By Kate “Bob” Addison
3 August 2012
It’s 8:30pm Atlantic time and Picton Castle is sailing toward Rose Bay, Nova Scotia under lower topsails, main and fore topmast stay sails, inner jib and spanker. It’s foggy out, and damp though not actually raining at the moment. The wind is maybe a Force 5 but seems stronger as the thickening fog and falling night add drama to the scene.
The Captain was explaining to us how this type of fog forms when relatively warm, moist air meets cold seawater and the air is cooled by the water reducing the amount of moisture it can hold. The excess moisture in the air has to go somewhere so it condenses out into tiny droplets that deflect the light into a soft, grey mist and jump into my hair making it into a big red frizz. Meh.
We’ve had some mal-de-mer on board the last couple of days as the ship has been pitching and rolling a bit in the swell. A chief mate I sailed with once used to say there are two stages to sea sickness: the first is when you are worried that you might die, the second is when you are more concerned you won’t die quickly enough. Well nobody’s died yet, and with help of crackers and warm clothes most people are even smiling again. There was definitely less in the way of leftovers after dinner than after lunch, so either the sickies are feeling better or the rest are getting greedier. The people who are feeling fine are probably working a little extra to help out their shipmates, but they get to feel smug instead of sick, so I think that’s a pretty fair deal.
A gang of us just ran up aloft to stow upper topsails for the night – we’re going to have to motor a bit later to get home on time, so better to stow sail before it gets dark. Was exhilarating being aloft looking out into the nothingness of the fog, the only thing in sight our ship and her crew: people fluorescent in their waterproofs lined up all along the yard as we stowed the heavy damp sail. Looking down and around, nothing but grey sea merging with grey sky, grey haze where the horizon should be and below us our beautiful barque, rolling merrily over the seas with her miniature crew scurrying about on deck and the main upper topsail bellying out contentedly behind us.
It took six of us to stow an upper topsail, it was wet admittedly and blowing a bit, and some of the hands pretty new to the game. But crazy to think of the Cape Horners stowing much, much bigger sails, not just wet but frozen stiff, in winds that would blow you off the yard in an instant. A tougher breed. And what if one of those sailors was transported by some trick of physics onto the Picton Castle, and found themselves not battling endless hurricanes but adjusting studdingsails as they sailed in the sweet trade winds of the South Pacific, hopping between beautiful palm fringed islands? And eating plenty of fresh and delicious Donald food instead of rations of salt meat and biscuit, working 4 hours out of 12 instead of 6 or more? Dancing on the beach instead of backbreaking work unloading cargo when they finally made landfall? My guess is they would think that they’d died and gone to heaven.
The mate just walked into the charthouse in his foul weather gear to say that it’s cold and wet outside, and to pet the kitten. I expect he had some chart work to do as well.