Saturday, March 17th, 2007
A good duty day in port is one when work ends early enough for a swim call. The fore yard is braced slightly on a starboard tack so that the swing rope can be rigged, inflatable water toys are blown up, proper ladders or scramble nets are rigged over the side, and life rings are put out to float astern of the ship. Crew put on their bathing suits, some even bring their shampoo or soap for a salt water bath. Once lookouts have been posted, it’s time to enjoy a refreshing plunge.
The more timid people climb down the ladder into the ocean (there aren’t too many of those aboard). Some jump from the rail by the well deck. The more daring jump from the end of the bowsprit. And the most adventurous try the rope swing. The long rope with knots in the bottom for gripping is rigged from the starboard end of the fore yard. There’s usually a line up of people on the foc’sle head, and when it’s your turn you use the tag line attached to pull the rope up to you, then climb over the rail and stand on the cathead to prepare for your swing. Being careful to hold on tight and not get tangled in the tag line, when you’re ready you launch yourself away from the ship and out over the water. At the height of your swing you let go and fly through the air before dropping into the azure water.
Rope swinging is definitely a spectator sport. Watching is almost as good as swinging yourself. Some of the crew can do back flips. Others like to flail their arms and legs around after they let go of the rope. Some are completely graceful, making almost no splash at all as they enter the water. Some have notorious “signature” leaps. From time to time things don’t go as planned and someone ends up in a giant belly flop. Spectators on board and in the water cheer and cringe appropriately.
Even if the rope swing isn’t for everyone, floating around in the water after a long, hot, sweaty day is. Many of the crew have their own inflatable water toys, like Lynsey with her swimming bee and John with his small blue dinghy. Katie jumped in wearing a life jacket upside down like a diaper to keep her afloat sitting up. The water temperature in the Caribbean averages about 27 degrees Celsius, which is just about perfect; warm enough to be comfortable but cooler than the air so it’s refreshing. There’s no better end to a duty day in port in the Tropics.