Friday, January 07, 2005

Evan's guest post

2105, 01.06.05

Bow of the H.M.S. Bounty standing bow watch at twenty-one-oh-five.

The sea was just answering the question I had posed to Allison: what experience had left the greatest impression on her in these first few days. I had been starring at the water and a white trail zipped past, weaving at high speed like a dorsal fin of a shark. But once several appeared in and among each other, breaching regularly it was clearly a pod of dolphins. They churned up the phosphorescent microorganisms as they sped through the water leaving long glowing trails. Allison remarked that at first she thought they were eels, the trails were so brilliant and long. They were back into the fog bank obscured from sight in less than a minute leaving only the sounds of their exhalations carried clearly over the still night water as they swam away. Doubtlessly circling and following and chasing each other in the familiar way easily recognized--or easily anthropomorphized as affection.

Elettra even shrieked with glee when see relieved us and we told her the only sighting on our bow watch was of dolphins.

This was characteristic of our guests. They are enchanted by the sea and its opportunities to instruct. These first few days have found them inquisitive as to the workings of the ship but they are very conscious of the context that any such question or answer on that topic would be in. It is how the ship acts in the sea. They understand that we are bound to it and the wind, water, and weather and that it is in these things that the answers to theirs and every mariner's questions are found. In this way they have already learned the lesson common to us professional sailors as well as their and our common seafaring ancestors since time began.

Our guests grasp this humbling reality that has confronted sailors that have sought to escape the essential, universal realities that constrained them on land. As on land, nature's dictates of the human condition follow us; they find us upon the vast, trackless sea. But surprisingly enough this apprehension of civilization's wayward fugitives does not frustrate, it does not embitter. For our guests as with our ancient mariners have not been swindled in this transaction. In her generosity nature has given sailors the freedom to rewrite the rules that they left behind. They sail away on their own nation toward the realization of their collective vision of utopia. While sometimes more dictatorial than democratic under the ships hierarchy in formal political binds, they are free to create their own body politik, their own culture independent of the families, peoples, and even languages they left behind.

This promise of hope is the consolation given to sailors for setting forth in to uncertainty and unknown hazard on the high seas. The compromise to allay their being denied the escape they sought. The pact we mariners, sailors and students, have found as we redefine our previously held assumptions and beliefs from what we need to be happy to our tolerance of the erosion of personal hygiene.
posted by Evan

Chris: Friday

At home we pass from building to building, oblivious of the weather. Here all our senses are alive. We are acutely aware of the weather. We feel it on our skin. We taste it in our mouths, and we wonder what more dampness, high flying mare's tails, a red dawn, or rising swells will mean. I am a walking barometer; my sinuses can detect a hurricane 600 miles away.

We are still trying to learn the lines. Hundreds of them descend to the deck, and we have to find the right ones, even in the dark, in order to shorten sail or change tacks. Each sail is controlled by more than a dozen ropes, some coming down to the sides of the ship inside the shrouds (side stays), others coming down to a pin rail surrounding the mast. There are buntlines which haul up the lower edge of each sail to its yardarm. They run down the front of the sail, like the cords to a Venetian blind. Behind the sail are the clewlines, which haul up the corners of the sail to the yard, if the sheets are let loose. There are also leech lines which pull the outer edges of the sail in and up to the yard. Then there are the braces which run out to the tips of the yards and allow us to rotate the great sails from one side to the other. And there are lifts, which go up from the ends of the yards to the upper masts, and keep the yards from tilting, and dropping us into the sea. Beneath each yard are footropes, which hang from stirrups, and on which we stand, with our bellies on the yard, to haul the sail up, furl it into a tight roll, and lash it to the yard with gaskets. Running along the top of each yard is a rod, called a jackstay, to which we can tie various ropes, and to which we can cling for dear life.

Everyone wears a harness when they go aloft, with a line to snap on different places as a safety measure. Harnesses get in the way, however, and are soon ignored, like training wheels on bicycles.

Climbing the lower shrouds (side stays) is easy, like going up a ladder against a wall. Sailors are taught to go up the windward shrouds, so that they will be blown onto the rigging, not off . The more the ship heels, the easier it is to climb the windward shrouds. The spooky part comes when you arrive at the "top," where the first section of mast meets the second. The "top" is not just a platform, where tourists can rest and enjoy the view. The platform rests on spreaders, so that the topmast shrouds can keep the next section of mast from falling over sideways. The topmast shrouds don't just run down to the edge of the top; they slant inwards sharply and attach to the lower mast. This short section of side stays, beneath the top, is called the futtock shrouds. Reaching them is like encountering an overhang as you mount a sloping cliff. To get past this outcropping to the relative safety of the top, you have to reach out, over your head, and climb backwards, hauling yourself up and over the edge and then up the topmast shrouds, until you can swing around and step on to the platform. This is easy at the dock, but more challenging at sea, because the ship rolls and pitches, while its three masts scribe lazy elipses in the sky.

