80. The Columbus Museum


December 20, 2008
Tired of the modern city of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, one day I took a bus to the far southern part of the city, the oldest section, to wander around that area of narrow streets, old buildings, and ancient churches.  My objective was to visit the Columbus Museum, advertised as the place Columbus lived when he was in Las Palmas.  It seems that Columbus never really lived there, it was the Mayor’s house, but he stayed there when he visited.  I guess that— like George Washington—Chris slept a lot of places in his itinerant career, all of which want to claim him now that he’s famous.  And it is, in fact, a large and lovely old house built around two courtyards.

The man we call Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, then—I believe—an independent city-state and now a part of Italy. One of the displays I found most interesting was a map of Columbus’ voyages prior to his famous voyages of discovery to the Americas.  He had apparently sailed—I don’t now in what order—south to the Canaries, around the horn of Africa and to the Cape Verdes. He had also sailed west to Madeira and around the Azores, and north to England, Ireland, and Iceland, where it has been speculated that he heard from fisherman and those with Viking ancestors about lands to the west.

I believe that many of Columbus’ earlier voyages were financed by Portugal, then—as I learned when I visited there—in a phase of exploration inspired by Henry the Navigator.  But Columbus apparently failed to gain backing from the Portuguese for his concept of sailing west around the world to China, which would be a breakthrough since the Turkish Empire was constricting the land route to the lucrative spice trade.  It took him years of trying and waiting to get the support    A portrait of Christopher Columbus
of the Spanish Court, while he fretted that someone else would beat him to it.  When that support finally came, I am sure it is no coincidence that the year was 1492, the year the Spanish were finally successful in driving the Moors out of Spain.

Columbus left Spain, as we all have know since grade school, with three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the larger Santa Maria.  If I remember correctly, the Nina and Pinta were both caravels, and both were originally lateen rigged, but in the Canaries Columbus had the Pinta re-rigged                            A model of the Pinta
with a square rig.

The Canary Islands were Columbus’ last stop in the then-known world before he headed across the Atlantic, and he stopped there to refit and re-provision his ships.  The Cape Verde Islands were further along, and know to him—he had been there—but since he was now sailing for Spain, the Portuguese—arch rivals of the Spanish in exploration and trade—would not give him permission to land there.

The museum contained this old navigation device, but since it was labeled in Spanish, I was uncertain as to what it is.  My guess was that it is an astrolabe, the fore-runner of the sextant that was used in Columbus’ time to measure the angle of the sun or other heavenly bodies from the horizon.  But Kevin, a shipmate who is very knowledgeable about sundials, thinks it is a nocturn, a device that—if lined up with certain stars—will tell you the time at night, and I will concede to him.

I noted with irony that the museum contained artifacts from Mayan, Aztec, and other New World civilizations whose downfall Columbus contributed to, either directly or indirectly.


79. Gran Canaria


December 18, 2008
Gran Canaria is a roughly circular volcanic island about 25 miles in diameter. It is a high island, whose highest peak is over 6000 feet high.  The prevailing winds are from the northeast, and when they hit the island’s mountains, they rise and drop their load of moisture as rain.  This means that the north and east sides of the island get a great deal of rain and are lush and green, while the south and west sides are arid and brown.  The island was discovered and colonized by the Spanish and is still a part of Spain.

One day John, Kevin, Gary and I rented a car to explore a part of the island.  Once out of the city of Las Palmas it became rural, steep, and green.  As the road climbed through many switchbacks it entered the clouds and it became gray and foggy with occasional rain.  We stopped in a little town for lunch and to walk around.  Here I felt a sense of history lacking in Las Palmas, with narrow streets and old buildings.

As we climbed higher the road got steeper and more crooked, the fog got denser, and the air became colder.  The driving reminded me of the roads on Mallorca, only here it was a little less adventurous since they have guard rails. Some of the road signs became unusual to the point of being comical.  At the top, near the highest point on the island, it was quite cold, foggy and wet.  Rain pelted us and we saw rushing waterfalls.  We kept speculating as to what sort of fabulous views we would have if it were clear, but I doubt it is very often.

Our descent to the northwest coast was equally precipitous, but eventually brought us out under the clouds and to a spectacularly rugged shoreline.  There we stopped at a little fishing village, quiet in the off-season.  There we saw some interesting Christmas decorations: a decorated cactus and a local icon, Santa climbing a ladder to climb in a window rather than coming down the chimney.

As darkness fell we headed back to the city and the 21st  century.

78. Danmark


December 17, 2008

The Danish training ship Danmark in Las Palmas, Canary Islands.

