Monday, January 10, 2005

Nicole: A moment of glory

Today we received the first whispers of wind. We are on a port tack, which means that the windward side of the boat is the port side, and that the yards are braced to reach forward on the port side. The wind has been sufficient to shut off the motor, which is a blessed thing, as it lessens the noise on board considerably. The generators below us still groan on ceaselessly, providing power for our 21st century electrical needs, among them the nav lights that indicate our presence to other vessels in the darkness. Under sail we are managing a staggering 3 knots, give or take. For those of you who are unfamiliar with sea terminology, that is painfully slow.

I am greatly impressed by the assembled group of young women from MHC. I was proud to see Elettra, who is terrified by heights, out on the port yardarm yesterday, 50 feet off the deck, furling sails and looking brave. Cindy and Natalia have been working on their celestial navigation skills, taking sun sights and making calculation that are beyond my ken. Maria is a gem, always smiling, always willing to help. Allsion is a bit sore, due to the fact that she tumbled down the companionway this morning, a maneuver which deposited her in the fore crew quarters, quite close to my head. On the topic of soreness, I cannot believe how shaky my legs are. I had expected my shoulders, arms, and hands to protest the new workload, but their soreness is nothing compared to my upper thighs and calves. Climbing is easy, but descending is another matter entirely.

The little wind we had today has quit us entirely and we are drifting at less than a knot, but at least in the right direction. I am mid-watch and have just checked the boat, a task that someone on each watch performs every half hour. No fires, no gurgling or gulping in the nether regions of the ship, no fuel or water leaks, check. Pumping the bilge is daunting for anyone unfamiliar with pumps and valves, as there is an entire wall of them, of varying colors and purposes, and a mistake can burn out the motors for the pumps and who knows what else.

Today my moment of glory came when I sat on a pile of line under which was stowed a fire extinguisher without its pin. The damn thing went off like gangbusters and a caustic white powder coated the lines and the area underneath and around them, which included two lashed barrels of linseed oil. We used the shop vac to clean it up (more 18th century technology), but in the morning I will move everything, mop, and coil the lines. I wonder if they usually store the extinguishers under five hundred feet of rope, but perhaps they simply ended up there after our combination fire/man overboard drill this afternoon.

When we set out on this voyage there was some consternation among the scholars within our academy, and the skeptics within our families. “It will be a wonderful experience,” we said. “But what will they learn? How much academic credit will they get? Is this scholarship?” they asked. Their questions made me think of one of my favorite quotes that I first discovered on an outward bound journey of long ago.

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, pitch manure, solve equations, analyze a new problem, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

More on that later.

Last night I dreamed of phosphorescent whales and dolphins swimming around ship and as far as I could see, singing night songs and leaving trails like comets in the heavens.
posted by Nicole