Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
The sea has been a sheet of sheer calm for the past few days. It is so unperturbed, so unruffled, that it acts like a mirror – reflecting the clouds, sun, moon and stars and creating an illusion that we are sailing through the sky and not over a great ocean. The only wind we feel is the wind we are creating by our own forward movement. The only waves, ripples or crests we see are the ones at our bow as she cuts through the surface of glass. While beautiful, this tranquility meant that we could not sail, and so instead of bobbing in the Arafura Sea we fired up the diesel engine and became wind chasers.
With no resistance from waves or head winds we motored along at 8 or 9 knots. We were making incredible time – about 170 nm a day – and yet as we crossed into the Timor Sea the wind was still elusive. Despite the fact that we were making such great time, the serenity of the ocean beneath our hull made it appear that we were not moving at all. With nothing but ocean as far as the eye can see we could once again sympathize with the explorers and sailors of yore. However, unlike them, we had detailed charts guiding us to our destination. Unlike them we had a motor to get us through the times with no wind…
The sun has been particularly brutal in the Timor Sea north of Australia. We are told that the ozone is incredibly thin if not non-existent in this part of the world and you could actually feel it beating down on your newly sensitive skin. And the heat. Well, we still had no reprieve from that. The ocean reflected the sunshine and so we felt its effects -doubly so. During a talk on Remembrance Day the Captain jokingly told us that he was giving up his air-conditioning as a symbol of solidarity. All joking aside we were all equally uncomfortable. With temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius the Captain ordered two power showers a day to help alleviate some of the discomfort and spoke of our fortitude.
While there has been no sail handling the crew have thrown themselves into ships work. The riggers replaced all of the fore and main braces, tarred the rigging, overhauled and rigged up the fish tackle and chipped and painted the wire seizings on the shrouds and stays. The carpentry crew sanded and varnished the monomoy mast and gaff with help from Tammy and Ali, among others. They sawed and sanded the new tops and with Nadja and Paul replaced them. The Bosun and the Bosun’s Mate organized teams to varnish the pin rails and seal the bulwarks beneath them. WT, Mike and Sophie removed and overhauled the windlass break. Dave F and other crew helped to varnish the floorboards of the rescue skiff. The sail making crew is still tackling the mainsail. Yes, indeed it has still be been busy onboard the Picton Castle.
This lull in wind has also given the Mates ample opportunity to teach classes on chart work and piloting. For those crew who have been here since Lunenburg it is a bit of a refresher course and for those who joined on the second leg (most at least) it is their first introduction to the art of navigation and piloting. The crew was broken into 4 groups and we were taught concepts such as relative vs true bearings, bow and beam bearings, radar ranges and bearings, set and drift and basic collision avoidance.
Without waves the visibility is unbelievable. We can see dolphins coming for miles and schools of fish leaping toward our waiting fishing lines. We literally see thousands of tuna and marlin daily – teasing us. That is not to say that they do not bite, because they do. In fact they bite constantly. Yesterday alone we caught 20 fish. Everybody is getting ‘fish fever’ taking turns hauling in the lines energetically, gaffing the fish or cleaning them for dinner. Perhaps no one has shown better skill than our very own Jet Bracken who speared two Hawaiian rainbow salmon from the bow a few days ago! We have video in case anyone doubts the tale. Donald has been cooking them up as fast as we or he can catch them. We have been dining on tuna steaks, fish and chips and sushi and several crew have made mention that they may not be able to eat canned tuna again after experiencing the real deal so many days in a row.
Every night after dinner the off watch crew gather on the foc’sle head or by the pin rail to watch yet another glorious sunset. The conditions are perfect – with no waves marring the horizon and just a few puffy hovering clouds. The colours are deliciously crimson, with dashes of gold, a splash of mandarin orange, a sprinkle of lavender and a pinch of turquoise. The volcanos in Java might have something to do with this.The entire recipe is intoxicating. Joani looked at me one night during just one of these sunsets and said, “This is one of those moments when you have to pinch yourself to remember that it is indeed real…”