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.


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