Saturday, May 24th was an almost perfect day to leave Lunenburg. To be sure, it was a bit cool, with the temperature never getting much above 50, and the wind was a little sparse. But there was no rain, sun peeked out from the clouds periodically, and the breeze was favorable.
Around ten in the morning the Mayor of Lunenburg, a retired cleric, was ferried out in our skiff as we lay at anchor in the harbor for the third day. He spoke briefly, giving the ship and crew a blessing for the voyage. Around eleven we got under way. One watch worked the anchor windlass, and ancient device powered by two lines of five to six people pumping up and down on two big opposing T-handles, like an old-fashioned fire engine. While they were doing this backbreaking work, others were taking in the spanker, the sail at the stern that had been keeping us weather-vaned into the wind. Still others were beginning to set the square sails and headsails.
When the anchor was off the bottom the square sails—back winded—pushed us backwards, the headsails pushed the bow off, and the rudder helped us turn. When the ship had turned away from the wind enough, the yards were braced around to swivel the square sails to catch the wind, and the ship began to move toward towards the mouth of the harbor.
Nearly a hundred people stood on the end of the nearest wharf, waving and cheering, and fishing boats blew their horns. A dory from the dory shop came sailing by with three people in it, and I was glad to see them. Allison and Finn had both sailed around the world in the ship and had worked long and hard to help get her ready for sea. They were staying behind, however, to further their educations. The third person was Stephanie, who I had sailed with on this ship in the Caribbean in 2006, when we were trainees together. Slim and youthful-looking, she appeared to be about 16 when we met, rather than the 23 she was then. She sailed that whole voyage and had made the leap from trainee to “pro-crew.” She was staying behind to care for her mother who is about to start chemotherapy for cancer. They are typical of the intense loyalty that those who have sailed on the ship in the past feel towards her. They had come and worked hard for weeks or months helping prepare her for a voyage they knew they could not take. I felt sad for them, since I knew it was very hard for them to see the ship sail without them, and I was happy to see them sailing the dory to see us off, turning their sadness into something positive.
As we sailed out of the harbor we continued to set more and more sails: lower topsails, upper topsails, courses and t’gallants until we had set four square sails on both the fore and mainmasts, three headsails the maintopmast staysail, and spanker again. These were all the sails we had bent on. The highest square sails, the royals, have not been bent on yet, and the flying jib and gaff topsail as well. Even with all this sail set we were moving slowly in the light breeze.
Near the mouth of the harbor we met the schooner Bluenose II, which had gone out ahead of us and was waiting to see us off. As we passed they waved and cheered and fired their canon. We all lined the rail and waved back.
I was assigned the first bow watch, standing up on the foc’sle to watch for anything which might effect our course. This close to shore I was kept busy, walking aft periodically to report “Fishing boats three points on the port bow,” or “Yacht two points on the starboard bow,” or “Navigation buoy dead ahead.”
At 12:15 we passed the whistle buoy just west of Cross Island, the mark from which we would make our departure. Its mournful groan was our final goodbye. Our course was southeast, not the east-northeast that would be a direct route to Ireland. The captain’s plan is to head southeast to pass south of the Grand Banks to avoid fog and icebergs further north, then due east for a while before sailing northeast for Ireland. By this route the voyage will be around 2,700 miles.
As the day wore on the coast of Nova Scotia slowly sank behind us until it was a thin dark line on the horizon. We were sailing close-hauled on the starboard tack, making slow but stately progress. Watches were set, lookouts and helmsmen were assigned, deployed, and changed at the end of their hour. We were slowly and haltingly establishing the routine of a ship at sea.
I looked astern with mixed emotions at the retreating land. I was glad to be finally underway, but heartbroken to have my last slender tie to Barbara broken and to leave her behind.
Near sunset we sighted a ship approaching from the northeast. It turned out to be the Queen Mary 2, one of the largest passenger ships in the world. She passed a few miles behind us. I suppose at least a few of her passengers who were not too engrossed in the buffet tables or the roulette tables must have seen us and been surprised and even delighted at the sight of an old square-rigger under sail.
At dusk the ocean liner Queen Mary 2 passed a few miles astern.
My night watch, from 8:00 to midnight, was as cold as I expected. I was bundled up in regular underware and a T-shirt, long underware bottoms and tops, a second layer of expedition weight long underware tops and bottoms, work pants, two flannel shirts, foul weather pants, a fleece vest and a heavy fleece jacket, heavy wool socks, shoes, watch cap and gloves. Even with all of these clothes I was none too warm. Over my clothing I wore my safety harness and my “rig,” a special leather belt with my sheath knife and marlinspike on it. [For the non-nautically inclined, my marlinspike is a steel spike about 8” long, which tapers along its length from about 5/8” to a flat point. It is used to pry open tight knots, open the strands of rope when splicing, or open paint cans.] There is something about being so bundled up that inspires me to pee, and this time was no exception.
The watches are four hours long, but they are broken up into one-
hour segments, when we might be assigned to steering, lookout, sail handling, or other duties. My hour on lookout was uneventful, with not a single other vessel to be seen, or anything at all to report. It was, however, cold. My hour on the helm was frustrating, since the wind had died to calm and the ship had slowed to the point where she would not respond to the helm. Most of the hour was spent with the helm hard over, while the ship drifted up to eighty degrees off course.
By the end of the watch at midnight, I was cold and tired and more than ready to crawl into my bunk, the only place where I could get warm. I was asleep in minutes.