Monday, January 10, 2005

Chris: Sunday

After sailing back and forth all night, we hauled up our sails and motored into Fort Jefferson to deliver our tourists and beach bums. The approaches are fairly treacherous in the best of weather, and are marked only by telephone poles stuck in the sand. The first three or four are mere stumps, run down by ships that did not see them in the night or fog. There are at least 400 shipwrecks around these coral reefs.

Today was for touring the fort, relaxing on the beach, and snorkeling in the shallows. Tomorrow the students will pay for their leisure when the captain teaches them how to raise the anchor and five shot of heavy chain by hand. A shot of chain, in case you didn’t know, is ninety feet long, so it will take us half the day to bend on a line to the chain, run the line aft to the capstan, and haul the chain up section-by-section, switching the line each time the bend reaches the capstan. Nicole and two other women on the crew are hauling the huge line up the gangway and onto the deck now.

At the moment we are anchored a half mile off the leeward side of the fort. The spanker is set, so the ship is like a giant weather vane pointing into the wind. She is a grand sight from the shore, even without her foretops’l and foretopgallant mast and yard. From the white coral sands beside the fort it is easy to imagine her off Tahiti or Pitcairn. The original Bounty was built as a merchantman to carry coal – i.e. a collier. This one is one third larger than the original, and more like a six rate (small) British frigate. Indeed, she is a lot like the Australian replica of Cook’s bark HMS Endeavor.

Between us and the fort is a broad band of shallows, rich in sea life of all kinds. The crew has loaned us its snorkeling gear, and at least half of the students have been cruising face down over the shallows spying on the fish, lobsters, and giant turtles. Rose, our official photographer, is using Andy’s underwater camera right now. She is a surreptitious observer; the fish will never know she was there.

I went ashore with the students this morning, armed with three cameras, plus apples and snacks. Sometimes I feel like a Japanese tourist; other times like their mom. But four hours on the beach was plenty for me. I need to read or write something, and I can’t do that in the sand. So I returned to the ship with B watch in the Boston whaler that serves as our gig.

Tonight the students will go ashore again for a candlelight tour of the fort run by a costumed interpreter.

In a previous post I mentioned that the captain and a volunteer had built a new mizzen topmast from lumber bought at Home Depot. I’ve decided that this is the original Home Depot ship. Everything is done economically, which is essential given how expensive tall ships are. Even our esteemed chef Ralph buys his cooking utensils from Home Depot. His potato masher, for example, is a giant drywall mixer. Had Home Depot existed in the nineteenth century, maybe the age of sail would not have ended so soon.
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posted by Chris