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.

Parrot Woman - Jan 13

Sausage and cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and of course a shot of ship coffee. We are in the last stage of our sailing adventure, trying to act independently of the wonderful crew of the bounty, and even acting as mini-mates, leading the wearing of the ship and keeping track of our course of navigation. An underlying theme of the Captain’s afternoon sailing "classes" has been that sailors are simple people. I’m sure this was meant as a sarcastic challenge to our concept of education and intelligence. Sailing is a language all of its own, with a broad vocabulary demanding of much more than simplicity of mind. It is certainly a different part of the mind than "higher education" demands: there aren’t any papers to outline, or hours to gestate a new theory. Yet sailors must have a quickness of intellect to manage a ship effectively, which always involves physical activity and willing energy, in contrast to the pleasant lethargy that writing a paper or hearing a lecture often involves. It would take me years to master the knots and pin rails, not to mention the navigation and wind patterns.

This afternoon for work party I went aloft and sat on the foremast cross trees, about 90 feet up. It was actually quite relaxing once I managed to get up there: the climb is still nerve-wracking, but very satisfying. Looks like dinner is about ready: spicy thai. I’ll miss Ralph when I head back to school.
posted by Rose, Parrot Woman

Anna: Key West

Thursday January 13, 2005 1:45 pm

Today is another beautiful, sunny day at sea. I am beginning to slowly forget about life before the Bounty and the initial strangeness that I felt begin on the boat. As we are settling in our routines and know what to do to sail the ship, where all the lines are, how to do our assigned jobs and so forth, it seems natural that we are here. We have dogged the watches once again and I am now on the 12-4 watch, typically everyone’s least favorite. It does mean a little less sleep because dinner interrupts one of our chances to sleep, but I think once we get on this system, it will be fine. Last night we began our project of having each Mt. Holyoke student act as the mate for their watch. I was the first student to be the mate for my watch. The night (early morning actually) went well, it was actually kind of dull in some ways. It was good to get a feel of how everything flows during a watch and I am starting to understand navigation much better; however, there were no boats the entire night, weather was no problem, and we stayed on course during the whole night, so the time passed slowly. In my watch Nino, Natalia, and I are each going to have a chance to be the mate twice, once during the night and once during the day so I will have a chance to me the mate again and during the day I will call a wearing of the ship (turning the stern of the ship through the wind) so there will be more going on.

This morning we had work party and I climbed to the crosstrees of the foremast (the very top) to rig a gantline so we can haul up the new mast later. It was intimidating at first when I began climbing the upper ratlines but I just continued upwards and before I knew it I was higher and higher and finally I was at the top of the shrouds. The tricky part then was maneuvering myself onto the crosstrees because the ratlines ended a little lower than I would have liked. Nevertheless, being up there was a lot of fun and I am quickly becoming more and more at ease with climbing aloft and enjoying being up there.

Key West was a great stop. We got in at around 8 am and left for the shore at 9. I spent the day walking around and exploring the island. I enjoyed touring Hemingway’s home, which is a beautiful Spanish-style mansion with a gorgeous and surprisingly laid-back garden, guesthouse and backyard pool. One of the most strange things about the home is the 60+ cats that live on the estate. They are all direct descendents from the bloodline of the original six-toed cat given to Hemingway because of its well-known value as a good luck charm for sailors. During his lifetime, Hemingway also had about as many cats as live there now, and the owners of the estate take good care of the cats, apparently they are the curators’ second largest expense. We sat outside for a nice lunch at a restaurant named Caroline’s where I got some excellent shrimp. It was great to get fresh seafood, something I certainly don’t get enough of at school. We then continued wandering, did a little shopping and met up with the rest of the MHC crew to see the sunset at Mallory Square. We where then led by our first-mate Andy to a local Cuban restaurant, El Siboney, in a remote location out of the tourist area. Apparently the restaurant has been in the same Cuban family since it opened and the taste of food confirmed it. I got a pork dinner with saffron rice, black beans and plantains (!); to say it was great is an understatement.
posted by Anna

