Monthly Archives: December 2008

86. Abstractions

86 ABSTRACTIONS
December 28, 2008
I frequently see abstract forms and patterns in the ship’s rigging and gear, and want to photograph them.  I usually resist, since I can only include a limited number of pictures in my Journal and I usually want pictures that tell a story or illustrate what I am writing about.  This evening when I was on lookout I took a little pocket camera with me, and in the odd moments between watching for other ships, I indulged myself in taking a few more abstract photos.  I share them with you here.

Headsail Sheets

Headsail Sheets

Head rig

Head rig

Fore tack

Fore tack

Anchor Lashing

Anchor Lashing

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86 Abstractions

86 ABSTRACTIONS
December 28, 2008
I frequently see abstract forms and patterns in the ship’s rigging and gear, and want to photograph them.  I usually resist, since I can only include a limited number of pictures in my Journal and I usually want pictures that tell a story or illustrate what I am writing about.  This evening when I was on lookout I took a little pocket camera with me, and in the odd moments between watching for other ships, I indulged myself in taking a few more abstract photos.  I share them with you here.
Headsail sheets.

Head rig.

Fore tack.

Anchor lashing.

85. Gomera to Dakar

85 GOMERA TO DAKAR
December 28, 2008
The ship rocks gently back and forth, back and forth, changing direction about every second-and-a-half.  The cabin is almost silent, with only an occasional gurgle of water past the hull.  These alone betray our slow speed.  At a greater speed the gurgle would be louder, more active and merry, and the roll would be greater.  On deck a mottled gray sky meets a slightly darker gray sea at the flat straight line of the horizon.  The surface of the sea is barely ruffled by the light breeze.  The ship lazes along under all sail to the royals.

We are now six days into a slow passage, having made good only about 450 miles in that time, and much of that was when we motored away from Gomera on the first day and in periods of seven hours yesterday and five today when we motored in the calm.  We still have about 500 miles to go, in what is turning into an interminable passage.  Word has it that last year Nadja made the passage from the Canaries to the Cape Verdes in something like three days–which seems a little exaggerated to me–in the Europa, a bark of similar size, and that Mike made the passage from the Canaries to Dakar in four days last year in the schooner Amistad, a smaller but faster ship.  Fifteen years ago I sailed from the Canaries to a point 150 miles west of the Cape Verdes in about a week in Don Stover’s little 34’ cutter Mouette, so all of the comparisons indicate that we are making an abnormally slow passage.  We are in the area that normally has the northeast trade winds, steady moderate winds with good weather, but we have yet to see them.  We have had light winds from the northwest, sometimes with calms, until today, when it has finally come in from the northeast, but very light with leaden skies.  Even the Christmas tree, which still sits forlornly and slightly disheveled in the middle of the hatch and is lighted at night, has changed its mood.  Instead of the cheerily twinkling of almost manically blinking lights, its lights now change color in a very slow and moody way, as if it were off its meds.

The Captain seems determined that this passage should be more like that of the old sailing ships.  Not only has he seemed reluctant to motor to make progress in the calms and covered the engine controls with canvass tied down, but he has also covered over the GPS screen, and shut off the chart plotter that displays an electronic chart with the position of our ship and any others in the area constantly updated in red.  Instead the mates have pulled out their sextants and are practicing their celestial navigation to hone their skills in preparation–apparently–for teaching a course in celestial navigation during the passage across the Atlantic.  We are also towing a taffrail log, a device with a long cord with a propeller-like spinner at the end that records on its dials from the number of revolutions the distance we have traveled.  Unfortunately, this log is inaccurate at low speeds, when friction often keeps it from spinning at all.  Today when he emerged to retrieve his lunch he saw that a slight breeze had come up and put the engine in neutral as he passed the controls and ordered sail to be set before he disappeared again. Of course I can only guess what might be in the mind of the Captain from his actions, and I see little of those.  After emerging from his liar for the Christmas festivities–which he generally observed from a distance–he has again retreated to his quarters and–as usual–is seen very little.

