worlds apart can pull ropes together, furl sails together and eat ship's fare together, they will have taken the first step toward a world in which brotherhood prevails. This is a noble vision, and the Jeanie Johnston is a noble ship. Long may she sail!
Days 56, 57, 58, Sat, Sun, Mon, 12, 13, 14 April. Noon position: 26-14 N, 78-34 W.
We picked up the pilot off Nassau at 0745 Saturday and by 0830 were tied up in cruise ship territory, a tiny wooden boat surrounded by gigantic floating hotels.
It doesn't take long to get the drift of things in Nassau: thousands of one-day visitors shouldering their way in and out of t-shirt shops... plenty of cold beer... amphibian planes and parasailing... the Pirates' Den Nightclub directly across the street from the Anglican Cathedral... the world's largest pink hotel (Michael Jackson owns the apartment in that famous arch between the two buildings)... Mick Jagger's house (Where doesn't he have one?)... enough gleaming white 150-foot motor yachts to carry the whole population out to sea... and a total disregard for speed limits and traffic regulations, especially on Saturday night.
After our spartan days at sea, Nassau seemed totally dissolute, and that scofflaw driving attitude almost cost us dearly. As 10 of us made our way back after dinner ashore, one stepped out to cross the street and came within a hair's breadth of being struck by a speeding car. It made us realize how lucky we've been.
Jim Callery and I took a room in the Hilton Hotel and slept a long, luxurious sleep. When we woke, it was Palm Sunday. After breakfast we walked up the hill to a little Anglican church where we were the only non-natives.
"We have two visitors," the priest announced, "one from Ireland and one from the United States." The choir was sublime, and though we were in a foreign country, the words were in English.
I thought of our long, safe voyage, with no one seriously hurt on the ship, and no one killed by the speeding car, and I said a prayer of thanksgiving. While I don't believe God favors one person or group over others, I wonder if the Jeanie Johnston may somehow be blessed.
Hidden away in a niche in the aft companionway between the bridge and the mess deck is an old, worn little statue of The Child of Prague. It was placed there by a carpenter who worked on the ship, and it had seen duty on one or more old ships during its lifetime. The original Child was said to have saved the city of Prague from war and pestilence. How the idea got to Ireland is a mystery, but I've learned that in Dingle such statues are frequently installed on newly built boats to protect them when danger strikes.
When we docked at Nassau, an Irish woman came over to the ship and expressed surprise at seeing us. She said she had bet money that the Jeanie would never make it across the Atlantic. Could whatever Divine Providence there is be bending over backward to silence such critics? We may have reason to believe so.
Day 54, Thurs. 10 April. Noon position: 23-55 N, 74-24 W.
The wind has gone against us; that means furling sails and motoring.
At about 1030 this morning, we raised the coast of San Salvador and skirted around it for several hours to the south and west. We expect to be in Nassau early Saturday morning.
Jim Callery, my roommate, came aboard the ship with more expensive gadgets than I'd ever seen on one person. Jim, a successful businessman and founder of the National Famine Museum in Strokestown, County Roscommon, had been loaded down by his family with cameras, recorders, video cams and most notably, an Iridium satellite phone-- the kind journalists use to send reports from the remote corners of the world.
Jim had only a shaky foothold on the world of computers and electronics, but he is blessed with an insatiable curiosity and a dogged determination. A non-sailor, he has read a square-rigged sailor's manual three times in an effort to cram knowledge into his head.
He waded into the armful of manuals that came with his electronic gadgets and before long, with a little trial-and-error, he was using them all, including the satellite phone. The phone, on loan from Barry Electronics, a firm in Killybegs, County Donegal, that supplies marine electronics to the fishing industries, is truly a wonder.
You can go on deck, pull out the little antenna, dial your number and talk with someone on land 2,000 miles away. I called my wife Marie and heard her voice as clearly as I would on a local telephone line. Other members of the crew used the phone as well. There were times, of course, when through no fault of the phone, the satellite coverage blanked out and he conversation would crackle and break up.
Jim had a phone interview coming up with a radio reporter in Shannonside, Ireland, and it would be an opportunity to credit Barry Electronics for their generous gesture. The interview went off smoothly, but just at the end, when Jim was about to mention Barry's name, the satellites went awry and the coverage broke up.