Danmark is the Danish word for Denmark, and
also the name of one of the most beautiful square-rigged ships in the world.  The ship has special significance for several of our crew: our captain served on her for four years early in his career and Marie, one of our trainees from Denmark, had sailed on her as well.  Both have a great fondness for this great ship and it s easy to see why.  Marie arranged a tour of the Danmark one day and I was happy to go along, having my own fondness for the country she represents.

The Danmark is a considerably bigger        Danmark’sfigurehead of Neptune
ship than the Picton Castle, and like the other Scandinavian training ships, has a classic beauty in her design and a yacht-like finish with teak decks and much varnish and brass.  Her salon, with its immaculately polished wood, is fit for a king and has hosted several.  She has space for the crew to have cabins—though her trainees sleep in hammocks—and a nice mess room, and for relatively huge dedicated storage rooms for bosun’s and carpenter shops, frozen food, and a huge modern galley.

Danmark’s modern galley, and Ryan, Marie, and Nadja at her big double wheel.

The Picton Castle crew were impressed by all this, and by her navigation station, showers, helm, and electrically powered anchor windlass that removes the heavy labor of our ship’s hand-pumped windlass.  Sailors, like everyone else, enjoy seeing how others work and live.

Danmark’s traditional capstan for heaving on lines. and her electically powered anchor windlass.

I was touched by a plaque commemorating the Danmark’s service during World War Two training American and Allied sailors while her own country was occupied by the Germans.

All too soon it was time to return to work on our own ship.

77. Las Palmas


December 16, 2008
The Canary Islands are a group of seven large islands that lie not far off the west coast of Africa.  Owned by Spain, they have an important place in history as a staging place and jump-off spot for many explorations and later trade voyages—Columbus left for his historic first voyage from these islands.  Today they are agricultural and tourist islands, sort of Europe’s answer to Florida, where citrus is grown and tourists get away for a vacation in the sun.  The two largest islands are Tenerife and Gran Canaria.  The major city on Gran Canaria is Las Palmas, and it was here that the Picton Castle tied up.

The Picton Castle in Las Palmas
I’m afraid that I have a hard time being fair to Las Palmas.  It has none of the quaint, exotic, charm of Essaouira, being a large, bustling, modern city with a large commercial port, hotels, tourist oriented shops and restaurants, and a huge upscale five-story shopping mall only a hundred yards from where we tied up.  There is always something slightly depressing about a beach town out of season, and for me, Las Palmas was just another large modern city with a semi-tropical face.  Inside the mall, you could have been in any mall any place, except for the signs being mostly in Spanish.  Its up-to-the-moment style provided a sharp contrast to our 19th century existence.

Mannequins in the mall.                              Working on the main lower topsail.

So I was less than thrilled with Las Palmas, but that is alright, I can’t expect to find every port the most thrilling ever, and it certainly suffered in comparison with Essaouira.  To be sure, Las Palmas did its job in providing a place to walk around, laundry, wifi, and other amenities.

Las Palmas also had personal significance for me in several areas, some bad, some good.  Several days before we arrived on our relatively swift passage from Essaouira, I felt small dull pain in my right calf where I was diagnosed with a small blood clot in September.  I feared another blood clot, which could threaten my life and end my voyage.  So shortly after I arrived, Gary—our medical officer—took me and two other guys who needed tests off to a hospital.  The ultrasound showed no sign of a clot, but an inflammation of the vein.  Since this could increase my chances of another clot, this sparked consideration of going home for treatment and monitoring.  I consulted with my physician at home—thanks to the modern marvel of the cell phone—who advised going back on Naproxan, and I trudged around the city to visit five pharmacies to corner the market in that drug and amass twice the supply I would need until I reach Granada.

Las Palmas also marked the return of fleas—the bane of my existence.  I have it on good authority that they can hatch and return, and I awoke with a few bites that prompted another round of taking all my bedclothes to the laundry and scrubbing my bunk out with bleach, which hopefully will control the vermin.

On a more positive note, Gran Canaria marked the completion of my own personal circuit of the Atlantic, since it was from this island, 15 years ago, that I left with two friends on a 34’ cutter to cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean.  In the years since I have sailed the eastern Caribbean island chain and north to the US, so my arrival here completed the loop.

Purely by chance, Las Palmas harbor contained two other square-rigged ships: the Danmark and the Tenacious, and was visited by a third, the Roald Amundsen.  The presence of four square-rigged ships on the same wharf, headed by a huge shopping mall upped the time-warp surreal nature of my visit here.                     Picton Castle (foreground) with Danmark and Roald Amundsen.