The calm weather was pleasant over Christmas, but I am growing more and more impatient to reach Dakar.  When I last talked to Barbara a winter storm was bearing down and she was in fear of losing power again and I want to know that she is all right, and how her time at a convention in Philadelphia and in New York went.  Beyond that, I miss her very much and I am growing increasingly impatient to reach Granada so I can go to Miami to see her, though that is two months away.  And after days of light winds–like everyone else aboard–I am getting a bit bored and restless.

December 29, 2008
The breeze has held through the last half of yesterday, last night, and so far today.  We have been sailing–I would guess–at around 4 knots, and making progress, which improves my mood.  The sky is still overcast, and I wonder what that may portend.

Yesterday was Sunday, which meant that we did no ship’s work and it was a fairly mellow and relaxing day, with people reading, working on personal projects, and playing music while not on watch.
Crew relaxing on the well deck.

December 31, 2008, 9 PM
We have had good sailing the past two days and at the moment are sliding along before a following wind at around 6 knots under hazy and cloudy skies with remarkably little seas.  We should be in Dakar tomorrow, or more likely, on the 2nd of January.  I am thinking of Barbara a lot, wondering how her convention in Philly went and about her upcoming New Years Eve in New York with Ben and Steve, wishing I could be there.

In the last few days we have seen dolphins, tuna, sea turtles, and the first flying fish of the voyage.  I must get some sleep so I can be up at midnight–in the middle of my usual sleep time–to see the New Year in.

January 1st, 2008
Last night we had our own impromptu New Years Eve party on board.  I was awakened around 11 PM to find that the party was starting.  Punch and cookies left over from Christmas were laid out with big bowls of popcorn and the 12 to 4 watch had made a very credible lighted ball of wire, wood, aluminum foil, shop lights and Christmas lights, to be lowered at midnight.  The women–as usual–outshone the
Erin and Deb all fancied up.          men in their finery, and for some reason at the start of the evening almost all of them were wearing wigs of outlandish fake hair.  I managed a fairly clean shirt and shorts, and most of the men didn’t do much better, though a few showed real style. Music                                          Nicki and Ryan.                    was playing–amplified through speakers from someone’s ipod–and everyone seemed in a festive mood.

At midnight, the ball was lit and lowered from the main yard, trailing its extension cords and accompanied by cheers.  Then there were handshakes and hugs all around as everyone wished everyone else a Happy New Year.  Champagne–or at least some sort of sparkling wine–was broken out, the music tempo increased, and there was dancing on the main hatch.

As usual, Gary was in the thick of the dancing.  Others chatted, drank, and smoked cigarettes or cigars.

I went to bed relatively early, at 1 AM since I knew that my wakeup call for watch would come at 3:30 AM, whether I had any sleep or not.  Even so, it took a while to get to sleep as the party continued, and after it was over when        Dancing on the hatch: Buddy, Nadja, Weronica, and Gary.
they came around to do a head count.

By 3:50AM I was on lookout, a usually easy task made more difficult by fighting sleep, a very dark night, thick haze, and an increasing amount of ship traffic as we approached Dakar.  I picked out ships sometimes by the glow of their lights in the haze and sometimes by seeing the lights directly.  I discovered one coming straight at us and went aft to report it, to find Weronica in the chart house calling them on the radio to ask them to give us a little more berth since we are under sail.  Fortunately, they did.

The middle of the watch was taken up by setting the t’gallants, mainsail, and spanker, and then I was on the helm steering for the last hour while the sun slowly came up and it got light around 7:30.

There is a palpable air of excitement on the ship as we approach Dakar.  As far as I know, no one has been here before, though a number of people have been in other black African countries, so no one knows exactly what to expect.  Right now the best guess is that we will arrive in the harbor at Dakar sometime in the mid to late afternoon.  Then we will see.

January 2, 2009
We arrived in Dakar late in the afternoon of January 1st and dropped anchor at 5:45.  From the water Dakar looks looks a large modern city.  At night we could hear the sound of drums and singing, and see fireworks.  I was on watch today, and will go ashore tomorrow.