But there's more than one way to skin a cat. From those of us who have enjoyed the phone, thank you, Barry Electronics.
Day 53, Wed, 9 April. Noon position: 24-02 N, 72-02 W.
Sarah, our cook, sometimes wonders how she got herself into this job on a square-rigged ship, which at best tends to be somewhat primitive. In a deck talk today, she gave us some clues.
Back home in Ireland, Sarah lives a normal life as a primary school teacher. Her pupils may sometimes give her problems, that's true, but they could never match the challenges she faces on the Jeanie Johnston. Her route to this ship was via work in three restaurants and service as a cook in a transatlantic race. Then she heard of the JJ and last year got herself qualified as a full-fledged ship's cook.
The voyage, she admits, is a learning experience. She was told in her training that 100 grams of meat and potatoes per person per day was a good rule of thumb. We've been eating double that amount. Sarah estimates we're putting away between 2500 and 3000 calories daily. The food is varied, and it's always good.
Since we left Fenit on February 15, we've consumed half a ton of potatoes and 500 liters of milk. Breakfast, often considered the smallest meal of the day, consistently features porridge, bacon, eggs, grapefruit, orange juice, toast and fresh-baked scones.
Stocking the ship was Sarah's first problem. She utilized space wherever she could find it-- in the tank room, great cabin lockers, forepeak, under the floor everywhere. A visitor to the ship in Ireland asked her how she liked the galley. "It's too small," she said. The visitor turned out to be the naval architect who had designed the ship. "Next time, I'll make a bigger galley," he told her.
A normal day in the galley is challenge enough. The gales were something else. "Food came flying out of the fridge three times in one day," she said, "and the galley helpers were clinging to the rim of the sink."
Sarah herself went flying at least once, with her cook's knife in her hand. The galley's radio was smashed, two percolators were rendered useless and uncounted numbers of bowls and plates were smashed to bits.
The ship's time in the US will be a breeze, with easy three-day voyages in coastal waters, but Sarah won't be aboard. After a long rest in Florida, she will look for another ship to get back home. This is only a sabbatical, and her job is waiting for her. She should have some interesting tales to tell her pupils.
Day 52, Tues, 8 April. Noon Position: 24-16 N, 69-09 W.
Our watch leader Mark, who has been trolling a line off the stern, this morning pulled in a beautiful silvery dorado about three feet long. We estimated its weight at some 30 pounds.
Everyone ran to get cameras, and Mark posed proudly, holding the fish before him. Then Tom the boastwain and the Captain took their turns. That set off some of the young sail trainees, and a half dozen or so were photographed with the big fish they didn't catch.
Sarah the cook examined it. By now, its bright silver was fading to a splotchy patchwork of color. "It will feed us all." said Sarah. The next step, if we were to have it fresh, was to reduce the fish to cooking portions.
Tom the boatswain, always handy with a knife, began the process, and it was taken up by young Darren from Northern Ireland, who had once worked in a fish factory in the Killebegs fishing port in Donegal.
I admired the fish when it was held aloft, and I will undoubtedly eat it with relish, but I had no desire to see it dismembered. As most of the others gathered around to watch, I puzzled about this. The answer, I think, is that no one else on the ship, from the teen-agers up to 74-year-old Tom of the voyage crew, has ever lived through a war.
Something tells me that I do not need to see blood on the deck. This is a deep-seated, almost unconscious reaction that my friends at the Rutgers Oral History Archives of World War II will understand if others cannot. They and I have long since unburdened ourselves of our wartime memories in extensive interviews, and those memories are now displayed on the Internet, where scholars are mining them for new insights.
By and large, we live at peace with ourselves, but occasionally something-- like the fish-- may cause the door to that underground vault to crack open slightly.
Day 51, Mon, 7 April. Noon position: 23-57 N, 66-49 W.
We have viewed our ship at last in all her white-clothed majesty, and, individually and collectively, we are awed beyond belief. She may well be the most beautiful thing we have ever seen. It's a truism among sailors that they have no idea what their vessel looks like under sail to a spectator a half mile away.