74. Essaouira, Morocco

Part One, Arrival and the Port.

December 8, 2008

Essaouira from the sea.
“We may not be able to get into this port, and if we do, we may not be able to stay.” The Captain said after he had called us all to a muster on the quarterdeck.  “At best, we’ll have a very rolly anchorage.”  We could see the shore and the town a mile or so away and the big swells left after the gale rolling from seaward straight into the mouth of the harbor.  The brown walls and white buildings of the old city cast an unmistakable allure, with the minaret towers of the mosques rising above the other buildings. We all very much wanted to stop at this port, but understood that there was a good chance we couldn’t.

As we approached the mouth of the harbor the water became more shoal and the waves grew higher and steeper.  Our 150’ ship was lifted and surged forward a little on each wave and we all held our breaths.  To port lay the old city, and to starboard some rocky islands topped with ancient fortifications.  The problem was that the only area deep enough for us to anchor (I had gotten a peek at the chart when I was in the chart house) was just inside the opening, where we would get no protection from the big swells from either of these.  We entered the harbor slowly and carefully, with two range markers  (towers) lined up ahead of us, all the watertight doors closed, and everyone on deck.

Once inside the harbor we turned, and the ship rolled heavily.  Once we had turned into the swells we were still rolling considerably, but not as bad as I had feared.  Three fishermen in a little blue boat came near enough to hail us and addressed us in French and word was passed for Gary, the only one aboard whose native tongue is French.  The fishermen directed us to a place to anchor and warned us of some shallows and we slowly followed their directions.  I was relieved when the Captain ordered the anchor dropped, since it meant we could stay, and again when it was announced that we would stay two days but we should be warned that the ship might have to leave without notice if conditions worsened.

After a while another small blue boat approached us carrying a man in uniform, an official who told us that the Captain must come ashore with our papers to clear in.  The skiff was launched and word was passed for Gary to go along as translator. He was in his grubby work clothes and needed to change quickly. Knowing that he has a bad hand,            The Picton Castle anchored off Essaouira.
I helped him change and lent him a decent shirt as increasingly urgent calls came for him to be on deck.  He left with the Captain, Lyndsey the third mate and purser, and the boat crew.  They were gone a long time and had to return a few hours later for more formalities with the police with a list of all our home addresses and professions, so even though we anchored in mid-afternoon, it was evening before we were cleared in fully, and even then Donald was not allowed to go ashore since his home country of Granada has no agreement with Morocco.  I heard that the officials were nice but the process tedious, or as Lyndsey put it, the officials were “the nicest guys you ever wanted to strangle.”
The little inner harbor at Essaouira crowded with fishing boats.
I got to go ashore in the morning.  For this expedition I teamed up with Rich, a new trainee from Colorado, who—at a year younger than me—is the only one on the Starboard watch within 24 years of my age.  The skiff skirted the waves breaking off the man-made breakwater and landed us at a dock in the little inner harbor crowded with fishing boats that came in two sizes: wooden trawlers 50-60 feet long and small open boats of about 20 feet in length.  The latter are identical in design and blue color, and said to come from a design developed by Breton fishermen in France.  The identical color may be to aid in identifying them—even far at sea where we first saw them—as from this port, useful to officials trying to identify strange boats to control the drug trade.  They are sturdy and seaworthy little craft.

The breakwater, quay, and artificial inner harbor are all of fairly recent construction, and are backed by the first of several old city walls with a gate leading into the city.  I saw an old photograph that showed only a ramp leading out from the gate.  On the quay fishermen were selling their catch and just inside the gate was a place where they were cleaning their catch on the rocky shore encircled by hundreds of flying gulls each looking for a meal.

I will continue my tour of Essaouira in other journal entries.  It is such a unique and wonderful place that I want to include a lot of photographs and let them speak for themselves.

Part two, History.

Just inside the outer wall of Essaouira, near the port, showing the old fortifications.

Essaouira is the most exotic port we have visited so far.  It is our first port on the African continent and our only port in the Arab Muslim world.   Morocco is the western-most country in North Africa, in what Arabs call the Maghreb, the lands to the west.  It is said to be one of the more moderate and stable countries in the Arab world, and one of those most open to non-Muslim foreigners.  But as my introduction to this world, I found it very exotic and fascinating, and a little scary.