84. Christmas

84 CHRISTMAS,  Part One
December 25, 2008
“David, this is your wakeup call.”   It was 3:30 AM and time for my watch.  I pulled back the curtain screening my bunk and whispered into the darkness of the salon, “Merry Christmas, Kevin.”  On deck it was very dark with no moon but a full sky of stars.  The ship was under full sail to the royals, with only a few kites not set, gently swaying to the swell, barely moving in the light breeze.

We had much to do and set right to work.  My first task was to help Nadja and Jackie get the barbeque grills out of the hold to roast the suckling pig that lay in the cooler for Christmas dinner.  Both large and small grills were soon unlashed and on deck but the charcoal was a different story.  “I think its behind the shit tank,” Nadja said in her German accent without a hint of irony at her crude language, but it was nowhere in sight and we had to move a large pile of coiled lines, several cargo nets, and a spare toilet to get down to the right level.  “Do you remember us loading more than one bag in Lunenburg? Nadja asked, and I reassured her that we had.  Jackie lay on her stomach digging while I held my flashlight (why am I always the only one with a light?).  “Is this our equivalent to all the Christmas Eves our parents spent assembling toys with directions half-translated from the Japanese?” I asked, but there was no response. Finally the gray bags were unearthed and we could re-pile the nets and lines.  By the time the grills were set up and lashed against the swell, it was time for me to go on helm.

Standing at the helm I was startled to see a ship a mile off our Starboard beam, steaming the opposite direction with its two white masthead lights and green running light clearly visible.  It was the first ship that I have seen in days in these relatively empty waters.  The course was south by west, half west, or 197 degrees.  On this ship, courses are always given in compass points, as is traditional, but I usually translate them into degrees since I find the outer degree scale on the compass easier to read.  Although the ship was barely moving, we still had steerageway, and a half turn and some patience with her slow response was all it took to keep her on course.  I found the stars covered and uncovered by the windward luffs of the square sails a clearer indication of which way the ship was turning than the compass.

With fairly easy steering, I was free to scan the horizon and the stars and to think my own thoughts.  So far from land the stars were brilliant.  The big dipper and North Star were clearly visible behind me, and I could identify Orion’s belt.  I wished I could identify the winter hexagon of stars that Ed Pols described in his eloquent poem in which he contemplated his own death.

I thought inevitably of Barbara, as I usually do in such reflective moments.  She should be home asleep in bed by now, hopefully after and elegant Christmas Eve dinner at Henry and Marty’s.  Missing her was like a stab to my heart and I wished, as I so often do, that I could be with her, for the night, to celebrate Christmas in our traditional way, and to join her for Christmas dinner with David and Gayle.  My eyes began to mist and I had to force my mind back to the compass and onto other things.

Scanning through the stars I thought I saw a blinking light near the horizon, but I had to look carefully because stars often blink as they are covered and uncovered by the web of the sip’s rigging.  Watching carefully, I saw that it was indeed a blinking light on an airplane slowly crossing above me.  Alone on the quarterdeck in the darkness it was somehow reassuring that there were other people out there.  My mind went back to a time when I was alone on watch on Don Stover’s cutter Mouette on a dark night in the middle of the Cabot Straights between Newfoundland and Cape Breton, as cold and lonely a piece of water as I have sailed.  We saw no ships at all during that crossing, but there was a steady stream of the flashing lights of airliners flying the great circle route to Europe.

Being on helm was also reassuring, watching the compass, turning the wheel three or four spokes when we started to get off course, watching the stars while I waited for a response, and remembering to turn the wheel back when we were back on course, I was generally able to keep within two or three degrees of the assigned course.  I was almost disappointed when I saw a silent dark figure approaching to relieve me.  Since she has been the one to relieve me the last few days I said, “Merry Christmas Marie,” but it was Jackie.  I have yet to develop the ability to distinguish all of the members of my new watch in the dark, now more difficult with so many similar female forms to distinguish.  The generator was just firing up, signaling the start of a new day.  “Damn, I forgot to wake Geoff for the engine room.  Could you wake him?” Jackie asked.  “Sure,” I said.

When I did the log entry for my hour on helm I read the taffrail log—a device hung on the stern rail connected to a line towing a propeller through the water that measures our distance through the water by registering the number of revolutions of the propeller on its dials—and discovered that during the hour we had sailed a mile and a half.  At this rate it will take a while to get to Senegal.

