Tuesday, April 7th, 2015
By Amy Barlow, Lead Seaman
To explain a month ocean passage to a non-sailor is pretty tough. Daily life is keeping the ship running, looking after her so she looks after you. Relying on your fellow shipmates to take care of things on deck while you sleep. knowing it will be your turn soon. Being hyper-aware of the weather, in a sailing vessel weather is both our fuel and sometimes our enemy. We watch upwind for ominous clouds that lead to squalls – locally known as squirrels. Being ready to shorten sail and fall off the wind to run with any wind shifts. We rush to help the sailmakers cover their work with tarpaulins, as the squalls often come with rain.
Each person has their job, a cog in the whole machine, dayman carpenters making new spars for our small boats, that we look forward to sailing in the Caribbean. Sailmakers repairing sails as well as making new ones. Cook keeping us fed. Almost like a school with the headmaster and deputies at the top. Each job necessary and important. The watch standers keeping the ship sailing through the night, rotating turns on the helm, keeping lookout, cleaning the galley and handling sail as necessary. The only 7 people up, dodging squalls or stargazing.
A month in our own world, our small self-sufficient village of 37 people currently. Is there anywhere else in the western world where people spend a month or more without any communication with the wider world? No letters, no emails, no newspapers or TV. Just what we brought with us or acquired in the last port. Of course the Captain has access to the outside world, useful in emergencies and for obtaining weather forecasts. But once upon a time that didn’t exist. No wonder in the age of sail a cry of ‘sail ho!’ gave a rush of anticipation. Heave to, row over, swap last known news, perhaps swap letters to deliver, and see new faces for an hour or so.
With no shops available to us at sea we trade our supplies – maybe swap a bar of chocolate for a can of coke and share and swap our entertainment – digital music and movies today. But we also create our own fun playing cards and backgammon. Life settles into a rhythm. Simple things become exciting – cake for a birthday, the satisfaction of completing a project. Seeing the ship and its small boats looking clean and ready for Caribbean Island hopping and small-boat fun. In the meantime we sway with the swell, enjoy the sunset and sleep cosy in our bunks, safe in the knowledge that our shipmates are taking care of things on deck.