The little city has a long and interesting history.  I was amazed at how many of the major players in history, different civilizations and religious groups, were involved in the history of Essaouira and Morocco. There are very few natural harbors on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, so Essaouira has always had an importance since—however insecure we might find it—the city has one of the few good harbors on the coast.  I have read that the first Berbers appeared in the area around 8000 BC. The Phoenicians visited this spot between the 12th and 7th century BC and established trading outposts, later taken over by the Carthaginians.  In 146 BC, after the fall of Carthage, Roman influence increased in North Africa, and they established cities in what is now Morocco.  The Romans came to Essaouira in the 1st century AD for purple dye extracted from the local shellfish, and for the fine marquetry woodwork that the locals produced—and still do.  After the Vandal depredations that led to the sack of Rome, the Vandals invaded the north coast in 253, followed in 535 by the Byzantines who occupied Essaouira for a short time and introduced Christianity.  Late in the 7th century the first wave of Arabs spreading Islam found converts among the local Berbers and founded the first Arab dynasty of Sultans.

By the 10th century Essaouira had grown to a town and an important port that shipped goods from all over southern Morocco.   Due to its strategic importance as a port, it was fortified and was called Mogdul, after the Berber Muslim patron saint Sidi Mogdul, who is buried a few kilometers away. In the 11th and 12th centuries Berbers swept northwards from the western Sahara and took control of Morocco and went on to conquer Spain and Portugal.  At its height, their empire stretched from Spain to Tripoli and produced a flowering of Moorish architecture and the founding of several Islamic universities.  But by the mid 15th century their empire broke down and various local tribes took control of Morocco, and when the Muslims were driven out of Spain in 1492 many took refuge in Morocco.

I learned in Spain and Portugal of the Moorish occupation of those countries for centuries, and here I learned that the Portuguese—after they had driven the Moors out of their own country—returned the favor by occupying places in Morocco and setting up trading centers here.  This port was one of them. They fortified the city to be able to defend it and the port, and corrupted the name to Mogadura, the well guarded.  They were forced out in 1541.

In 1764 the Alaoite Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdulla decided to make Essaouira  a military and industrial port.  He had a French architect lay out the city much as it is today and the town built up and its fortifications strengthened.  It was then was renamed Essaouira, Arabic for “fortified place.”  It was then that the massive walls facing the sea were built and topped with a battery of heavy artillery, called La Skala, to defend from attacks form the sea, along with fortifications on the nearby islands.  At the same time a wall was built on the inland side of the city to protect it from land attack by insurgent tribes.

By the mid 19th century one third of Essaouira’s population was Jewish. Most of them have emigrated since the formation of Israel, but the city still has two synagogues.  Late in the            A tower in the wall towards the port.
19th century, Essaouira was the only Moroccan port south of Tangier open to European trade.  But at the turn of the 20th century the Sultan of Morocco incurred vast debts, leaving the country open to foreign intervention.  The French took control of a large portion of the country, with the Spanish taking control of the rest under the treaty of Fes in 1912.  Some local rulers collaborated with the French in return for power and privilege.  Essaouira declined under the French protectorate as the ports of Agadir and Casablanca were favored.

Essaouira from the tower in the wall towards the port.

The 1930s and 40s saw the rise of Moroccan nationalism but it wasn’t until 1956 that the protectorate was dissolved and Morocco became independent. At that time Sultan Mohammed V changed his title to king. In the 1960s a number of hippies including Jimi Hendrix hung out in Morocco.  In 1999 king Hassan II died and his son, Mohammed VI became king promising increased democratization and better rights for women.  Today Essaouira is a market and tourist town that is home to many artisans working in wood, ceramics, and silver, and a number of fine artists.

Essaouira seemed exotic from my first view of it from the sea, with its fortified walls, old white buildings, and minaret towers.  After we anchored we could see horses and camels a couple of miles away walking down the miles of beach towards some dunes.  When I came ashore I was fascinated by the harbor crowded with strange looking boats.  On shore roughly a third of the men selling fish on the quay and cleaning fish just inside the big arched gat through the massive city wall wore jellabas: hooded, heavy, long-sleeved robes, a proportion that was to hold everywhere I went in Morocco.

Inside the first wall is a large square where a portion of the next wall has been removed, which contains cafes, banks, and a string of small outdoor restaurants.  These display fresh seafood—a selection of fish and shellfish.  To eat there you select the mix and quantity of seafood you want, negotiate a price, and they grill it and serve it to you on their few outdoor tables.