Chris: Boarders and getting underway

About 3:00 this morning, we had a boarder -- a toothless drunk who had tried to paddle his kayak out to his boat and got caught in the tide, which was running past us like the Columbia River. He managed to grab hold of our whaler, which was tied alongside, until Joe, who was on anchor watch, heard the thunking of gunwales and brought him on board. The fellow looked like Ben Gun in Treasure Island and was so grateful that he threatened to wake up the entire crew. If he had not caught hold of our boat the tide would have taken him into open sea. Joe calmed him down and gave him a tarp to lie under until the tide turned and would take him back to his own boat.

Along about 8:00 a.m. Ben Gun returned with gift of CDs for Joe, who he again credited with saving his life. In the light of day we could clearly see that his kayak was well designed – to carry a beer cooler aft of the paddler.

Boarders can be a problem in harbors like this one, where many of the visitors – and residents – are not in their right minds. Drunk enough, they can imagine themselves as pirates, and storm our “pirate” ship. They can be handled, of course, but not without waking our people, who are at the point in this voyage where the novelty has worn off and sleep deprivation has set in. We are getting very serious about sleep, especially those who have to interrupt theirs to stand watch in the middle of the night.

Conditions remain salubrious. The night was lit well with stars, and a light warm breeze wafted in from the east. According to the latest cell phone reports, snow and freezing rain are expected in Connecticut. My wife, home alone in South Hadley, has taken to bed with a feverish cold, making me feel very guilty having such a good time here.

Getting underway this morning was tricky, as we were anchored in a fast running current between Key West and one of its islands. The current was stronger than the wind, which came from the port, abeam. We could set all our sails and sail off the anchor, but there was no room to drift aft or to leeward. So the captain chose to lee-bow the current, in the hope that the current would keep us upwind of the island until we could attain enough speed to sail on through the channel and out to sea. We set all sails, including the main t’gallant, hoping that the higher sails would pick up a slightly stronger breeze and drive us forward through the current. It was a dicey situation; enough so that the Coast Guard came out to watch. But the strategy worked, if barely, and we sailed out of the harbor without embarrassment.

It might well not have worked if any of the gear jammed, or the crew fouled up. But everyone stood by their stations and did everything right and in proper sequence. All sails were set before the anchor came up, and it was hauled just as we got underway. The forestays’l, re-rigged while we were in Key West, worked properly, and made the difference.

A lot went on simultaneously, as both the main t’gallant and tops’l had to be raised up their masts quickly. This takes eight or ten hands on the halyard, with one person shouting “Heave, ho. Heave, ho” or “two, six, two, six,” which means the same thing. Rose went up and out onto the t’gallant yard to set sail and surprised herself on how easy it was after less than a week on board.

Once clear of the anchorage we sailed south from Key West and then wore around and headed due north on a starboard tack up the Gulf, towards St. Pete. The sky is clear but for some scattered clouds; temperatures continue to run in the high 70s, low 80s, with a 10 knot breeze driving us along at 4 to 5 knots per hour. The sea is calm, and the hot sun and light rocking action are conducive to laziness, even torpor. It is possible to lulled into the illusion that this is all there is to sailing.

All around us, however, are treacherous reefs. Sailing this same course through heavy fog would be very different; a time for ultra vigilance. Years ago, Erskine Childers wrote a gripping novel about a couple of Englishmen sailing through the Friesian sand flats in northern Holland, where the underwater topography changes radically with every few feet of a substantial tide. I can imagine the same sailing here, despite the relatively low rise in tide.

