By Kate “Bob” Addison
While watches are kept night and day while we’re at sea, on a long passage like this one, we also engage in a time honoured deep-water sailing ship tradition of turning some of the crew to on deck as daymen.
In fine weather on long passages, large sailing ships would take some of their best AB seamen off the watches and get them working all day in the rigging or sailmaking leaving the younger apprentices to sail the ship. Our version is a bit more egalitarian and educationally focused but much the same. We rotate some people off from the watches for a week or two at a time to give them a taste of some of the other aspects of ship’s life and maybe get in a bit deeper as well. Acting as a ‘dayman’ rather than a watch-stander for a while gives people get a bit more time to work on whatever interests them the most, be it sailmaking, rigging, carpentry, engineering or navigation. This has the added benefit of being excellent at skills development, getting some good work done in nice weather and give a chance to the smaller watches to up their game at sail handling at night. Though of course when there’s sail handling or something else urgent happening then the daymen always lay in with the watch.
Apart from the opportunity to broaden ones salty skills and get to know and understand a different aspect of ship’s life, the other major bonus of being a dayman is getting to sleep in all night and Sundays, when absolutely no work is required, except for helping out with dishes and doing anything else that the ship should demand that day. Here are my thoughts from earlier this week, a pretty typical Sunday at sea, here in the North Atlantic, 3,000nm and 32 days out of St Helena and just a few hundred miles from the mouth of the Amazon.
Wake up without being woken up, hurrah! Winds fresh and broad on the starboard quarter. Aft to get coffee and help set up for breakfast. ‘Ringy dingy’ on the galley bell means breakfast is ready, and it’s a tasty breakfast today: properly made oatmeal and nice thin pancakes. Well done Elvira and her assistant, Dkembe. Then help with dishes, and get some powdered yoghurt going for tomorrow’s breakfast in our improvised Nutella-jar and lunchbox yoghurt maker. It seems to work just fine, and fresh dairy is such a treat, especially after a month at sea.
The ancient fore upper topsail split in the night so there’s a replacement topsail on the hatch being made ready to send aloft. Realize this looks like a fun project, and much better than the reading, laundry and cleaning the foc’sle that was the original agenda for the day. So run off and get changed out of clean Sunday clothes into tarry canvas shorts and an even-more-tarry shirt, plus sunblock (a must for fair skin in the tropics) climbing harness and knife and spike. Because we all know what they say about a sailor without a knife.
We prepare the new sail ready to send aloft: making off ‘robands’ or yarns pulled from lengths of nice new manila rope to lash the sail onto the yard. The shackles on the head earrings need a quick wire mousing to keep the pin secure, and the centre grommet of the sail gets a well-waxed length of marline to mark the centre. Then all is bundled up and held tidy with more robands. Meanwhile Bosun Erin is aloft with her gang cutting off the old sail and sending it down.
Now the new sail is ready so we line up along it’s length and hoist it onto shoulders to snake walk it from midships up to the focslehead, looking like a snowy Chinese dragon or a Balinese barong. Tie a big, loose bowline around the middle and then hoist away the gantline to lift the whole u-shaped sail sausage up to the yard, where Erin and her gang are waiting.
We run up aloft to help too and space ourselves out along the yard: Jens, Bob, Nikolaj, and Ryan on starboard side, Erin, Russell, Sam B, and Norma to port. Russell makes fast the centre lashing to the central jackstay and we heave in time to stretch the head of the sail out taut all along the yard. Then, while Erin and Jens at the yard arms make fast the head earring lashings with two out-haul turns and many round turns, the rest of us lash all the robands to the jackstay every 24 inches or so and voila, the sail is securely attached to the yard. “Bent on” as we say.
The buntlines are rove through the fairleads on the fore side and made fast to the foot of the sail – what’s the correct knot someone asks? A buntline hitch of course. Make fast downhauls to the clews and then all is ready. Everyone back down on deck and it’s time to set the sail – moment of truth – how does it look? Looks fine actually, good job all.
So then its change back out of rigging clothes and get on with the rest of a relaxing Sunday at sea: baking apple crumble for supper, reading a little, and an afternoon discussion by the Captain about the glorious Caribbean islands, now just 800 miles to run and 3,000 already logged since St Helena.