Walking around, the people look different than anything I had seen before, with their dark skin and unusual dress.  The vast majority of women have their heads covered, and many wear long robes and veils as well.  A woman in western dress with her hair uncovered and flowing is an unusual sight, and probably a foreigner.  Men may wear jellabas, locally made jackets or capes, or simple western garb.
A street scene in Essaouira.
From the square, narrow streets lead into the medina, the walled town.  The only vehicles usually seen are hand- carts, small 3-wheeled vehicles with the front of a motorcycle and a small truck bed behind, and an occasional bicycle.  All of the buildings are old, or at least feel old.  The city has many old defensive walls, walls within walls that would provide successive lines of defense, and in the walls are arched gates, sometimes very ornate and sometimes flanked by smaller gates.  Sometimes there are even        Men hanging out by one of the gates.
gates without walls; they really seem to be into gates.

The city has a considerable population of dogs and cats that wander the streets freely.  The cats, especially, seem to haunt the outdoor restaurants and fish market looking for a meal.    To wander these streets was to drink in all kinds of different sights and sensations.

Part Three, Wandering the Streets of Mogadur.

Wandering the streets of Essaouira—or called by its old name, Mogadur—is a feast for the senses.  At times it almost seemed like a sensory overload of new experiences.  To try to record my experience, I took lots of photos, and to share this experience with you, I will present a lot of them, in fairly random order with little commentary so you can experience the place as I did.

I will say that there is a religious and/or cultural distaste among Moroccans for having their picture taken, so some of the pictures of people were taken after asking and getting permission, and some were taken surreptitiously, often literally shooting from the hip with a small camera.  I have edited out most of the photos where people put up their hands or turned away. Since my email system limits size of attachments I can send, I must send you this in three parts to get all of the photos in.

There is a strong tradition of craftsmanship in Morocco, and in Essaouira, this is seen in the fine marquetry or inlaid woodwork, a local specialty for hundreds if not thousands of years.  Other handmade objects from the area include leatherwork, pottery, woven rugs, and silver jewelry. There are also old things for sale, including knives, guns, and ironwork that included leg-irons that I wondered if they might have been used in the slave trade. There are also photos of street scenes, people on the street, and food and other everyday items for sale.

Part Four, More Street Scenes.

Part Five, Still More Street Scenes/

I should mention that business is done very differently in Morocco than elsewhere. Shopkeepers will often invite you into their little store and serve you a glass of an aromatic tea.  They show you items they want to sell, sometimes with fairly high- pressure salesmanship, or you browse.  Prices may be marked, but they are usually negotiable and bartering is expected.  You barter until you come to an agreed upon price, and the deal is sealed with smiles.  Some of my shipmates really got into the bartering, not only over price, but bartering items like toothbrushes, clothing, and electronics that the Moroccans have difficulty obtaining, for handcrafted items.  Nadja, who is tall, lean, blond, and fearless—and therefore very exotic to the Moroccans—was particularly good at it.  During a deal in which she exchanged a digital camera and some clothing for some items she wanted, she said “What will you give me for her?” indicating her companion, Susy, who is much shorter, curvier, and young looking.  “I am from a very good Berber family,” the merchant said, “I’ll give you 3,000 camels for her,” playing along with the joke while Susy cringed.

73. Off the Coast of Morocco


November 29, 2008, 8 AM
When I woke up at midnight, I immediately sensed that the ship’s movement was different.  It was more sudden and dramatic than usual, pitching and rolling, more like that of a much smaller vessel in the seas.  I knew immediately that the gale we had been told was coming was upon us.  I dressed in a fleece vest, sea boots, hat, and foul weather jacket over my clothes and added my safety harness and knife belt.

On deck I found the ship hove to, as she had been when I went to bed, on the port tack under main lower topsail and maintopmast staysail.  It was blowing hard, maybe around 40 MPH, with higher gusts.  Particularly in the gusts the wind made a roaring sound, not quite as loud as a freight train but more like a nearby subway. The two sails set kept the ship’s bow into the wind a little, so the wind and seas were coming from just forward of the port beam.  This would be a test for our sailmaker’s first new sail, the maintopmast staysail—new a month ago—in its first storm.  A lifeline had been stretched across the starboard side of the main deck to give us something to hold onto as we crossed the deck, and netting had been rigged along the starboard (leeward) breezeway to catch anyone washed overboard.

Our watch was assembled on the quarterdeck and given instructions: we were to stay on the well deck forward or in the galley, we were not to go anywhere except for a purpose and then after informing the mate or AB, and we were to go in pairs.  There would be no one at the helm, since it was lashed, and lookout was to be done from the bridge in half-hour increments.