The right circumstances-- wind, weather, and sea-- had never come together for proper photographs of the Jeanie Johnston. Now they have. Paul Dolan, Director of the TV and Video Production Unit of FAS, the Irish Training and Employment Agency of Tralee, has been chasing this dream for months.
Yesterday, the fates were in alignment. Weather, wind an sea were perfect, and the Captain decided the time was right to give Paul his big chance.
Launching the rescue boat from its stern davit requires bringing the ship virtually to a halt. The wind was on our starboard quarter, so the yards on both foremast and mainmast were braced back to port. The ship was first maneuvered to bring the wind on its beam. Then all yards on the mainmast were braced back to starboard. The sails on one mast were now canceling out the drive of the sails on the other, and the ship gradually slowed, almost stopping.
The boat was launched, brought alongside and Paul and his gear were taken aboard. The original sail trim and direction were then resumed, and for a half hour Paul circled the ship, shooting photos and video footage from every angle.
Later, he displayed some of the photos for us on his laptop computer. For the first time, we saw the sheer beauty of the Jeanie Johnston under full sail.
Paul has many digital images and some 70 others on film, which he will develop in Nassau when we stop there about three days from now. He'll be able to transmit digital images from Nassau also, so look for some of these to show up on the several web sites a few days later.
Day 50, Sun, 6 April. Noon position: 23-24 N, 64-43 W.
The trade wind is in full force, and we are making the most of it. The ideal place for the wind relative to the course we want to sail is 60 degrees off our stern, and the wind has been there for three days, on our port quarter. We've done as high as eight and a half knots briefly, and have clocked six to six and a half for long periods.
Yesterday saw more activity than usual. Whales were sighted, including one that breeched (leaped clear of the water), and we were stalked by a British Navy ship, Black Rover out of London. It came up behind us at great speed and quite obviously came over close to take a look, then crossed our bow and resumed its course. The Captain signaled "Hello" with the ship's horn but it took two tries to get a perfunctory answer. We made it out to be a supply ship of some sort.
On the mess deck last night, a half dozen of us got into a discussion of why we were here. Gavin, a 40-something lawyer from Dublin, had been working too hard when he saw a photo of a boat in one of the round-the-world races streaking through the Great Southern Ocean, and it appeared to him incredibly romantic. When the Jeanie Johnston announcement came along, Gavin, a non-sailor, was ready.
Tom and Maura, our only married couple, who live in retirement near the sea and have always loved sea stories, saw the voyage as the culmination of a life-long interest.
Carmel, a woman in her 60s, had an adventurous streak buried for years under the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood, and it finally broke loose.
Jim, my roommate, is a successful businessman and property owner with a long career in autos, trucks and farm equipment. He bought an old manor house and found in its attic a trove of 19th century letters from and about victims of the famine who fled Ireland to Quebec, dying by the hundreds on "coffin" ships and in Quebec's infamous Grosse Ile quarantine area. Jim was so moved that he turned part of the estate into the Strokestown Famine Museum. He is trying to understand what a 19th century ocean voyage would have been like.
For my part, there is, of course, my grandmother, Joanna O'Brien, along with the joy of sailing and the love of my own boat "Second Wind." There's also a deeply-embedded vision of square-rigged ships, probably planted in my youth by Errol Flynn leaping from the ratlines, sword in hand, and fanned in later years by the novels of Patrick O'Brian.
Day 49, Sat 5 Apr. Noon position: 23-09 N, 62-27 W.
When nothing special is happening on the ship, there's still plenty going on.
There are watches to be kept (12-4, 4-8, 8-12, 12-4, 4-8, 8-12), meals to be made, cleaning to be done, and maintenance to be kept up. The basic schedule is posted in the wheel house: "0600-call cook; 0645- call galley rats; 0715- call 8-12 watch; 0730- breakfast, 1st sitting for ongoing watch; 0800- second sitting; 0845- call 12-4 watch for cleaning stations; crew meeting at the wheel; 0900- 1000- Happy Hour (wiping, vacuuming, hosing, swabbing); 1000- 1230- Lecture/drill/work; 1300- 1500- Silence! (The Captain retires to his cabin); Lunch is at 1230 and dinner at 1730; video viewing hours in the great cabin- 1600- 2000.