I went below to wake Geoff and found Nadja and Veronica finishing playing Santa, distributing small items that people had contributed into socks that everyone had been instructed to hang by their bunks.  When I woke Geoff I got a grumpy response that he wasn’t on duty this morning.  “Merry Christmas anyway,” I said and left.

After a few more small tasks it was time to go on lookout and I climbed up on the foc’sl to relieve Mary, who stood on the very bow and seemed a little sad when I spoke to her briefly.  We all are away from people we love today, I thought to myself and fought my own thoughts of those I was missing, from my parents to Barbara and my brother, with only partial success.  I was able to enjoy a beautiful starry night and an empty horizon.  Around seven the tiniest crescent of a very new moon rose, with a star just above it, reminding me of the crescent and star design on the flags of several Arab countries.  This crescent was quickly chased by the glow of pre-dawn, and I was surprised at the rare sight of the darkened disk of the unlit moon alongside the incandescent crescent.  Soon my relief came, the deck was abuzz with people.  My watch was dismissed with the usual magic words of “Watch below,” and I went below to find a most sumptuous breakfast of homemade bagels, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and special pancakes with real Vermont maple syrup thanks to a care package from Susie’s parents.  Then it was time to hit my bunk for a few hours of sleep.

When I awoke Christmas preparations were in full swing.  The suckling pig on the grill was getting crisp and brown, and the pile of presents—wrapped in everything from rare formal wrapping paper, to plastic bags, to Arabic newspapers, to old sailcloth—was growing ever larger.  Lunch was a simple affair; everyone was waiting for dinner.
The Bracken brothers, Sam and 2nd mate Paul, baste the pig.
At two o’clock the orders were given to clew up the courses and brace the foremast yards around so the square sails on that mast were all aback.  This made the ship hove to, with the sails on one mast pushing the ship forward and the sails on the other mast pushing it backwards—essentially parking the ship, not that we were doing much more than drifting in the near calm anyway.  A swim call was called and much of the crew donned their suits and went over the side to enjoy the novelty of swimming from a sailing ship on Christmas Day at sea off the coast of Africa.  I wasn’t quite warm enough to be motivated to swim.  I noticed Kevin aloft on shark watch.  I had to admit, as one used to white Christmases, that swimming and Christmas were an odd combination and a tempting proposition.

At 3 o’clock the orders were given to re-trim the yards and re-set the courses to put the ship aback on her plodding course.  I was still in my work clothes and went below to change into something more decent, but before I could do so, an “All hands muster” was called.  It was time to distribute presents.                           Weronica and Marie and the Christmas Tree.

Everyone gathered on the main deck in a circle around the hatch, which held the tree and mound of presents.  To impose some order on the process, the Captain invoked the custom of having the youngest two in the crew pass out the presents to everyone else.  This fell to 18-year-old Nick and 19-year-old Jackie, and they cheerfully did as they were bid,
Sam and Susie admire his new suspenders.
Jackie picks up another present while others unwrap theirs.
distributing presents while the Captain oversaw the process from his lofty perch sitting on the edge of the quarterdeck.

The presents were, for the most part, tokens: clever gags, candy, wine, and other small things.  Lyndsey probably took the prize for most spectacular gift, with a wildly colored headdress of some sort.
Nadja and Mike share a moment.

Lyndsey models her headdress.                                        [Continued in Part Two.]

84 CHRISTMAS, Part Two
For gifts I gave mostly candy and wine to those I felt closest to, and a bottle of Coca Cola to Bruce–a non-materialist and minimalist who brought little, has bought almost nothing, doesn’t drink, and consumes Coke as his only indulgence.  I gave gifts to two newly-joined crewmembers who I figured didn’t know many people and therefore were less likely to receive gifts, not wanting them to be left out.   Kolin, the Bosun, was thrilled to receive a lost jar of tar.

After he presided over the opening of presents, the Captain–as is his custom–retreated to the sidelines.  He and Lyndsey hung out alone on the quarterdeck next to the unattended wheel.

Kolin thrilled with the return of lost tar.