I had the second lookout turn.  By then we had been told to stay in the galley. Geoff walked with me to the bridge and then escorted Sarah—who I was relieving—back.  It was a very dark night, fully overcast, obscuring any moonlight.  I could see the whitecaps on the approaching waves.  Sarah reported that she had seen the lights of a ship intermittently on the port quarter, but I had only a few quick glimpses of it.  Otherwise, the black horizon—what I could see of it in the darkness through the rigging in the directions not obscured by the chart house and rescue boat—was empty.  In the gusts the wind made my pant legs flap around my legs furiously, and it was strong enough that it was hard to look directly into it since it made my eyes blurry.  Below me the rest of the watch strung a lifeline down the port side of the main deck.  Paul said it was blowing up to Beaufort Scale Force 9.

The ship was riding well, rising and swooping over the waves like a duck, with no solid water coming on deck and only a little water dipped up by the lee scuppers as she rolled sloshing on deck.  Paul, the mate, was moving about the deck—his usual restless energy intensified—checking on things.  At the end of my reasonably brief half-hour the person who escorted my relief went with me as I toured the ship to do a ship check.  I found some small items rolling around but nothing amiss.

Back in the galley I sat with my watchmates wedged in against the movement.  My perch was sitting athwartships on the galley counter, my back to the wall and my feet in the sink, a relatively secure and comfortable position.  Others sat on buckets or counters and braced themselves as well as they could.  We told ghost stories, other tales, and read from a book of funny Canadian short pieces to keep ourselves amused.  People came and went as needed to rotate the lookout or do other things, always in pairs.

The lower foretopsail had been hauled up in its gear but not stowed (furled and tied in a tight bundle) and there was speculation as to why it had not gotten furled before the weather got nasty.  I assumed that it was so that sail would be available to be set from the deck, if necessary.  At one point Paul came by in his periodic rounds and named Sam and Tjetl, the two strongest men in the watch, to go aloft and furl this sail, a somewhat perilous undertaking under the conditions, but necessary if the sail was not to flog itself to pieces (we had already tightened its clew and leach lines, but it was still flogging too much.)

Since Sam was aloft I took his turn at lookout.  The seas had increased, and although we were not taking any water over the rails, more water was coming aboard through the scuppers and washing across the deck, and spray came over me and coated my glasses—15 feet above the water—with salt.  Paul was a silent, restless presence and the Captain appeared at one point and conferred with Paul.  It was a longer half-hour and I was ready to go at the end, my glasses fogged with salt and my pants wet with spray and rain.  Deb accompanied me on my ship check—done since it was on the hour—and moving around the ship took work.  Everything seemed in order in the engine room and scullery except for a muted clatter as things readjusted with the roll, but in the foc’sle where the professional crew sleep it looked like there had been a major explosion, with sea chests shifted around and loose gear all over the place.  The forepeak below it was a more minor version of the same disaster.

I was happy to see Sam and Tjetl back on deck.  At the end of our watch we gave up our places in the galley to the oncoming watch and stood outside with water swirling around our ankles until we were dismissed.  Carefully hanging on, we made our way below and shucked our jackets and gear.  I was grateful to make it into my bunk.  I wasn’t sure I could sleep, but I lay on my stomach with one knee out to brace myself, and my back against the rail that keeps me from falling out, and was soon asleep.

I awoke this morning to feel that the ship’s motion was even more violent, rising to a wave and then rolling heavily to starboard.  The 8 to12 watch was preparing to go on deck and people were saying that the scuttle—the usual hatch that we use to go on deck from the salon where I sleep—is off limits, which indicates that there is a lot of water sloshing across the deck.  John said that we would be wearing ship—turning it so the wind would be coming from the other side—at 8 AM.  As I write I can hear shouted orders on deck that indicate that maneuver is underway.  I can hear the main engine running, ready to help if needed.

November 29, 2008, 9:30 AM
The 4 to 8 AM watch didn’t come below until 8:45.  By then the two watches had turned the ship so that we are now on the starboard tack, underway carrying main and fore lower topsails and main and fore topmast staysails.  This means that we are leaning to port rather than starboard.  The helm is no longer lashed, but manned by someone steering the ship on her course.  From the sound of water swishing back alongside the hull we are making fairly good speed under these sails, assisted by the main engine, which I can hear still rumbling.

