Captain's Log

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Carpenters

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Here in the South Pacific it is another hot blue-sky day. Winds are light. The sun has been shining brightly all morning, and there are just a few fair weather clouds low over the horizon – nothing to offer heavenly shade. The decks are foot-scorching hot so most folks are wearing sandals and the lines of pitch over the caulked seams are starting to soften. Lets hope they don’t bubble… but it is nowhere near as hot as the Torres Strait.

It’s another timeless day at sea, when the movement of the ship is slight and gentle and the people on deck are quietly working on projects, snoozing or reading a book. I am sitting in the officers’ mess, which is deliciously cool and shady with portholes both sides and a high skylight to let the breezes in. The oak paneling, the pretty artworks from around the world and the many books of the sea on the shelves makes for a serene nook in which to work. It smells very faintly of pine tar, but I suspect that may be me.

Apart from the quiet clacking of my keyboard I can hear somebody in the scullery next door washing dishes, and above me on the quarterdeck I can hear the sailmakers stretching out the foot of the new topsail readying it for roping. Baby Dawson is cooing and gurgling happily and nanny Tonya is cooing back to him. It sounds like they are hanging out on the aloha deck all the way aft, or maybe sitting on the timbers in the starboard breezeway. All is agreeably muted and peaceful.

All, that is, except for the obnoxious sounds coming from the carpenter at work in the monomoy, hanging in the port boat falls. He seems to be using some sort of harsh, droning power tool intermittently – an electric drill or driver maybe, which is alternated with loud, ringing hammer blows. I will forgive the disturbance, though, since it is all in a good cause – namely to prepare our beloved monomoy for some serious sailing adventures in the sweet lagoons of French Polynesia.

At 23 feet long the monomoy longboat is just as good for sailing as she is for rowing, but the forces coming from the sail down through the rig place more and different stresses on her hull. And like any 80 year old lady, she needs a bit of support for the saggy bits about her stern. So Topher and Sam have been hard at work fashioning and fitting sister ribs to strengthen and reinforce her existing frames. To help to reverse the natural sag of the boat they have rigged a strop and “Spanish windlass” around her hull, which is tightened up to help restore her proper shape before the new ribs are fitted.

We don’t sail with a full-time carpenter (also known as “el Carpentero”), but similar to the sailmaking and rigging the captain is chief carpenter. 2nd Mate Sam and a couple of others have high skill sets when it comes to woodworking and Sam leads up most of the projects. And there are plenty of projects to keep them busy. We’re rotating carpenter daymen every week or two on this passage so everyone interested gets a chance to be a carpenter for a spell – Topher took over from Dan last weekend.

Dan’s masterpiece for his woodworking week was making a new lid for the line locker, which is the large green deck box that lives on the foc’sle head behind the windlass. You might guess form the name we use it to store lines – mainly heaving lines and good lashing lines – lighter manila rope that we need quick access to. With the rails behind for a backrest, it also makes an excellent bench for star gazing or gamming. Well the lid was not looking so good after years of use, so Dan made a replacement to a new design that is stronger and lighter than the original. It turns out that this chest was the Captain’s great grandfather’s from the 1800s and apart from the lid, is made of single slabs of now long extinct North American Elm, done in by some blight ages ago.

Anything wooden is the bailiwick of the carpentry department, and there is a surprising amount of wood on this steel ship once you start noticing: topgallant and royal yards, topmasts and topgallant masts, the spanker boom and gaff, and of course the deck itself are all of wood, but the carpenters probably spend as much time looking after the domestic side of things with fruit and vegetable lockers, deck boxes, sea chests, furniture and fittings in every compartment. Almost all of which can be made or repaired on board and the carpenter’s workspace just behind the foc’s’le is stuffed with all manner of tools for measuring, cutting, joining, shaping and finishing wood.

The source of the noise

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