At the moment we are making 4 to 5 knots, which means we could be back in St. Petersburg on Friday, if we wished. The current plan is to use the extra time to practice evolutions, and to drop our hook off Egmont Key outside Tampa Bay late Saturday afternoon. That will give us time to clean ourselves and the ship up before taking her into Tampa at mid-day Sunday. Then there will be more time to get ready to meet the local alumnae at 5:30 p.m.
posted by Chris

Nicole's 5th Entry

Seasickness is indiscriminant. Some people have it and some do not, but admirals and common sailors are as likely to get it as not. Yesterday, we motored toward Key West in a force 5-6 gale and several (myself included) were quite ill. The nausea is incapacitating and we were all grateful when those who were not ill took over our stations on watch. The most important thing to remember about being sick on a boat is to go aft and to the leeward side, else you can imagine the results. The next most important thing is that it passes after a few hours, and in all probability, you will live that long, though you may not enjoy it much.

We were motoring because this ship cannot sail into the wind. The best racing boats can sail about 30 degrees off the wind. So, if the wind is coming from due East, or 90 degrees, those boats can steer a course anywhere EXCEPT between 60 degrees and 120 degrees. That said, this boat can only sail downwind, or 90 degrees off the wind. This means, in practice, that there is 180 degrees of the 360 available into which we cannot steer. So, when the wind comes from the direction into which we hope to go, we are forced to travel under power.

It’s been days since I last wrote. I think I am avoiding thoughts of going home. It is striking how quickly my real life receded into some kind of far away dream that I remember but cannot touch. Periodically thoughts of my down comforter or a full bathtub cross my mind, but they are fleeting, and I am quickly distracted by the tasks at hand. I mean no hurt to those I love and miss, but at this moment there is very little of me that wishes to return home. In some ways this is not surprising. Here there is no daily delivery of bills in the mail, no ability to correspond, no academic arguments to wrestle into words. I understand that in its way this is a form of escapism, but it seems a worthy one, at least for a time. In part, I came on this journey to lighten an invisible burden. My hope was to discover a new perspective and to encounter part of myself previously unknown. In this I succeeded. In so doing I have left some part of myself here, some piece of me is free, untethered, weightless. When I board the plane for home four days from now it will not be as the same person who arrived ten days ago. I have given of myself on this journey, and somewhere inside myself I know that part of me is never coming back.
posted by Nicole

Parrot Woman - January 12

Once again on a new watch, we raised anchor and set the sails, battling a current and teasing the winds to escape Key West, land of key lime pie and binge drinking. I think we are all getting a better grip on the sails and the lines and their order on the pin rails, but it is still a confusing task to handle the sails efficiently. We set the forward course, the main topsil, and the mail tagallant, as well as the stasils and spanker (someone else can correct me if I’m wrong in their post). I surprised myself by climbing to the tagallant yard arm to loose the sail; I think that’s up about 85 feet. I’m not sure if I’ll go up there again, but I managed to not be too nervous, beyond fearing that I am too large to get through the shrouds of the topsil to the tagallant. I made it.

On other fronts, I need to continue to photograph everything, especially everyday life aboard the ship, the glowing red lights of the tween decks, and the good food Ralph has been cooking for us.
posted by Rose, Parrot Woman

Nino: Students take charge

I have not written for a few days and so missed a few key events. We arrived at the Dry Tortugas, spent the day at Fort Jefferson, left the Dry Tortugas and arrived at Key West. Spent most of the day at Key West walking around town and at sunset we went to Mallory (this may be an incorrect spelling) Square were you can watch the sunset as well as performers who come to entertain. The town is a living tourist spot with very little else.

Today we have set sail and are heading to St Petersburg. From this point the idea is that we, the students, will be in charge of the ship (giving orders and setting the course). We will become the mates of the ship. There are certain points on which I do not feel comfortable being in charge on. For example, we are going to have to do a full evolution during one of our watches. While I do understand the basic concepts and I have been observing during the wares, I am not sure I will be able to know what commands to give when and interpret what the wind is doing with what the ship is doing quickly enough. It’s not a real worry, we are still learning and can hardly be expected to know everything about the wind in the span of eight days. I am surprised and tickled by how much we have picked up; I know or can find almost all the main lines for the sails, which was the most daunting task when we first set out. I have also become comfortable with going aloft and I even find it fun now.