But this schedule doesn't tell the whole story. When sails need to be changed quickly to meet a new weather condition, all hands may be called. Maintenance of the ship's spaces and systems takes place all the time, regardless of what else is happening.
Engineer Peter O'Regan changes his engines' oil every 250 hours, makes adjustments frequently and keeps detailed records. First officer Rob Matthews leads work crews in sanding, oiling and varnishing. Much of this has been done but much remains. Before we dock at West Palm Beach, our decks must be cleaned and topsides painted.
In the little chunks of time left over, Boatswain Tom Harding and Boatswain's Mate Dave Nolan fashion new sail gaskets out of braided rope, and the sail trainees uncoil rope and cut it into hundreds of short lengths to produce "baggywrinkles," which look something like giant soft shoe brushes about two feet long. They're installed at key points in the rigging to prevent chafing of the sails.
But this list merely scratches the surface. The fact is that the work of keeping up a wooden ship is never done.
Day 48, Friday, 4 April. Noon position: 23-29 N, 60-03 W.
There's a spirit abroad on the ship that's hard to describe. It's best seen in quick casual glimpses here and there. Conversations are more spirited, feet move more quickly, sunrises and sunsets draw more keen viewers, the Captain is seen with a broad smile on his face.
We are rapidly approaching our destination, and spirits are rising with each mile. We still hope to visit San Salvador, but giving up the Columbus comparisons has taken a load off everyone's mind.
Every true Irishman, after all, knows the New World was discovered by St. Brendan in the sixth century-- in a leather boat at that. And of one thing we can all be certain: this is an Irish ship. The dialects range from Dublin to Cork to Donegal, but they all lilt, and the stories they tell bring gales of laughter to everyone.
On the deck talk schedule, along with navigation and maintenance, is a presentation on the Irish famine, by Jim Callery, who founded the National Famine Museum, and another entitled "A Bit of Irish Language," by Peter O'Regan, the engineering officer. On the door to the below-decks space where Peter's diesel engines and generators sit waiting for his commands, is a sign in Gaelic, SEOMRA na nINNEALL, or "Room of the Engine."
Irishness pervades every aspect of shipboard life, and I find the Irish ethos easy to absorb, so I must occasionally get off by myself, just to safeguard my own identity.
Imagine dinner conversations in the US centering typically on US history. Here Irish history is a staple at the dinner table. Night after night, there are lively discussions of the Battle of Kinsale, the Flight of the Wild Geese, the Battle of the Boyne, and always, the Great Potato Famine, the episode of Irish history that is responsible for the ship's existence.
When music is played, there are sure to be Irish ballads that speak of separation and yearning, and of blood spilled in lost battles. In the great Irish diaspora, voyage after voyage took Irishmen to the corners of the earth, where they often played leading roles in the history of foreign nations.
Book after book has been written about the Irish in Europe, in Australia, in America. This voyage is different from all those past. It will bring a piece of Ireland to America, but it will not be dissipated; it will remain intact.
The Jeanie Johnston, a cocoon of Irish history and culture, will travel from port to port and then return to Ireland. My advice to Americans: grab the experience when you can, before it slips away. It will enrich your life.
Day 47, Thurs, 3 April. Noon position: 22-53 N, 57-47 W.
We look at the sea day after day, and what so we see? Very little.
Since the voyage started, three or four ships have been sighted, only one close enough to make out any detail. It's a lonely sea, and we all have a secret wish that it might be more heavily populated.
Turning inward, we are quite comfortable with the population density aboard the Jeanie Johnston. We 40 know one another well enough by now, and we fit the ship perfectly, occupying all the bunks and compartments fully and getting by in the mess deck and great cabin with one meal sitting.
"I can't imagine what I would be like if we had twice as many," says one. "We'd be tripping over one another. And where would the others sleep? The thought of having 80 people aboard is a little frightening.
Now take a more radical step and double the ship's population again-- to 80 an then to 160. "That would be totally impossible," says one of our numbers. "There would be no place to sleep, there wouldn't be enough heads, and the galley could never serve that many."
Now take the inconceivable step of adding another 33-- bringing the total to 193-- and you have the number that embarked on the original Jeanie Johnston on her maiden voyage to Quebec on April 24, 1848.