The 4 to 8 watch came below pumped with adrenalin, excited from their experience and exertions.  Two chests have come adrift in the salon—a third was returned and re-lashed as night after a journey across the cabin—and I helped re-lash one that had pulled the screw-eye it was lashed to from a circle to almost straight.  The galley crew brought cold cereal and milk for those hungry, some of which made it inside the eaters and some of which was scattered around the cabin.  I climbed the steps of the scuttle and looked out of the porthole in the closed door.  On deck it was sunny, but the ship was heeled to the gale and rolling in big seas.  Nets have been strung down both sides of the main deck and straps cinched down over the main hatch to reinforce the cover—all standard storm precautions.  Since I have to go on watch in about two hours I will crawl back in my bunk for a little more rest.

November 29, 2008, 4:30 PM
My 12 to 4 watch was an interesting one.  The wind and seas began to moderate a little but were still strong and high and the ship is still pitching and rolling as she makes her way through the seas.  We were still instructed to stay off the main deck as much as possible, to stay on the quarterdeck, and to travel in pairs.

I had the second hour lookout, still done from the bridge.  At times the seas reached the height of my eyes, 15 feet above the waterline, and spray spattered me every few minutes when I stood on the windward side.  My eyes scanned the horizon for ships.  I saw a lot of lumps on the horizon that caught my eye but they all quickly disappeared, being only waves.  In the entire hour I saw no ships; we must be well out of the shipping lanes by now.  I did manage to take a few quick pictures with the little waterproof camera I had stashed in my
Hove to under topsail and staysail.                               pocket.   The ship check afterwards was a laborious process of moving across heaving decks, going through closed
watertight doors that must be wrestled open and closed and controlled against the roll of the ship, and trying not to slide or get thrown around.  Afterwards my escort and I were remonstrated for not noticing that the galley stove had gone out because the engineer forgot to fill the tank.

Mostly we sat on the quarterdeck watching the big waves and trying not to slide off our perches.                                  Working on deck.
Occasional tasks gave us things to do, and before the end of our watch I went around the ship again to wake the members of the oncoming watch.  I was glad for the end of the watch, but uncertain what dinner will be like given the conditions and stove problems, and wonder what our night watch will be like.  I’m told that we are now around 180 miles from Essaouira, Morocco, our next port.  At this rate it will take two days to reach it.

November 30, 2008, 4:15 AM
Life on board during the tempest has been reduced to the basics.  Meals are rudimentary and hard to eat without food, bowl, or self, sliding across the table or the cabin.  Toileting is a challenge trying to brace yourself in a space the size of a phone booth held at an angle and constantly moving.  An extended toe is necessary to hold the windward corner of the curtain if you don’t want to be on full public view and a bowel movement is a major athletic achievement.  Sleep is difficult in an angled and moving bunk, and with my watch schedule must be gained in 3 or 4 chunks rather than a single night’s rest.  But I sleep pretty well once I get braced in my bunk and have gotten enough sleep partly because there is little else I can do off watch.

I came on deck a little before midnight to find the ship motoring into the wind to the southwest with no sail set.  To port I could see several glowing areas on the Moroccan coast over the horizon, one of which I was told was Casablanca.  But I soon found myself caught up in a whirlwind of activity working in the dark with people I couldn’t really see or identify trying to follow orders I couldn’t really hear.  With time and work the ship was turned to the northwest, the yards braced around and the main lower topsail and foretopmast staysail set.  The new course gives better motion and lets us move faster, its just 90 degrees from where we want to go.  My watch was gathered on the quarterdeck and told to stay there.

My third-hour trick at the helm was a challenge, taking great concentration and considerable physical effort to keep turning the wheel to keep us on course.  Too far to the left and the sails began to luff and flog.  Too far to the right and we are going away from our destination.

The gale blew with renewed fury with gusts up to Force 8, we had a rainsquall or two, and I could see the lights of other ships around us.  I was glad when the watch was over and I could retreat to my bunk, despite its lively motion.

November 30, 2008, 9 AM
I awoke a little before eight to find the ship quiet, the engine shut down.  At the change of watch at 8 AM I heard the shouted orders and sounds of a maneuver.  When they came down I got up to have breakfast with the 4 to 8 watch, who said they wore ship and we are now motorsailing again under lower topsails and fore and main topmast staysails—hopefully in the direction of Essaouira.

November 30, 2008, 4 PM
The afternoon watch started with a sense of déjà vu.  After sailing northwest for part of the night and heaving to for a while, we were again motorsailing in the same area, in the same strong westerly winds and high seas, carrying the same staysails and lower topsails, on the same course: southwest by west.  I felt like Bill Murray’s character in the movie Ground Hog Day, doomed to repeat the day until he got it right.  On lookout, even from my viewpoint 15 feet above the waterline on the bridge, the horizon was often obscured by waves higher than my eyes.

