Friday, January 14, 2005

Chris: Thursday

Sailing around the clock creates a special netherworld, both on deck and below. On deck the rig above looks like a dark German forest in an etching by Durer. But everything is so indistinct that you have to ask the person standing next to you who she is. Night vision is crucial, so you dress in the dark and stumble through the ‘tween decks in darkness, hoping that no one has left a hatch open to the hold below.

Nighttime sailors are only half conscious, especially when idling below in the dim red light of the galley. They huddle around the table, like Rembrandt’s peasants huddled round their hearth, hunched over, yawning, trying to make conversation, or jokes, to stay awake. The more tired the crew becomes, the lower the standards for amusement. They keep awake mainly by doing their rounds, check bilges, waking the next watch, and certifying their checks in old-fashioned black & white composition books from WalMart. At nighttime sailors’ brains run on one cylinder. It is very difficult to focus, especially on computations in the chart house.

Fortunately, the weather remains balmy, high 70s in the day, low 60s at night, wind 10 knots out of the east, seas calm. A little rain fell around 4:00 a.m., but didn’t last long. At 7:00 a.m. the morning watch hauled out the fire hose and washed down the decks with seawater. The decks are cleaner than we are. Having already expended 75 percent of the fresh water allocated for this voyage on the way to Key West, no one has showered since.

At the 7:45 this morning a shout went up from the capstan: “Maria has the watch.” Our students are now taking turns as “mini-mates.” The process began yesterday when Allison took command and put the crew through two evolutions – wearing ship first in one direction, then in the other. The moves went well, affirming the captain’s belief, expressed that morning, that our young women have what it takes – were his crew to become incapacitated – to bring the ship into port. Throughout the night different students took the con, plotted the course, and ran the watch. When I came on deck at 3:00 a.m. Anna was in the red-lit chart room, checking our progress. Cindy preceded her; Carly followed. For the past 18 hours our course has been north of northeast, between 10 to 30 degrees. As we close in on the west coast of Florida the water gets rather shallow – 39 feet below our keel at the moment.

This afternoon we divided into work parties AND did evolutions simultaneously. Rose went up to the foretopmast crosstrees to finish setting up the tackle that will raise a new foretopgallant/royal mast that Cindy started a couple of days ago. She was up there for more than two hours while down on deck Carly wore the ship around twice, barking out the orders as if she has been a sailing master all her life. Elettra hove us to (parked us) so that the crew could go swimming again. She, too, is a natural at this game. Then Mike, Nicole, and Allison scrambled aloft to furl a ballooning t’gallant, 85 feet up on the mainmast. Allison did it barefoot, reminding me of what they said of Ginger Rogers: She did everything Fred Astaire did, but only backwards. I shouldn’t admit it yet, but these students are exceeding my most extravagant expectations. And, despite their new found confidence, they always wear their harnesses and clip on.

As of 6:30 p.m. we were west of Naples, Florida, ghosting north (010 degrees) at about three very gentle, leisurely knots.