Sailors are taught to hold on to the shrouds, rather than the footropes--called ratlines--when they climb. The shrouds are fat and strong--steel cables wrapped with tarred marlin to keep the water out. Ratlines are lighter stuff. They can rot and break. Museum ships are the worst. They go no where and do nothing. Rain water snuggles into their fibers; you can almost hear them rot. In November of my freshman year in college, when I should have been writing papers, I snuck down to New York City to help bring the Mayflower back from a summer of showboating at the Circle Line's 42nd Street pier. A bitter wind was blowing off the Hudson as we bent on sails for our final salute to the Big Apple. One of my jobs was to carry ropes aloft to crew members strung out along the main yardarm. I had about 70 pounds of line coiled across my chest as I started up the futtock shrouds. Then a ratline beneath my feet gave way and I suddenly found myself hanging in space. Fortunately, I was
able to swing my feet inward, monkey-like, and find better footing. Then I slowly began to make my way down towards the deck. But the first mate had seen what had happened and as we met he asked, quite calmly, where I was going. "I thought I might go back down to the deck for a moment." "No, you are not," he said. "You are going up there," pointing to the top of the mast, 100 feet in the sky. "You will go all the way up, cross over to the other side, and come back down." There was no point in arguing. He was bigger than me. So I did as I was told; up over the futtock shrouds, up the topmast shrouds, which were loose and twisted back and forth as I climbed. Needless to say, when I arrived back at the top, I was ready to go back to work. Nothing more was said, but the mate knew. Had he allowed me to go down to the deck, I would never have gone aloft again.

Nobody is supposed to be out on a yardarm when we maneuver the ship, and therefore brace the yards around. Nor is anyone supposed to mess with the lifts. Years ago I was straddling the end of the foreyard, trying to tame a sail as we came into harbor, when someone on deck got the bright idea to brace the yard around, and let go the lifts at the same time. Suddenly my end of the yard plunged ten feet, and whipped back at the same time. I was nearly spilled off the front before I clutched. As it was, I ended up looking 60 feet down and aft, as the sides of the ship and tugboat alongside presented a pair of foaming jaws waiting to grind me up. That's why you don't mess with the lifts, or haul braces, when sailors are out on the yards.

Captain Walbridge doesn't give many orders. The crew knows what to and does it with quiet efficiency. I saw this first at the Port of Albany in November, as they re-rigged the ship after motoring through the Eire Barge Canal. I couldn't hear anything from dock as the huge bowsprit was shipped home and the jib boom sent out. Nor did I hear much as the foreyard was hoisted into place. At Mystic Seaport, the demonstration crew insisted on singing every time they hauled a line. Here we just grunt quietly to ourselves, except when we raise a heavy tops'l yard. Then it is call and response: the prosaic heave-ho.

After three days at sea I begin to suffer from NWS--the newspaper withdrawal syndrome. Snug in my wooden-walled bunk, which fits me like a coffin, I dream of Saint Anna of the Tailgate, who hands me my New York Times every morning.

Over the Christmas holidays Nicole told her grandmother that she would be sailing on the Bounty, and her grandmother gave her a short history, written in 1922, of Nicole's great-great grandfather, who had sailed out of Salem and Boston in Melville's time. Joseph Osgood went to sea at age 16 and became the captain of a full-rigged ship at 20--the age of most of our crew members today. In his mid-20s, Osgood took his wife and two-year old daughter to China, twice around the Horn, in the clipper ship "Gamecock." A few years later, he took the family to India, where he delivered the ship "Oriental" to new owners and brought his family across the Arabian Desert to Cairo, and home from England on the steamer "Adriatic." The Osgoods might not approve of their great-great grand-daughter setting a topsail, but they would be amazed to learn that she has clocked more miles crisscrossing America in her pick-up truck than they did sailing tall ships around the world.