Day 46, Wed, 2 April. Noon position: 22-43 N, 55-32 W.
Our second week of following Columbus's track from Gomera to San Salvador was completed last Saturday, and I have been trying to make some meaningful comparisons, but it's proving difficult to do so.
The record of our progress is specific and detailed. With the help of global positioning satellites, we know where we are at any given moment and where we were at any time in the past. What we know of Columbus's progress is pitifully little by comparison.
His journal was lost centuries ago, and all we have is an abstract of a copy of it. Las Casas, who made his abstract in 1552, appeared himself to mistrust the copy from which he worked. In reporting distances, he frequently adds the expression, "if the copy be not corrupt." He appears at times to be guessing, with expressions like "they must have made 39 leagues," or "some 20 or 30 leagues."
Add to these uncertainties the charges some critics have aimed at Las Casas, accusing him of falsifying the journal to suit his own views, and the prospects of having the truth are dim. Translating Columbus's leagues into nautical miles and and giving him the benefit of every doubt, I put his progress in the second week at 794 nautical miles against our 898. But I suspect the difference is much greater.
Columbus had no charts, and his methods of dead reckoning were imprecise. The ocean is now well charted and Capt. McCarthy, an acknowledged expert in tides and currents, is taking advantage of every ocean feature to advance our progress.
My conclusion: let's salute Columbus but abandon the comparisons. The Captain has wisely decided to concentrate on the symbolism of the Columbus voyage rather than its details.
He has announced a "Rodrigo de Triana" award for the first person who sights land. Rodrigo was a sailor on the Pinta who held that distinction originally. Whether he received the 10,000 maravedis annually promised by the King and Queen, the journal doesn't say. The Captain, for his part, is keeping the nature of his award a close secret.
Day 46, Tues, April 1. Noon position: 22-11 N, 53-20 W.
After my climb to the royal yard, the Captain has banned the voyage crew from going any higher than the "table"-- the platform above the course yard on either the main- or foremast.
This is a wise precaution considering where we are-- more than 1,000 miles from land in any direction. Any serious injury resulting from a fall would have to be dealt with on the ship since we are well beyond the range of rescue helicopters.
We have been very lucky thus far. For the first 10 days out of Fenit, we thought there must be bones everywhere just waiting to be broken. But most people managed to grab something before they were toppled, and we got off with a few cracked ribs, a couple of sprained ankles and an assortment of minor gashes and bruises. Ship's doctor Tom McCormack was most in demand for dispensing sleeping pills and seasickness tablets.
While we are still a long way from the Sargasso Sea, patches of sargassum weed have been visible in the water for some time. They are yellowish in color and formed into loose clumps. I wonder how the weeds can be floating so far east of the Sargasso Sea when the current here is moving to the west.
Captain McCarthy has the answer: they are formed in the waters off Africa, drift west in the North Equatorial Current and come to rest in the giant eddy formed at the confluence of the Gulf Stream and two other currents. There an entire ecosystem thrives on vast rafts of the weed.
Jim Callery and I saw the green flash the other night-- he for the first time and I for the third. I was startled when it happened-- a sort of bow-tie effect, with the momentary flash fanning out on either side and disappearing like a strobe light. Now we have the entire ship's company watching for the flash.
Day 44: Mon, 31 March. Noon position: 21-47 N, 51-33 W.
There are more stars out here than most city-dwellers in New Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania has ever seen. These are the stars that the people of the ancient world knew well, arranged in patterns that had special meanings for them. But we have left the visible skies and the stories they told far behind, smothered in our industrial pollution and rendered archaic by the wonders revealed through the Hubble telescope.
What we see out here is a kind of time warp, a piece of ancient history-- the heroes and gods that occupied ancient minds, the guideposts that led ancient mariners to safe landfalls.
Out here, the constellations are alive and vital, and they still have a story to tell. Back home, you might search in vain on any given night for a favorite constellation. Here they are all laid out, each in its proper place, brilliantly visible.
In the dark of the afterdeck, John Gill takes us on a guided tour, using his flashlight as a cosmic pointer. We start with the Milky Way, the great wheel of our own galaxy, move to Big Dipper and Polaris, the pole star; The Pleiades; the Australian Cross, low on the horizon; Orion; Arcturus.