Today during work party we were being taught how to do splices for the ratlines. I find that many of the tasks, for the student, on a ship like this one follow a similar pattern. A task or an idea will be explained in a very simple and easy to grasp manner. When trying to do the task you notice that it’s not as simple as explained and usually some small detail will be done wrong. When you ask another crewmember to explain it again, they will do it differently. Finally, the student has to realize that there are many ways of doing the task and the best way to go about it is to be able to improvise (where do you tie of this line? and how?). The right answer can change with each mate or each crewmember.
posted by Nino

Chris: Key West

We motored quietly into Key West at dawn alongside the Empress of the Seas. As we prepared to drop our hook in the channel, the 600 foot, 12 storey high cruise ship glided by and then did a 180 degree turn within her own length, aided by powerful bow thrusters, and parallel parked in front of what used to be submarine pens during World War II. She completely obscured our view of the town.

Key West was founded by ship wreckers, who salvaged the many ships lost on these reefs. The U.S. Navy arrived in 1823 to deal with pirates who preyed on shipping in the Florida Straits. Commodore Rogers and his squadron of "mosquito boats" were only here for a couple of years, but were largely successful, despite frequent bouts with yellow fever. The merchants here have turning these terrorists of the sea into romantic heroes, which makes me wonder how they will remember Al Qaeda in 100 years.

Key West is a giant vacuum cleaner aimed at the wallets of cruise ship passengers. Every second store sells vulgar-shirts; every third sell bikinis (unisex). In the evening the strippers invite customers in to the see the show. Key West has 101 bars, and 12 strip clubs. But then many of the bars have naked waitresses, so the statistics get confused.

Captain Mel Fisher’s museum to the underwater plundering of sunken galleons is mediocre; Hemingway’s house is full of cats, most named after celebrities.
Sixty-one are in residence at the moment, all descendants from two strays Hemingway brought home in the 1930s. Their drinking fountain is an old urinal from Sloppy Joe’s bar, where the author got the locals to tell him stories for his books. The cats have their own houses in the garden – supposedly the only legal cat houses in town.

Key West is overrun with roosters as well as stray casts. There is even a storefront for their protection and propagation. The roosters here are what pigeons and English sparrows are to other towns.

New England windjammers make a good living here doing day sails for the tourists, charging $35 or more a head. At one point we saw the two Appledores from Camden, the Liberty Clipper from Boston, and the America from Newport, all sail by the Bounty within ten minutes of each other. The America fired her signal cannon in salute, and to entertain her champagne drinking passengers. Sea Semester’s Corwith Cramer, a 134 foot brigantine, was also in port, but locked away from public view, and terrorist attacks, at the Coast Guard station.

The old Navy base, where Truman had his Winter Palace, was bought by a developer two decades ago and transformed into a very tasteful collection of town houses and condos. The old commandant’s house, which Truman commandeered, is now maintained as museum by the state, not federal, government. About a mile beyond it is Fort Zachary Taylor, another of the 51 coast forts built in the first half of the nineteenth century. All that is left is the first floor which is definitely not worth seeing. Unlike Fort Jefferson, however, this pile of concrete actually had some strategic purpose, when a quick thinking Army Captain occupied it in the first days of the Civil War. Key West’s harbor remained in Union hands throughout the war, making a full blockade of the Florida coast possible.

The greatest enemy that the Army and Navy had here was not the Confederates, however, but the yellow fever. I used to think that modern Florida was made possible by the invention of air conditioning. That may be true, but DDT and modern medicine helped too.

The students and I met up at Mallory Square at 5:00 p.m. where locals and tourists come to salute the descending sun. From there we took a mile hike to a very good and inexpensive Cuban restaurant, and then hiked back. Most of us returned to the ship on the 9:00 p.m. whaler, but four – I won’t say whom – stayed to explore some bars. They caught the last shuttle at eleven, with nothing good to say about the local watering spots.