Christmas dinner was a sumptuous affair, served on deck.  It consisted of roast pig, roast potatoes, squash, and red cabbage.  Geoff had stocked up with two cases of beer in Gomera, and he came around distributing cans as his contribution to the merriment.  I enjoyed mine with dinner.  Others had wine with Lyndsey and the Captain share a quiet moment.             dinner.

Dessert was—if possible–even more lavish, with apple and pumpkin pie, a Yule log cake or bush noel, and even more cookies and candy.  I felt filled to the gills.  The weather added to the festive air, being sunny, warm, and calm, so for much of the day the helm was left unattended and the ship drifted on its own, more or less on course.

After dinner things became less formal and scripted.                    Mary in her pirate finery.
People changed into more casual clothes and helped with the dinner cleanup, dishes, and

Bill, W.T. and Gary share a drink.
galley cleanup.  I joined Gary, Bill, and W.T. for a drink in the salon, but only one since I was still technically on watch though there was little to do.  It was nice to sit and relax with people.

In the evening the musicians among the crew began to play guitar, banjo, and fiddle, and a few sang.  A rowdy bunch retired to the foc’sle for some serious drinking.

At sunset a little zepher of a breeze came up and the ship began to move, ever-so-slowly.  Nadja assigned me to lookout duty on the foc’sle, where I could hear and see glimpses of what was going on, but wasn’t part of it.  I was content with this, needing some relative solitude after the intensity of the day.

When Jackie came to relieve me after an hour I could see in her face that she was reluctant to leave the party.  “If you are having a good time, go back to the party,” I told her, “I’m good for another hour up here.”

“Really?” she asked, disbelieving her ears.  “Sure,” I said, “Merry Christmas,” and she was gone without further hesitation.  In fact I wanted to be alone.  The intense feelings of missing Barbara that I had been fighting to keep at bay all day were beginning to overwhelm me and I felt very low and lonely.  I didn’t want to party, and didn’t want to diminish anyone else’s party, so it was best for me to be alone.

That is except for when one very drunk young crewman–for reasons that escape me–climbed out of the escape hatch from the foc’sle.  I grabbed his arm and pulled him out as he teetered in danger of falling back into the foc’sle behind him.  Once liberated, he staggered away who-knows-where.

I wanted to be alone to think of Barbara, to think of where she might be and what she might be doing, to experience my feelings of missing her and let go of my tears unseen.  I tried to console myself with thinking of when I will see her in Miami, but that won’t be for another two months, so I was only partly successful.  I reflected on the joys and melancholy of the day and enjoyed the sunset.

83. Christmas Eve

83 CHRISTMAS EVE
December 24, 2008
It seems that wherever it is celebrated, excitement builds as Christmas nears.  That has certainly been true here on the Picton Castle.  It was especially true on Christmas Eve, as the crew spent the day baking, decorating, wrapping presents, and getting cleaned up for the evening “Marlinspike” party.

People have been baking—especially cookies—for days.  And an amazing, and seemingly unending stream of Christmas decorations have appeared and been put up almost everywhere.  Some, like this banner hung in the rigging and the little artificial tree set up on the hatch, have been store-bought, others, like the strings of popcorn and paper chains that festoon the salon, have been home-made.

At sea everything aboard ship is lashed down.  Large items that would be particularly dangerous if they got loose, are given “Cape Horn Lashings,” named after the cape at the tip of South America famous for its storms.  One day Cory was instructed to put a Cape Horn Kevin & Weronica stringing popcorn.     Lashing on something but misheard the instruction and wondered why he had been asked to do a “gay porn lashing.”  This has started a long running joke in the ribald and irreverent humor of the ship.  So when it was time to make some paper chains for Christmas decorations, Nicki produced a gay porn magazine that was cut up for its paper.  The             Part of the gay porn paper chain in the salon.
bosun looked at the chain when it was hung and said, “I think there are some unwrapped packages here.”

The overall result was to give the ship a very festive Christmas feeling, with the tree set up in the center of the main hatch with presents under it, and decorations on the deckhouses, in the rigging, and down below.

