Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
By Chelsea McBroom
“This is what sailors or ships hoped for in winds in this part of the ocean” Captain says, standing before his 4-8 watch on the quarter deck of the Picton Castle. “This is the roaring 40’s, they’d sail like this for days. We have and we will.”
We had a small gale here at 43 degrees south latitude in the Great Southern Ocean where seas circle the earth without being blocked by land anywhere; it was a sunny day with clear skies but a forest of waves like from an oil painting and the swells, all white-capped and foaming were rolling us along in fine form, tops of them giving some spray over the rail, sometimes a dollop. Steve, the Doc (Peter), Nolan, Maria, Gustav and I were still waking up. My watch usually begins when a strange dream is disrupted by a hushed but insistent “Chelsea! Chelsea! Chelsea!” until I finally realize where I am, grunt a response, and turn on my bunk lamp to make sure I don’t fall back asleep. “It’s 3:30am, this is your wake-up call,” whispers Denise (from Denmark and the 12-4 watch), “It’s cold and windy.” Then it all sinks in what unfortunate steps I have to take next: putting layer after layer of clothes on, including my foul weather gear and boots for good measure (it always seems to rain on our watch), forcing myself up and out of the salon and onto the hatch for muster at 3:50. Our lead seaman Finn will then send someone to take helm and another to replace the lookout on the foc’sle head until the sun comes up an hour later.
The last watch is kept up to brace the yards and once we finish the off watch is given “watch below” and off they go to bed. We coil down the lines and I scramble to save the rope from being washed out the freeing port. Meg, the lead seaman from the previous watch came up to me and gasped, “The moon is setting and the sun is rising at the same time! Look!” And there it was – although I thought it was the sun at first, it couldn’t be, as the sun rises in the east. It was indeed the moon; full and glowing with an eerie shade of cloud. The sun was nearly opposite with a much broader reach of shattering light, cutting through the darkness.
And so it goes, as the sun has risen, chore can be started (deck scrub, wash down) and sails adjusted. The mainsail was clewed up by the last watch and hanging, not yet stowed. “Aloft and stow!” the Captain calls, so Maria, Doc, Nolan, Finn and I hop onto the main shrouds from the quarterdeck to get to the mainsail, teetering and climbing aloft as some spray spatters across the main deck drenching the hatch, just missing us. The sail was soaking wet from the previous day of rain and heavy as we folded, punched, molded it
into flakes and stowed it into its sun patch.
In the last hour of watch I go to replace Gustav. “I’m here to relieve you from the helm. What is your course?” “Alright, we’re going north, and it’s not steady at all,” he says half laughing. “I might have four turns on, I may have two, I really don’t know.” “Alright, going north, thank you.” I wind the wheel to the right; slowly but surely as each turn sticks, feeling the current move against me. When the needle floats towards our heading I take the turns off swiftly and the ship becomes steady but only for a moment as the hood of my jacket begins to flap and reverberate in my ears. I look up and over our port side to see a three or four metre swell coming under us and look down again at the compass as we fall to the west and into a swell, tossing us from side to side. I see the crew stumble a bit on deck, hold on and brace themselves on pin rails and manropes as the ship heaves. The wind and seas are pretty strong. Just as I managed to get her back (hauling many turns to the right and spinning them off) I see the Captain come out of the charthouse and onto the deck. He takes his time walking up to me and asks, “How’s she steering?”
With my look of strain and sour response the Captain calls to take in the Main Upper topsail to improve it. Pania, the lead seaman from the next watch replaces me at helm so our crew and hers can race to haul the buntlines, ease the halyard and pull on the downhauls, before ending my watch aloft with a bigger perspective. But we are going good.