The students will be allowed to sleep through the night without standing anchor watches, because tomorrow is the day they crew the ship. Each in her own way is beginning to think about how she will function as a ”mini-mate”, giving commands to brace yards in order to wear ship. “Stand by the port and starboard braces.” “Ease the port brace and sheet; haul the starboard brace and sheet – handsomely.” Etc. We get underway at 8:00 a.m. sharp to begin our journey back to St. Petersburg.

Cindy: Drifting along past Key West at 4am

Here we are drifting along past Key West at 4am. No sails set and no engines running. We are simply waiting for sunrise so we can turn around and head for the harbour where we will set anchor and then "play" for the day. Since it is now the 11th, yesterday we brought the anchor up by hand (a very long process) from the Dry Tortugas and then motored away. Some people got sick because we finally had some wind and seas. This boat is super creaky and every time she rocks all the boards creak against one another in the most disconcerting sound. It’s all good though because we are still floating and rumour has it that she always sounds like this. It was a big bummer to actually have some wind yesterday and not be able to use it. In order to get to Key West, we had to go nose to the wind and since square rigs can only sail 90 degrees to the wind, we were put between a rock and a hard place. It was probably a force 4 with more or less 5 foot seas. I loved it, but wish we could have had some canvas up. Actually that’s a lie, we did have some sail up for a while, along with the motor, but then a halyard on one of the headsails snapped which eventually caused the forstay to break as well. In the midst of all this, we struck all the other staysails and they have remained that way since. Also today, the port engine started smoking a lot, but no worries, there was no fire and we were up and running in no time.

I guess this will be the one where I talk about some of the differences between SEA and the Bounty. Since I don’t know the best way to go about this arduous task, sorry if it gets repetitive. The Bounty is a very wide and cheeky boat while the Seamans is slim around the middle and has a much faster hull speed (the maximum a boat can go based on a whole bunch of confusing mathematical calculations that not really anyone understands). The Bounty has been referred to as a bulldozer. The roll of the boat is so different from the Seamans that at times, I am finding it hard to adjust. The helm on the Bounty is very stiff and somewhat unresponsive at first, which makes steering a complicated and interesting and certainly time consuming process. The helm on the Seamans certainly wasn’t loose but it was by no means super stiff and hard to turn. I guess this way has it benefits because in rough seas when you typically slide down the backs of the waves, the rudder won’t cause the helm to whip one way or the other due to the pressure of the water as much. Especially in a square rig like this, when you can’t go into the wind and would therefore presumably be taking most rough seas from astern, a stiffer helm would be more advantageous. It just takes a long time to get a feel for it, that’s all.

Haha, on a side note, there is a poster on board that says "the beatings will continue until morale improves."

But I digress. Bow watch on this boat is a much more social event in that people actually come up and talk with you while you are up there. A course of action that was completely taboo on the Seamans. Because bow watch means, especially at night, that you are the eyes of the ship, you spent bow watch alone looking out 360 degrees to make sure there was nothing to run into or that the helmsman, mate, or captain should know about. But a social bow watch is way more interesting than sitting alone in the middle of the night watching a bunch of black water.

There is so much to compare. Each ship is unique and great in its own way and I feel like comparing them like this is coming off as ‘the Seamans is better’. This is not the message I want to send so here is where this blog ends. Trust me, if you ever want to hear the two ships and experiences compared, just ask me or Natalia (S-191) and we will gladly help you out.

Goodnight all.
posted by Cindy

Allison: Off to Key West

Oh my goodness gracious me, the ship is rocking. I have just come from bow watch where I was keeping a look out for other ships, markers and bits of land from the bowsprit. This is the highest and furthest forward part of the bow and as such attained the most distance between the crests and troughs of the rocking cycle.