But the winds had started to moderate, the seas were further apart, and at the mid watch we set the main upper topsail and foresail, which lessened our rolling some and gave us a little more speed.  We were making 5 or 6 knots in the right direction, the cat came out of hiding and came on deck—a sign of improved weather, and spirits rose.

December 1, 2008, 9AM
Last night’s watch was relatively benign.  The seas were still high but the ship’s motion was slower both because the seas are further apart and because we are carrying more sail—the pressure of the wind against sails helps steady a sailing vessel.  We were still motorsailing, a bit south of southwest, making a steady seven knots in the right direction.  Paul said that at that pace we should reach port around noon today, but that the plan is to get close to port, shut down the engine to sail for a while, and anchor mid-afternoon.  We could see the glow of the lights of Moroccan towns over the horizon and there were more ships.

This morning it is partly sunny, with a light wind and leftover sea.  We haven’t been at sea that long, but it has seemed a long time and I am ready for this passage to be over.  I am also keenly anticipating being in Morocco, where–word has it—we should be for three or four days.

72. Sailing South – to the Sun?


November 28, 2008
When we all joined the ship in Lunenburg last May 1st it was just a couple of weeks after the snow melted in my yard at home.  Lunenburg, being a similar climate, was cold, with nights in the 30s and 40s and days in the 40s and 50s.  On an unheated steel ship surrounded by cold water, that’s cold enough to be uncomfortable.  At the time, someone said, “Another month and we’ll be warm.”  That statement has been repeated numerous times in the six months since, and we are still waiting.  To be sure, we did have a few nice days with t-shirt weather in the Gulf Stream crossing the Atlantic, but then it got cold again.  And we had two or three warm weeks when we were in Copenhagen, Sweden, and our first port in Norway, but then it became cool again.

When we turned south I August from Bergen, Norway, again we all said, “Another month and we’ll be warm,” but it hasn’t happened.  And when we left Mallorca the phrase was repeated again, but the reverse has happened.  In both Palma, Mallorca and Gibraltar a cold front came through a day or two before we left and sent temperatures plunging.  We seem t be losing our race with the sun.  Long underwear and heavy jackets have reappeared over the last month, and have become prevalent again.  We are not as bad off as my friends Pete and Diana who are living in an un-insulated cottage in Maine in temperatures well below freezing while their new house is built, but as one shipmate put it, “These aren’t the balmy tropical breezes I signed up for.”

Our first two days out of Gibraltar as we sailed out of the Straits of Gibraltar and headed southwest, we had good following winds, we made good progress, spirits rose, and we all started thinking about stopping in Morocco and it being warm there.  (Actually, my personal guess is that it won’t get warm until we get to the Cape Verde Islands around Christmas.)  But then the winds got light and shifted a lot, the skies grew gray and foreboding, and spirits sagged as we worked hard with sail handling for little gain.

A number of us lobbied to celebrate Thanksgiving, since we have had several turkey dinners over the months and this seemed like a good excuse for a nice dinner.  This move caused some grumbling among the Canadians, whose Thanksgiving passed a month ago uncelebrated after they were told “we don’t celebrate holidays,” and confusion or indifference among those of other nationalities who have no tradition of Thanksgiving. the Captain, an American who lives in Canada, decreed that we would celebrate Thanksgiving On Friday, November, 28.  Pies and cakes were baked the day before, and preparations were made all day.  I was delegated with two others to come up with suitable table decorations.  We put scraps of white canvass sailcloth down the center of each table and Sam made some grommets (rope spliced into a circle) that were placed in the center of each table.  Into the grommets I put the most colorful collection of fruits and vegetables I could find: red and yellow apples, oranges, lemons, and red peppers, and the final touch was supplied by Deb who scattered some caramels in brightly colored shiny wrappers on the sailcloth.

Before dinner we took in sail and wore ship so that she was hove to with the helm lashed under foretopmast staysail and main lower topsail balanced so she was essentially parked and would only drift slowly, so everyone could participate with only one person checking things on deck.  The festivities began with a “Marlinspike,” a drink of Coolaid laced with rum, on deck and then moved below where the Captain and Donald each carved a turkey and we sat at tables presided
The Captain’s table.

over by the Captain or one of the mates.  It was an impressive and merry feast, with copious amounts of food and some wine.  After dinner the guitars came out and I helped the galley crew wash dishes until the Captain came to order us to join in the festivities.  I ended the day with that comfortably stuffed Thanksgiving feeling.

One of the other tables.