Captain Osgood would also be shocked to learn that of the 30 souls handling this great ship, 18 are women--ten from Mary Lyons' seminary and eight from the Bounty's own crew. The only women to go to sea in his day did so as wives or passengers; no proper young lady of his time would ever be seen with bare arms and legs, draped over a yardarm. His wife, however, would have had plenty of arduous work of her own below decks, and would have toiled in a cumbersome long dress, even on windy days at sea. A fully-dressed woman in Mary Ann Osgood's time carried 43 pounds of clothing on her back.

Most of our crew are as inexperienced as Melville was when he first shipped out for Liverpool. Two, however, are ringers. Natalia logged 3,800 miles from Tahiti to Honolulu on SEA semester's brigantine, Robert C. Seamans. It was on that voyage than she became, among other things, a movie star. Cindy joined the Seamans in Honolulu and, with a broken arm, sailed to San Francisco.

I decided not to join a watch for the first few days out. We have calm weather and plenty of sailors, so I have been joining every watch and napping in between. For the past two mornings I have watched my students climb aloft in the pre-dawn light, lay out along the main top'sl and main yards, and set sails. This morning I took the helm from Nino so that she could join Natalia and Anna on the main yard. All still wear their harnesses and clip on aloft. We are making about three knots under fore and main courses, main tops'l, and stays'ls. The ship is perfectly balanced in this configuration, with no drag on the rudder.

Cindy and Natalia have taken up celestial navigation with a vengeance, timing each other's sightings and writing them down. Elettra is learning dead reckoning this morning from Andy, the first mate.

The captain taught me how to make a new spar on deck with nothing but a circular saw and power plane. He buys 2x10 joists from Home Depot and, laminates them with home-made clamps on deck. The spars are then painted white at each end and slathered in tallow in between.

Nighttime is spectacular now that Florida has sunk below the horizon. First two nights we were accompanied by shrimp boats; last night we were all alone. When the sea was calm, even Venus shimmered across the water. The dolphins play with us day and night. Last week I reread Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner--the Dover edition with Gustave Dore's magnificent illustrations. I'm now convinced that Dore must have stood a night watch to capture the massiveness of the ship's bow works
and lines in the starlight.
posted by Chris

Natalia's Second Blog

Feeling restless tonight. Probably because it was an awesome day, or perhaps because I took a long nap in the late morning right after our watch...

This morning I watched the sunrise from the foremast port yard, while we were shaking the course (one of the foremost square sails). Yes, I must admit that my legs were shaking and the deck seemed further down than it actually was, but the view was worth it and so was the feeling of satisfaction once we got back down to the boat. Right after sunrise we took our shoes off and did some deck scrubbing with the fire hose and then it was time for breakfast--delicious butter bisquits and cereal. There's nothing like a good breakfast after dawn watch! Actually, there's nothing like good food on a beautiful boat with a great company.

And Ralph, our cook, has been preparing some good stuff for us--we had barbequed burgers for lunch today (the grill is still up on deck), and we had pork with applesauce and roasted potatoes for dinner. Sorry, SEA kids, no Tank juice onboard; we only drink real orange juice and water.

Today was also a major celestial navigation day for Cindy, Mat (our mate), and me. We seem to be the celestial gurus of the boat, as no one else, except maybe the captain and one of the mates, has done much navigating by the stars and the planets. So, we took a morning sun line and we also got a local apparent noon sight, which helped us find our longitude. (Steve, I used my sheet anchor.) This was quite helpful because the crew decided that we had a "major electronic failure" this morning, right after the deck watch. Luckily, the failure was fake, just meant to help us learn various navigation techniques, such as dead reckoning, measuring the speed of the boat manually, and, of course, celestial navigation. We got to use the captain's sextant, which actually no one from the crew had used before, and even though there were clouds and we could not shoot too many stars, it was still fun.

Right now, it's time for bed because we are getting up at 4 a.m. again.

I hope there will be less clouds then, so I can teach the Celestial G (a group of stars that form a G in the sky) to some of the crew people.

There is also a lot of talking about the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean shoot, but I'll leave my Johnny Depp stories for tomorrow. Oooh, I also fell off my bed this morning, and I was not sleeping, nor was the boat rolling, but it was still a dramatic fall--go figure!
posted by Natalia

Megan's guest post

Megan Folz
HMS Bounty, guest BLOG

I was wondering why Evan and I were so anxious to write one of these BLOG entries. There is something very rewarding, perhaps more important, comforting or reassuring to know that someone will read your words. It puts you up, and somehow makes you a little more important than the common stranger on the street. It does not matter who reads it, some arbitrary person whom you may know or may not just as long as it is read and heard.