We are now trucking off to Key West by way of the Florida Seaway. I am sad to leave the Dry Tortugas. I am quite interested in the history of Fort Jefferson, especially since I had never heard of it before. It is an impressive structure built of sand stone bricks on a spit of sand. This caused major problems during construction because the sand had random soft spots in it and the building would sink dramatically in only those places, causing gigantic cracks in the walls. Despite these glitches, around the time of the Civil War and after, there were 2,000 men living here, soldiers and prisoners included. They suffered great things: lack of fresh water (water was collected in great cisterns underneath the structure, which cracked when the walls sank and all of the collected fresh water was ruined. The misfortunes of the water problem go on...), incredible heat and being required to wear wool uniforms, and worst of all Yellow Fever.
posted by Allison

Natalia: Monday notes and Johnny Depp update

It’s 21:18 and I just got off bow watch. The glow of Key West is to our port side, and to our starboard is a lot of darkness looking out to the Atlantic. I saw a wonderful shooting star – long and bright...made a wish for y’all.

As you’ve probably read, we are finally rockin’ and rollin’ and I am totally excited that I am not seasick at all! I’ve been splicing all afternoon and adding my own bit to the Pirates of the Caribbean set (We made some ratlines – the foot-ropes, on which you step to climb to the yards.). As promised, here’s a quick overview of the Johnny Depp situation – the Bounty will sail away to Alabama right after we’re done, they will revamp the ship there, and then they will proceed to the island of Saint Vincent, where they will meet with the Disney crew, including Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Kierra Knightly (Yeah, I misspelled at least one of their names.) The Bounty crew is looking forward to it all, including their $100 per day pay, and if not in the movie itself, they hope to be at least in the extra DVD scenes.

Next, on my to do list, is a boat check and so I’d better go and take my foul weather jacket off because I hear the engine room is very, very hot tonight. (We’ve been motoring because the wind is blowing straight towards Cuba, and sadly enough the Captain does not know how to dance salsa ;) . Tomorrow we’re in Key West, which means a visit to the Cramer (a 135-foot brigantine, also ran by SEA), and of course all the joys of shore-life. For now, keep rockin’...just keep rockin’. -----
posted by Natalia

Elettra: Monday

Currently 1835
At 1626, 24º26.5’N 82º33.2’W
Dry Tortugas- Florida Keys

The waters are rough and all is creaking.

Earlier today, the foretopmast stay of the sail parted and the sail flapped in the wind- only partially, but it was going wild and part of it even fell in the water. Captain Robin, Andy, the first mate, and Matt, the third mate, were trying to fix it along with about five other crew members. It was quite a commotion.

Half of our group has been lying down near the helm for most of the day (since we left Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas) and some have already thrown up. Andy says after an hour or so you should get used to the rocky waters, and just in case, he has Ginger Ale. Prof. Pyle brought Ginger Squares. So it appears we should all be okay, but most still have pallid faces and are spacing out into the horizon, hoping to feel better soon.

The crew advise not to take any sea sickness pills because they will only do worse (as they keep all the vomit inside you) and in any case, most of them are sailors who have lived through even worse conditions.

This morning we pushed the line around the capstan in order to raise the anchor. That took about all morning and it would’ve been torturous if it hadn’t been voluntary, if the breeze were not present and if I were a slave. But of course it felt fun because there was singing and joking. We even played ‘I spy with my little eye...’

The watch hours have switched and I should be sleeping by now because I have to wake up at 2320.

Yesterday we went to Fort Jefferson. It was majestic and charged with a painful memory of soldiers who lived there, wearing wool suits in tropical weather. After walking around the Fort, we hung out by the beach. The highlight was the snorkeling in the reefs, where we even saw a barracuda. Everyone is scared of barracudas. Brian, a crew member, remembers a crazy friend of his jumped on one, had to have five surgeries on his hands and he’s still missing some fingers. Their teeth are extremely sharp and they won’t be able to tell the difference between your hand and the fish you are feeding it.

None of this ferocity could be noticed. They just swam away when we followed them.

