Monday, January 10, 2005

Nicole: “look ma, no hands”


A ship is never still. It is an ecosystem unto itself. There are people about at all hours of the day and night. Some are on watch, some struggling with celestial navigation, or finishing Melville, some learning knots, many laughing, most exhausted. When under sail, once the sun goes down we live by red light, below the weather deck so as not to ruin our night vision above deck. Flashlights are forbidden on deck unless absolutely necessary, for the same reason.

Last night we struck sail at midnight, which is to say we took down the fore and aft sails in the dark. (The fore and aft sails are not square but triangular and they run from bow to stern, as opposed to perpendicular to the ship, hence the name fore and aft.) This was an excellent exercise. First there is the matter of finding the line you need in the dark. When this ship is fully rigged she carries more than ten miles of line. Much of that line must pass through someone’s hands in order to maneuver the boat. I was terrifically proud of our girls, as we found what we needed in the dark, hauled it down and coiled the deck after. Nothing like a little aerobic exercise just before bed after 20 hours awake to knock you out.

This morning the wake up fairy came at 07:15. The wake up fairy (complete with wand made from a piece of wood and a Christmas package bow) is someone from the previous watch who visits each bunk of the oncoming watch and rouses us for duty. That person tells us the time, the weather on deck, and any pertinent information about what has or is about to occur. With that we rise, take our breakfast, and twenty five minutes later we are on deck, taking the ship. This morning I got five minutes and then heard the call, “All Hands to furl the main topsail.” Oh hell, that’s me. So I ran for a harness and eight minutes after waking I was fifty five feet above the water, standing on a foot rope that was swinging in the force 3 breeze, bent over the yard arm swimming for sail (for y’all who have no idea what that means, it means I was laying on my stomach over a big long wooden pole that holds the sail, reaching down and grabbing at what I could reach in an attempt to take the wind out of what was left of the sail and roll it up underneath me.) I did a “look ma’ no hands” (maman, I was clipped in) and howled out to the rising sun from the top of the world. Then I descended and took my cold tea and soggy granola.

This morning we docked in the Dry Tortugas. It sounds like a chain of islands but in fact it is a series of small bluffs that peek above the waterline, one of which is occupied by Fort Jefferson. The whole area is a National Park, barely large enough to run aground on. I spent part of the day on the beach, covered in green clay as a remedy for the sun plague that has spead across my face. The rest of the morning I spend underwater, snorkeling for the first time. One of the crew, Brian, was a dive guide in the Florida Keys and he pointed out and named all manner of wonderful creature. We saw lobsters and blowfish, coral and zebrafish, and even some barracuda. The water here is a fantastic blue, turquoise in the shallows and sapphire in the depths, complete the picture with sandy white beaches.