I was standing bow watch with Elettra tonight. Her excitement reminds me why I love the ship, and why I am here, because sometimes it is very easy to forget. Having been on the Bounty, leaving and being back again now I have a more clear understanding of what the ship offers people.

Most people (crew included) view it as an escape; an escape from the "real world", from cell phones, news, radio, television, cars, and other chaos that the modern world provides us. Here, life is simple, it is easy to understand. It is something that can be appreciated in a few weeks, but takes years to fully learn and then after that you still don't know it all. Tonight there is no land or other boats in sight; you can see the horizon around you, all 360 degrees, no interruption. That is rare and not seen anywhere expect on the sea. At night, it is the sky and not necessarily the seas that humbles us. It is beautiful and awesome, in the mightiest sense of the word.

Elettra recited the rhythm we learn as children, "Twinkle, twinkle little star." But here, tonight, the sky is not as innocent as that. Tonight that stars are beautiful and terrifying, like the sea, once you realize that it has the power to create and destroy.

Cindy's hello

Hello to all, my name is Cindy and I am a junior at MHC. I am an anthropology major focusing on medical anthro. My minor is Spanish, politics, and the five college culture, health, and science certificate.

I have been sailing for 10 years and did the Sea Education Association summer program (yeah S-188) from Honolulu to San Francisco recently. And now I am on the Bounty--go figure. So here we are at the beginning of another adventure. I flew to Tampa yesterday and traveled with Maria to "the Pier". The cab cost $45 and the driver didn't know where this infamous pier was. So much for saving money and having everyone know where the pier is! The boat is way different than the Seamans and run super differently as well. As much as I am secretly in love with marconian rigs, square sails are interesting and there is so much history involved at least with this boat, if not with all of them. We are more passengers on this boat (than on the Seamans) than crew in the sense that we aren't expected to know everything and we have special privileges besides the fact that we are on watch and are being taught basic sail handling.

I went for a long run yesterday--a little longer than expected because I got lost and realized at about the same time that I was hungry and I was running through the ghetto of St. Petersburg. Oh, and the sun was setting. Needless to say that I started to run a bit faster. No harm was done though and I arrived back at the pier, and hence the boat, an hour later and after stretching and doing abs, had a wonderful dinner and then went to play ultimate Frisbee with some of the other crew on the beach. Then we went for ice cream.

S-188 kids, I am on B-watch but always remember the most important fact that A WATCH IS ALWAYS THE BEST!!!! This morning (1/5) we woke up at 7:15 and gathered at the capstan at 8 we did a lot of sail handling and emergency drills. But before all of that we cast off from the dock.

Winds are light and variable and the sea is calm but we are motoring and plan to be at the Dry Tortugas by the 9th or something and then to Key West by like the 12th. Mommy and Daddy, you are going to hate me, we are back in St. Petersburg on the 16th, oops! So it should be really fun and I know my hands will be ready for a break by then. High point of my day was that I finally got to go aloft!!!! And I still have two working arms! With that I am off to sleep because, although it's a different name and an hour off, we have mid watch tonight (12-4).
posted by Cindy

Nino: First day

This is the first day of sailing and we have had almost no wind. While I would love to see the ship in full sail, and I am very much looking forward to that day, I think it did help to go aloft without the wind for the first day. The weather and the sights are beautiful, sunny all day and a starry sky at night.

The ship itself is better then I had imagined it. The ship is an amazing sight on deck and roomy below. The sleeping situations, at least for me, is amazing; I have a solitary room with plenty of space. The rest of the ship is very well equipped. There are two showers and a roomy kitchen. The cook is excellent; so far we have had good meals.

Over all it has been a good day. I am looking forward to going to bed in about 20 minutes when my shift ends, and I am looking forward to windier weather.
posted by Nino

Elettra: Friday

January 7, 2005
35 miles away from the Tortugas

Today felt like the longest day so far. There was more wind than yesterday and by now my face is quite toasted.

As part of Watch A, we made rounds in the morning and while I was at the helm a school of dolphins swam by us on portside, jumping around. I've never seen so many at the same time. They glistened in the sun and spewed water.

The Galley is the dining room, kitchen, snack area and bookshelf (that includes a stereo, with an iPod connected to it). This seems to be the reuniting center of the ship (after the deck, of course). Here, everyone sits to chat or eat (or write BLOGS on the computer), get their food, brush their teeth--or sew the bottom of their feet. Lucas, one shipmate, explains he sews where it is callous and he has no sensation. He had no cut on his foot but he stitches it in order to feel something.