Like the barracuda, there were many other bright-colored fish swimming alone or in schools. I was a Mermaid, fins and long hair, twirling around my bubbles. The fish stared back at me, some with curiosity and others with a menacing round-eyed look. But most just shone back at me with luminous tropical colors of electric blue, lemon yellow and lilac purple.

On the way back to the ship, Andy explained how he often goes to the shrimp or other fish boats anchored near the bay and offers good beer or rum in exchange for fresh fish. He had none this time, so we ate no fresh fish.

At night we went with the ‘tender’ (‘tender’ because it tends to the boat) back to the Fort for a special candlelit tour.

Nicole and I have been seriously considering returning after graduation and sailing with the Bounty for a while. If I get a job and it permits me to start in January 2006 I will do so. Captain Robin requires a six weeks notice and a six-month commitment.
posted by Elettra

Chris: Queasy Monday

The wind has been a constant 12 to 15 knots out of the east for the past 24 hours and looks to hold on for the next 24. Andy ferried us back and forth to the fort yesterday in the whaler. At 6:30 p.m. the ride in in the dark was something of a slalom, and back out under the stars was suitably wet. But the water is warm and the experience pleasant, except when trying to get on to the Jacob’s ladder from the leaping boat. You have to time your leap to coincide with the boat’s rise and then move smartly up the sides of the ship on the wooden rungs. It’s not a move you want to mis-time, especially in the dark.

We have been anchored all night west between the fort and a reef. The reef shines light green out of the sea; certain disaster if our hook were to drag in the night. In addition to a big navy anchor (not historically accurate but much safer) we have sent out five shots (450 feet) of chain with the anchor and now it has to all be hauled back on deck. We used the new electric winch (hidden during day under a tarp) to bring up the last three shots, but now the students are bringing up the rest by hand, walking round and round the capstan. Cindy is crouched on the deck taking the line as it comes off the drum and feeding it to a crew member who is flaking it out on deck in long strips. Each turn round the capstan brings in three inches of chain, which translates to about an hour per shot. When they are done we will wind up the two big Caterpillar diesels and motor all the way to Key West. As we pass the fort we will dogleg around Iowa Rock (made famous by an old dreadnaught that went aground here a century ago) southeast to the edge of the Atlantic, below the Marquesas, where Andy can catch some fish along the weed line, and then approach Key West from the south.

The first mate and I have been speculating on what this experience might do for my Mount Holyoke crew. Knowing they come from a privileged college, and very possibly privileged families, he has been impressed by the speed with which they have adapted to life at sea. “As well bred young ladies,” he observed, “most of them have not contemplated life without the usual amenities, like showers every day, let alone actually going without showers that long.” I have been thinking a lot about that as I watch them at work, with stringy hair, dirty clothes, and broad smiles. They are absolutely beautiful unadorned. We are turning young ladies into real women.

What the mate did not know, and there is no reason he should, is that five of the eleven students were financially assisted to make this trip, some full fare. This is a need-blind course, even if Mount Holyoke is not as blind to need as it used to be when admitting students.

The wind increased to above 20 mph by early afternoon. Seas ran 3 to 5 feet, with close peaks. "The fresh breeze blew. The white foam flew, the furrow followed free." Pairs of dolphins streaked towards us, to ride along in our large bow wave. The Cross of St. George on the mainmast flew above horizontal, which would mean small craft warnings in harbor. We steamed and sailed under stays’ls. The bow reared high, and then plunged into the sea, although it looked like the horizon was rising and falling. Some of us began to turn a little green and a sign went up: “Please do not vomit in the head.” I was one of the first to spew, despite years of sailing. Meanwhile the sturdier members of our group sat crosslegged on deck, oblivious to all the rolling and plunging, happily splicing new ratlines for the rig.

At 3:00 p.m. our forestays'l blew away. The watch went forward to haul it back on board, while the helmsman took us up into the wind and then over to the other tack to make the job easier. The wire stay on which this tall triangular sail was bent parted high on the mast and the halyard broke with it. Two men went aloft to recover the halyard while the watch carried the stricken sail below. The plan is to send it back up in the dawn's early light.

