14 PASSAGE TO IRELAND, FIRST WEEK
Saturday, May 31, 2008
We are now eight days out of Lunenburg, and have sailed around 700 miles. For the first week we sailed southeast to find favorable winds, rather than the northeast course straight for Ireland. The objective is to get below the axis of the jet stream, the upper air currents that do much to effect weather. This would put us on the fair wind side of low-pressure systems and minimize the chance of storms and headwinds. The southeast course will take us south of the Grand Banks, the famous shallow area of the North Atlantic that was such a productive fishing ground from the early 1600s until the fish were recently nearly fished to extinction. The Grand Banks have fog, fishing vessels, and an occasional iceberg, all of which we would like to avoid. Only in the last 24 hours have we gotten far enough south for the Captain to alter our course more to the east, towards a point somewhat north of the Azores.
This course has also brought us to the Gulf Stream, that great river in the sea that takes warm water from the Caribbean up between Florida and the Bahamas and then northeasterly across the Atlantic to warm Europe. London is at the same latitude as northern Newfoundland, and Oslo the same latitude as southern Greenland. Without the warming waters of the Gulf Stream these cities would be the same temperature as their counterparts on this side of the Atlantic, and much of Europe would be barely habitable. The Gulf Stream will give us a boost of about 12 miles per day towards Ireland. It also brings us the great benefit of warmth. Temperatures have warmed nearly 20 degrees since we left Lunenburg. Yesterday, for the first time since I arrived in Lunenburg, I got by without long underwear. Today, for the first time this year, I am comfortable in only a T-shirt. Everyone’s mood has improved with the sunnier skies and warmer weather.
Most of the time we have had light to moderate winds. The first four or five nights we reduced sail before nightfall to avoid worry about taking in sail in the dark with a novice crew. Since then we have carried all appropriate sail. The winds started out from the southwest and over a number of days slowly clocked around to the northeast. For the last day or so, they have bounced back and forth between west and northeast. Today, for the first time since we left Lunenburg, we used the engine to push us along for a few hours through calm, but now we are back to sailing. As a result of the light winds our progress has been a bit slow. Up until now, I might have sailed as fast and come as far in my little yawl, Tryphena Chandler, but we still have two thousand miles to go, stronger winds are almost inevitable, and there is a good chance of a gale or two.
Life has fallen into a routine, structured by our watches. I am awakened at 7:00 AM, dress hurriedly to have breakfast at 7:30 and go on watch at 7:50 until noon. During watch I may be assigned to lookout or helm (steering), or start the first hour cleaning below decks. Then I may be assigned to chip rust, paint, do rigging work, or any other of a myriad of little jobs. Of course any job may be interrupted by a scheduled hour at the helm, by lookout duties and ship checks, or by unscheduled calls to help with sail handling. I am doing pretty well in learning the nearly 200 lines that control the sails, but remembering all of the procedures and the techniques for executing them are still a challenge. We spend quite a bit of time learning the lines and try to help each other learn.
At noon our watch is over and we have lunch. My afternoons are unscheduled, and I can talk to shipmates, help those on watch with occasional sail handling, write, read, do laundry or sleep. Having a watch system with four hours on and eight hours off is much more conducive to sleep than four hours on and four hours off, which I have done at other times on other vessels. I usually get a few hours sleep in the afternoon to supplement the sleep I get at night.
At six in the evening we have dinner, and at 7:50 I go back on watch until midnight, as I have described in detail in another journal entry. Last night while I was on lookout, I stood on the fo’csle in the darkness of a moonless night and listened to the sound of the water rushing by the hull and watched the bow ware fan out from the bow lit by phosphorescence in the water. The usual little birds were flitting about and chattering and for a while dolphins played around the bow, leaving blazingly erratic wakes of phosphorescence. It was a beautiful scene. I had the strong feeling that this was their world, this vastness of the deep. They are the natives and we are the interlopers in our fragile little bark.
So far the captain has shown himself but little, being on deck only and hour or two per day, but he appears periodically and seems to be very much on top of what is happening and ready to intervene if his guidance is needed. He seems content to leave the daily operation of the ship in the capable hands of the mates and professional crew.
The warmer weather of the Gulf stream has encouraged people to do laundry, washed in a bucket of salt water dipped up by a bucket dropped over the side with a rope on it, rinsed in another bucket of the same, and given a final rinse in fresh water, then hung on a clothesline in the rigging.
The outside world has receded. We have no idea what is happening with Hillary and Obama, the stock market, or who has invaded whom. Out here it seems to have little relevance. Of course, I still think every day of Barbara, and wonder how she is doing with real concern. But with no contact to know what is happening and no ability to affect anything that happens off of this ship, I feel a certain detachment from it. Life has become a regular cycle of watches and work, with an occasional party. What is important here is the weather, the ship, and my shipmates. For now, I am content to live only in the here and now.