By Chelsea McBroom
March 8th, 2014
Finally there was a good breeze blowing through the foc’sle of the Picton Castle during the night – in fact at one point I may have even put a blanket over me and the last time I can recall doing that was sometime around New Zealand.
I can recall sometime after midnight, Pania, our Bosun, being woken up to stow the main t’gallant and then I passed out again to be woken up at the usual 3:30am when I was told it was very windy. Still imagining the dreaded squalls, I put on my foul weather overalls (which I’m regretting now as it becomes more humid and less windy not to mention toasty in this charthouse), harness and knife belt before taking my jacket off the hook and rolling onto the well deck. I noticed at muster with the Captain, Anne-Laure, the Doc, Mark and Lian that the yards were squared with only the topsails, foresail and inner jib set.
I was the first posted on lookout, the position currently being filled by Avery from the 12-4 at the bridge. This time there was something to report – a faint glow of white light in the distance – Tahiti. I noticed the glow passing over to starboard and back to port again and thought of what helm must be like. The main upper topsail was taken in by the 12-4, Sam giving a “yeehaw!” as he eased better the halyard and the rest of his crew quickly bunted up.
I tried to keep my eyes peeled and my mind awake as I looked on, often looking down at the side of the ship where phosphorescence would glow as waves crashed against it. I couldn’t tell you what occupied my mind for the hour before Lian came to relieve my position so I could take the helm. Helm was more interesting than usual, moving at around 5 knots and braced square with no true windward to compensate for, the needle on the compass went back and forth over my course of SSW. Often the ship was caught in a swell, the needle seemingly steady until it started to sway back and forth, still hitting the mark and then slowly veering away. I sighed, hauling the wheel and feeling for the full turn indicator – a turks head around one of the spokes – as I turned it once, twice, three times, now and then stopping to see if it would return, then adding a fourth turn. As it came back to SSW, I spun the turns off, again feeling for the indicator and hoping it would be steady when I took the turns off. If I was lucky it would and I could feel the jolt of the rudder as I tried to hold it still, the needle falling away from me again. I watched again as the glowing light in the distance passed from port to starboard. Anne-Laure suggested keeping SSW to my right as much as possible and it kept me busy for the hour.
When Lian replaced me at the wheel I made an entry in the ship’s log, noting the direction of the swell and wind, our course, the force of wind, the cloud coverage, our latitude and longitude and the number on the barometer. Then I did a ship check, starting forward checking for heat in the paint locker and rag bin and cupboard filled with linseed oil and tar, making sure the propane for the galley stove was off. Keeping my nose tuned to fire I checked around the foc’sle before going below to the forepeak (also known as the brocave), hobbling through the dark. I’ve now started holding onto the overhead to keep me steady, and to the pole the stands in front of the heavy chain locker door, peeking under with my flashlight, looking around the chain for water. Then through the salon and into the cargo hold to make sure nothing had fallen or spilled and over to the engine room where the light was on and Mark had his back to me, wearing ear muffs and flicking switches as the engine roared to life.
I finished the ship check looking through the superstructure and around it making sure lashed containers were held steady and that no waterways were leaking. Up on the quarterdeck I looked at our small boats being held by their belly gripes and then into the stack house to find nothing flammable. After reporting a good ship check to Anne, the Captain had us haul the braces and change our tack for the decrease in wind and direction as the sun began to emerge and Tahiti had changed from a glowing light to a large green hill in the distance.