Lucas is extremely talented and can play almost all instruments, from the guitar to the trombone and can sing along as well. He has a mini guitar on board and he told me the story today of how there were two new boys (with Biblical names) in school when he was younger. Apparently they had taken the wrong bus and were meant to go to a different school.

So they became friends with Lucas. At the end of the day Lucas went home with them and their father had a collection of instruments (mostly guitars). He has curly blondish hair until the ears, a goatee and perfect white teeth, although he smokes. Today, after boxhauling the ship (reversing direction), we stopped for a swim and although we did not do the Tarzan jump into the water, Lucas, like last time, brought his "smokes" in a baggie and smoked from the water. Any smoker will know how hard this must be but he is able to maintain the cigarette intact. Although he can't smoke on board, he is a joker on board (and in the water). Sometimes he also jokes with Captain Robin, who often plays along and responds with smart-ass comments. Lucas has a shackle in his ear. The piercing he made by himself, of course, using a needle). To say he is a character is definitely an underestimation.

I saw the dolphins again on my night watch (around 20:30) and they looked magical, illuminating their path and their splashes. Currently, almost everyone is sitting 'tween decks, watching Treasure Island, the movie. Most of it is situated on the Bounty.

I wake up every day excited to go on deck--even just to see what the weather is like. The watch before ours wakes us up by telling us how the weather is and what time it is. I think this is a trick because it only makes me want to go on deck immediately to feel the weather myself.
posted by Elettra

Anna: Friday

Friday January 7th, 8:15 am

I have just finished my morning watch and breakfast and I am soon headed for bed again. Our cook has been doing an amazing job with our meals, this morning's breakfast being a good example of the meals I look forward to every few hours: eggs cooked to order, sausage links, cereal, and toast. I am pleasantly surprised my by the more than adequate area for sleeping that I am lucky enough to have gotten. I am in the T'ween decks at the very back of the ship in a secluded window nook with lots of head room where I can look out the window at the ocean and the sky from my bed. The Captain and all of the crew are really wonderful to us, helping us to learn everything, yet at the same time making us feel like useful integral members of the crew.

The wind has picked up and we were able to turn the motors off yesterday and have been relying just on our sails. It is absolutely wonderful to sit on deck and absorb the sunshine and watch the ocean as I feel it rocking the ship; it is going to be hard to go back to February weather in Massachusetts. This morning right after the sun came up I unfurled the main course sail underneath the already unfurled topsail. It was a little precarious climbing from the shrouds to the yard, because the yard was tacked such that it was pretty far away from the shrouds and my arms and legs being a bit on the shorter side, it was a stretch. I am sore in my arms and back but the climbing has been the hardest on my hands which are unaccustomed to the hauling and climbing the ropes. Speaking of which, I am glad to be headed to bed to catch a nap before lunch.
posted by Anna

Allison: knots and knots

Day Three is waning as I write. The sun has set, the sails are furled, and the ship is heaving to. Night watches have begun and the sea is cradling us in her loving arms. There is very little in this world that is more peaceful than the rhythmic rocking to and fro of the ship at sea.

For most of today we sailed at three knots, a record for this trip. The threshold speed of the Bounty is twelve knots, which must be exhilarating when reached. We are navigating without any technology, except for a depth meter. In order to determine our speed we perform a Dutchman. This exercise consists of tossing a wood block off the starboard bow and monitoring the time it takes to travel along one hundred feet of the ship. Using a specialized slide rule we can apply this number and get our speed in knots.

Enough of the ship: I am in stupendous shape despite falling down some stairs yesterday morning and the burning of my hands from hauling on the lines this afternoon. I am surrounded by lovely, knowledgeable people who never tire of my many questions, and are excellent instructors. I am teaching myself some knots and have learned the six basic knots used on this ship. I cannot presently recite all of their names, but I can produce them and determine in what situation they are likely to be used.

A very exciting and unexpected incident occurred today. One of the Bounty crew members, by the name of Evan, brought out his violin during lunch and I got to give him some pointers and play a little. April, my dear sister, I deeply regret never taking out my violin and playing the Bach Double with you over the holidays.

I know that Chris has gone over our brilliant maneuvers of this afternoon's work party so I won't bore my readers with redundancy. I will just say that I miss all you divine MoHos and my dearest family and friends.

Yo-ho me hearties, Allison