"There's Taurus, the Bull," says John, pointing, and as I look at it I suddenly have a revelation. Our skies at home are flat, with stars seemingly plastered on them. This sky, with its total clarity, has dimension.
I see not only the stars of the Taurus constellation; I see for the first time the bull's blazing eyes and flaring nostrils, the tilt of its head, the way its muzzle juts out at me. I am seeing Taurus as a Greek or Phoenician seaman would have seen it, and I can appreciate the effect it must have had on him.
To the extent that I can leave the 21st century behind, I may see other constellations with the same clarity. My wife Marie would be very happy. She loves the constellations.
Day 43, Sunday, 30 March. Noon position: 21-31 N, 49-01 W.
The weather has changed-- and changed again. The trade wind, pushing us along nicely, reversed itself and blew hard on our bow. For two days, it held there, while we motored with furled sails. Then, about 0600 today, it reversed again and blew with a vengeance.
We got square sails up-- courses and topsails-- and in a few minutes were making almost nine knots. But then big seas arose, and we've had rolling and lurching that matches the worst of the Fenit-Madeira run.
For our new crop of young sail trainees, this is their baptism of fire. On the messdeck, at breakfast, dishes flew from the table, then some of the food. In no time, the floor was slick with grease and porridge, feet flew out from under legs and bodies crashed.
In the great cabin, wine glasses smashed by themselves in a ghostly toast, and Sarah the cook's pet goldfish flew through the air, tank and all, to crash and slither on the floor. Jim caught the fish in his hand while Richard filled a water tumbler to give them temporary quarters. They now live in a plastic kitchen storage box on the book shelf, protected from falling out by a fiddle rail.
Being on deck seemed safer than being below, but then some of the outdoor messtables and benches broke their lashings and slid menacingly across the deck. At that point, the Captain ordered everyone below decks. By lunch time there was no let-up; if anything the lurches were faster and nastier.
A member of the 12 to 4 watch, trying to catch a little sleep, was seen to rise from his bunk in an involuntary levitation. Gavin, carrying a teapot, lost his footing and the teapot flew, splattering three people. Others came to the rescue and ended up in a pileup of bodies at the next roll. In the galley, a vast lurch brought dozens of plates and bowls rising out of their overhead racks, and all hands reached up to hold them in place.
But all these are only necessary evils. We have almost 30 knots of wind on our starboard quarter and are doing some 7 and a half knots through short, 12-foot seas. From the top of the aft deckhouse the view is spectacular as the ship rises with the swells, plows into the troughs and sends tons of white water cascading.
Day 42, Saturday, 29 March. Noon position:21-13 N, 46-36 W.
An understanding of tall ship dynamics is essential for anyone contemplating an ocean voyage on a square-rigger.
First you must master the "Uncertainty Principle", especially in its relationship to the "Discomfort Factor". The "Uncertainty Principle" always affects the "Discomfort Factor" directly, never inversely. Thus if things could get worse, they will. If things could get better, the "Uncertainty Principle" ensures that they won't.
This is sometimes called Murphy's Law of the Sea. Life at sea is governed by an invisible force (the wind), and while the wind operates in accordance with the laws of nature, those laws are often affected capriciously by the Uncertainty Principle.
Thus if the Captain says we shouldn't go any farther south, because we're already far enough south, and a few hours later, you find the ship turning south, that is the "Uncertainty Principle" at work. It directly affects the "Discomfort Factor" in this way: If you were sweaty-hot in your bunk last night, you will be sweatier-hot tonight.
Be assured that the Captain and all the crew are acting in good faith, but they, the ship and everyone on it are at the mercy of the "Uncertainty Principle."
All the ship's systems, in fact, are affected by this principle. The air conditioning, for example, can not be used to relieve the crew's sweaty-hot state because it consumes fuel, and if the fuel were used up and the "Uncertainty Principle" caused the wind to die, and the ship came to a stop, then the thousands of visitors waiting ashore to view the ship's interior in air-conditioned comfort would not only be deprived of their viewing but would themselves soon be sweaty-hot from waiting in the sun.
Many other useful examples could be cited but these will have to suffice because it is too hot to write any more. Remember, an understanding of these principles will help to make shipboard life more bearable.
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