A wreath on the door of the scuttle to the salon.
At four thirty in the afternoon the Marlinspike began with everyone dressed in their best, champagne punch, and an overwhelming plethora of cookies.  Since the ship still had to be sailed and my watch was on duty, this led to some incongruous sights such as the pictures of Marie at the helm in her dress and pearls, and the mate and ABs of my watch on duty in their finery that you will have already seen in my journal entry on my new watch (# 82), and the sight of Tjetil aloft fixing a gasket on the spanker in a full suit and tie, an extreme contrast to our normal ultra-grubby grease, tar, and paint stained work clothes.

Donald, always one of the most fashionable men aboard, somehow managed to appear in a full Santa Claus suit that seemed to impress the ladies.  It has long been my observation that the women aboard, I guess like women every-           Tjetil in the rigging.
where, do a much better job of cleaning up and getting fancy than the men.  They are much more style-conscious, put more effort and expense into their wardrobe, and have the extra tools of hair and makeup, often helped by Nicki our resident professional hair stylist and makeup artist.  I am always awed at how well they clean up and                  Donald with Nicki, Deb, and Erin.                        put us men to shame.

Of course the men do try, with varying success (I place myself chronically at the least successful end of the spectrum) and some look rather good.

But once the party gets in full swing, all such considerations are lost in the general air of merriment and celebration.

Nick, Gunner, Corey, & Sam by the tree.

82. My New Watch

82 MY NEW WATCH
December 23, 2008
No, this piece has nothing to do with a timepiece; it is about the group of people I work with.  At sea, the ship’s crew is divided into three groups, know as watches. There are also a few people like the Captain, the sailmaker, and the bosun—in charge of the ship’s maintenance, who do not stand watch and are know as “day men.”  Each watch is headed by a mate, and contains and Able Bodied Seaman—the foreman if you wish, and maybe a deckhand—a lower-ranked member of the professional crew who is an un-paid volunteer.  Each watch sails the ship—in rotation—for two fixed four-hour periods each day, also know as watches.  When we left Lunenburg, until Bergen, Norway, I was on the 8 to 12 watch, sailing the ship from eight in the morning until noon and from eight in the evening until midnight.  Most of the time since I have been on the 12 to 4 watch.  When we left Gomera, the watches were shuffled again in a giant game of musical chairs, and I was reassigned to the 4 to 8 watch for the first time.

Each watch has certain regular, characteristic chores in addition to manning the helm and lookout positions and standing by for sail handling when needed.  The 8 to 12 watch does maintenance work under the direction of the bosun—scraping, painting, and rigging work during the day, and cleaning the galley in the evening.  The 12 to 4 watch works for the bosun in the afternoon, and cleans the galley walls and overhead (ceiling) at night.  The 4 to 8 watch scrubs the deck in the morning, cleans up from the bosun’s work in the afternoon, and cleans the galley after dinner.  I liked the 8 to 12 watch because it is closest to my normal sleep patterns and I the mate was Thomas, who became my friend, but found that we did less in terms of sail handling than I would like.  I learned a lot from Paul, the mate on the 12 to 4 watch, but got tired of the maintenance work, and found it hard to get enough sleep—usually obtained in three or four fairly short blocks.  I think I will like the 4 to 8 watch because I think I will do less maintenance and more sail handling, which I would like, but right now when the days are at their shortest, much of both watches are in darkness.

Each watch has a different rhythm, and right now I am getting used to that of the 4 to 8.  We are awakened at 3:30 AM to muster for watch at 3:50, where jobs are handed out.  When the sun is up enough to see—right now at 7:30 AM–we scrub the deck.  When the watch is over, we have a leisurely breakfast.  The evening watch is broken at 6PM by dinner, where we must eat fast to return to the deck to relieve whoever is on helm and lookout so they can eat.

Each time the watches are re-shuffled I end up working with different people, so by now I have worked with most of the people on board and get along well with almost all of them.  The group I am working with now is unusual since the watch contains six women and only three men, and all of the supervisory positions are filled by women—relatively young women.  Lyndsey is normally the ship’s Purser, a sort of business manager, but she has been acting Third Mate since Thomas left the ship in Bergen.  She is Canadian, 28, and has been on the ship for nine years, making three or four round-the-world voyages, having virtually all of her sailing career on this ship.  Unlike Mike and Paul, the first and second mates, who are both Maine Maritime Academy graduates with college training and licenses, Lyndsey has—to my knowledge—no formal maritime education and no licenses.  She is extremely knowledgeable and skilled—her education coming from a great deal of experience.  Like the Captain—with whom she is very close, it being a fairly open secret that she is his girlfriend—she tends to be a bit aloof and taciturn.