Another member of the crew went aloft to secure the main to'gallant yard, which was slewing about in its yoke. In this sea and wind the ship is rolling and pitching, scribing great arcs in the sky. Another crew member decided it is quiet enough to replace the main yard's portside brace pendant, a 25 foot long wire that runs from the yard's white-tipped end (or arm) back and down to a tackle that runs aft almost to the stern. So while we were regurgitating our lunches, he was working happily aloft, even singing. The sea was brilliant; the air is warm and, despite our queasy stomachs, it is another great day to be alive.

Fort Jefferson: Official and unofficial history

Last night we had a candlelight tour of Fort Jefferson by a Park Service employee in Civil War uniform. He began with a demonstration of his British Enfield musket, a knockoff of the American musket that the Springfield, MA, armory could not produce fast enough. The British, like the Americans during the Napoleonic era, supplied both the North and South with about a half million muskets each. Our guide averaged 25 seconds between shots, which must have been excruciatingly slow to anyone on a Civil War battlefield. You have to stand to load these things.

Not surprisingly, our guide gave us the politically correct version of history, pointing out that this fort, and 50 others, was build to protect our homes and families from the British after they sacked and burned Washington, DC, during the War of 1812. He did not mention that American “war hawks” jump-started that war with the hope of annexing Canada, then British territory. But they started that war with insufficient public support and no well-financed plan, so we had insufficient forces to prevent the assault on Washington. But Fort McHenry withstood a subsequent British attack, fixing the utility of coastal forts in the American mind. No mention that perhaps a wiser foreign policy would have made at least some of those forts unnecessary.

Of course, we had reason to fear another war with Britain until we settled the Canadian border in 1848. This fort was begun two years earlier, on the eve of our war with Mexico—another aggressive use of military force to expand the borders of our nation. That was not mentioned; nor was the fact that the fort, which could easily be sailed around, was not militarily important during the American Civil War, even though by then its bring and cement walls were no match for the new rifled cannon. Indeed, the only real military use of the fort occurred during the War of 1898 – another unnecessary war. By then it was used as a coaling station for the steam-driven warships of our new White Fleet, which slaughtered the obsolete Spanish fleet at the battle of Havana Bay.

This fort, like so many other military construction projects over the years, was a giant cash cow for American businessmen. New England provided much of the brick, which turned out inferior to the climate, and the slate and granite, and the ships that brought it here. The engineers who designed the fort, which was to carry the huge guns of its day, gave it two foot deep footings in the sea saturated sands and, not surprisingly, the walls could not carry the load and cracked. This not only cut the fort’s firepower in half (or more), it broke many of the cisterns needed to collect rainwater and thereby supply expected fleets. But it made lots of money for the Halliburtons of its day.

The chief use of the fort was as a prison for Union deserters during the Civil War. Here the Park Service did a better job, calling it an American “Devil’s Island.” It was a place of squalor, where errant soldiers (and their jailors) went to die of yellow fever. Emphasis was placed on the rude accommodations, but with no comparison to the current accommodations not so far away at Guantanamo Bay. There was torture here, but more for sport than as part of a misguided effort to gather information, as at Gitmo. The sort of sport that goes on in may American prisons to this day and that humiliated Ashcroft’s detainees after 9/11.

The most notable prisoner here, as everyone knows, was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the broken leg of Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Boothe. Unmentioned, of course, was that the evidence against Dr. Mudd did not meet the "beyond any reasonable doubt" standard required by our Constitution, or that his constitutional rights were denied, both by trying him before a military tribunal, rather than a federal court, and by shipping him here, secretly, rather than upstate New York, where he could have challenged the legality of his conviction by the military in civilian court. Rather our guide simply ended his presentation with a rousing justification for this useless and expensive hall of injustice, with that mindless mantra: “freedom is not free.”
posted by Chris