Weronica (pronounced Veronica) is Polish, physically fairly small, wiry, and intense, with a very short boyish haircut, and looks younger than her 24 years.  She is rated as an Able Bodied Seaman, but is understudy for Lyndsey and being groomed to take over as acting mate for our crossing of the Atlantic.  She has sailed on this ship twice          Lyndsey, Weronica, Nick, and Nadia, during the Christmas Eve Party. Before for brief periods—on both occasions I was sailing aboard—but she has had a great deal of experience on a variety of big square-rigged ships including some big Russian ships in the far east, and the Norwegian training ships Christian Radich and Sorlandet, and a year in Californa where she helped rig the brigntine Irving Johnson and sailed on the schooner Lynx.

Nadya (pronounced Nadia) is 24, German, tall, lean, blond, strong, confident, outgoing, and very knowledgeable and highly skilled.  I have had the most contact with her, having been on watch with her before, and I am very impressed with her abilities.  In addition to the Picton Castle, she spent a winter (southern summer) sailing aboard the Europa, a barque of similar size and rig, making multiple trips from the southern tip of South America to Antarctica and has amazing stories of gales, dodging ice, and running from leopard seals.

I am the oldest of the trainees on my watch, as usual, but not by the 24 years of my previous watch.  Mary–I would guess–is somewhere in her 50s, fairly quiet, nice, and from St Louis.  John is in his late 40s, a retired computer whiz from the Boston area.  Marie is Danish, in her early 20s, and previously sailed on the Danmark.  Jackie is Canadian from Nova Scotia, 19, and usually the life of the party.  Nick is a trainee who joined the ship in Las Palmas.  He is 18, South African, newly graduated from high school, tall, fairly quiet, and nice.  So you can see that we are a pretty diverse group in terms of experience, gender, age, and nationality.  It will be interesting to see how we work together.

Marie on the helm in a dress and pearls during the Christmas Eve Party.

81. Gomera

81 GOMERA
December 22, 2008

Approaching Gomera
From Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, we sailed westward, passing just south of the island of Tenerife, to the much smaller island of Gomera.  The second smallest of the seven large Canary Islands, Gomera is a nearly circular volcanic island about 12 miles in diameter, whose largest peak rises over 4600 feet.  As we approached on a gray overcast day after an overnight passage, clouds shrouded the highest peaks, and it remained cloudy or hazy through much of our stay.

I was surprised to learn that Gomera was inhabited before the Spanish “discovered,” conquered, and colonized it at the start of the 15th century.  These indigenous people were of Berber origin, descendents of the Cromagnon race, of medium height, agile and strong, who lived by breeding cattle and rudimentary farming and the harvesting of seafood.  In 1492 the bay of San Sebastian de La Gomera became Columbus’ last port before he sailed across the Atlantic.  He was to be followed by many other illustrious explorers who stopped at the island on their way to great discoveries: Hernan Cortez, Francisco Pizzarro, and Vasco Nunez de Balboa among others.

We approached the island and anchored just outside the little manmade harbor at         The Picton Castle anchored under the cliffs of Gomera at Valle Gan Rey.
Valle Gran Rey, under impressive towering cliffs.  When I asked one of the first group who went ashore what it was like, his reply was that it was full of German hippies.  When I went ashore I found a harbor filled with rugged and seaworthy looking small fishing boats and a few hearty small yachts that braved the swell that kept all the vessels rocking.  What looked like a little village from the harbor turned out to be a very                            The harbor at Valle Gran Rey.

pleasant small town with interesting cafes, restaurants, grocery stores, some more tourist oriented shops and a hardware store.  Our visit was short but Rich rented a car and we had a few hours to explore the ruggedly beautiful interior, returning to watch the hippies drumming and dancing on the beach at sunset.