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Blue yonder and a bird

28th April 2008

Theres not much internet to be found in the middle of the Atlantic!!

TA 2 Days 20-23
Anguilla to the blue yonder

We ended up staying most of the day in St Martin, when we got back to the ship the night before we were informed by Mike that there was a freezer issue that needed to be sorted before we could go anywhere. But thanks to the help and vital piece of kit from the engineer on the Ocean Village liner that was parked behind us in the morning, we were able to solve the problem and finally got off at about 4.30. As it was only about 15 miles we motored over to Anguilla, arriving at 7 in the evening. We anchored just outside the bay and made our way further in in the morning. We were thankful that we did so when we saw the amount of yachts that were anchored there, not all of which had had anchor lights on the night before!

The first part of the day was dedicated to the ship, rust busting is a constant feature of living on an iron hulled ship and we spent the morning chipping and sanding while looking wistfully at the white sandy shore and swatting the flies that had infested the ship suddenly. After lunch though, it was tools down and we hit the beach. There were three, maybe four, bars along it, and we pretty much had it to ourselves. We picked a bar almost hidden by palms, dumped our stuff and headed for the sea. A short swim later and we were ready for the first round of drinks, and the second….. the day passed in a pleasant mix of swimming, lazing, laughing and a few more drinks. Polly, Jessie and I went for a walk to the end of the beach and back, Anthony ended up getting buried in sand, and a few chairs were fallen off, or missed entirely.

Feeling surprisingly chipper in the morning, we had a good old cleaning session to try to remove some of the beach that we had brought back with us the previous night, and kill a few more flies (it’s a seasonal thing apparently), before pulling up the anchor and motoring over to Prickly Pear Cays. If Sint Maartin was my idea of hell, the Cays are my idea of heaven; a gorgeous white sandy beach entirely to ourselves, reefs for snorkelling, a barbeque going all afternoon, shells and corals for beachcombers to pick through and a supply of beer, or in my case, wine. We even found an in-shore lake that looked stunning but on closer inspection was surrounded by gunge because it was so low. The only dampener on the day was that the weather wasn’t playing the game, most of the afternoon was cloudy, with brief interludes of sunshine as it poked through at opportune moments. Oli sailed one of the dinghies over from the ship which looked great fun, I need a bit more instruction before I try that though! He and Jessie sailed it back when it was time to go at sundown, she’s a qualifed instructor in fact, so I’m going to try and get her to teach me a bit when we get to Bermuda (She doesn’t know this yet!) Back on the ship we motored back over to Anguilla, Prickly Pear is a marine park and overnight anchoring isn’t allowed, mainly I think because the anchorage point is very small and it can be tricky to get out of. We had a quiet evening, each of us contemplating the long voyage ahead.

Up bright and early today, we tidied all loose gear away and were off by 9, we’ve been making good way so far, with most of the squares up straight away. The royal went up a little later, and then Francis threw me in at the deep end just before lunch, making me give the orders for putting up the gaff foresail, then the outer jib and spanker after lunch! It was a bit of a slow process, but we got there in the end, and I learnt a lot in a short space of time, not least that people wander off if you don’t give them something to do immediately! Polly and I had our much promised date on the bowsprit after that, we’ve been meaning to get out there for ages but never quite got round to it until now, it’s my favourite place on the entire ship to hang out, if they’d let me I’d probably sleep up there! On dog watch this afternoon we saw some whales in the distance, blowing and then breaching, and even a couple of tail smacks, a fantastic sight on our first day out here. We have now crossed the Sombrero Passage (a major shipping route that we needed to cross at 90 degrees) and have set course for Bermuda, only 800 odd miles to go.

The boys have just been taking the temperature of their nuts with the laser thermometer, Ben is well behind at 24 degrees, LJohn is in the lead at 38, with Oli, Tom and James in the middle at 32.4, 32.6 and 34 respectively. My forehead is currently 27 degrees, I am told, and Pollys right breast is 28.2, while her left breast is 27.2. If this is the effect that less than one day at sea has had on the crew, I fear for our sanity in the following days.

TA 2 Days 24-25
Blue Yonder

Mizzen watch had a hard day of it yesterday, three 4 hour watches left us pretty knackered, and we had the pleasure of cleaning the heads! We passed over the Puerto Rico Trench early in the morning, sailing over 7383 meters of water, that’s not the deepest part of the trench though, that’s further west and 8240 meters down. The ship is now sailing over Nares Abyssal Plain, and will be until we reach Bermuda. We saw a tanker on the horizon on our 8-12 watch, a cause for some excitement as none of the other watches have seen anything since we left Anguilla!

Polly and Jess borrowed my epilator in the afternoon and had a ripping time on the deck removing leg hair… There’s really nothing much else to report, everyone is settling down into the daily routine, daily lectures stave off some of the boredom and are increasing our seamanship knowledge in preparation for doing the watch leader/ day skipper ticket exams on the long stretch across the Atlantic.

Today has been a rather grey day, the wind has slowly moved round from the east to the south and we have two opposing swells, one from the south east Atlantic, and one coming in from the north west, caused by some stormy weather. I was having a lovely kip this afternoon until they braced squares and the motion of the ship changed from a fairly stable heel to port, to a rocking roll from port to starboard. It’s not a very comfortable motion, especially in a thwart bunk, I’m considering going into Pippa’s old cabin to get some kip tonight.

TA2 Days 26 – 28
More Blue Yonder

The swell caused by the opposing weather systems has continued, making life a little lumpy still, but it’s become less uncomfortable daily, or we’ve just become used to it. The wind however, has not played the game and seems to have gone on holiday, Doug admitted defeat on Friday morning and we stuck the motor on, it’s a shame, but we would have sat in the water doing nothing otherwise.

On dead watch yesterday morning we dodged a series of squalls, we could see them approaching in lines on the radar but our course took us neatly between them every time but the last, when we caught the end of one. We got a little damp and then, as the moonlight shone from behind us, a rainbow arched across the sky, pale and silvery against the dark rain clouds, a full arc with the faintest hint of colours at the ends. If you get gold at the end of a normal rainbow, what do you find at the end of a moonbow?

The wind yesterday was minimal, and what there was of it had backed up to coming at us right on the nose, so no chance of sailing still. We passed a plastic deck chair in the water, a bit too far off to be able to pull it on board, and we’ve been seeing quite a bit of an orangey sea-weed floating past in clumps. The excitement of the day was another whale sighting in the afternoon, I missed it by seconds I think, I had been having a kip when Francis put the tannoy announcement out and though I pegged it up the companionway, it had gone :-(

Today the wind has come a little further round to the west, there’s not much of it but just enough to fill the sails. As we were on watch during happy hour I got sent up the mizzen mast to take the gaskets off the spanker, then they decided they wanted the fisherman up, so I was sent up the foremast, it was the first time I’ve been up there, in fact, and Oh Blimey do those shrouds get narrow! James came up and helped me, climbing up and down in about a quarter of the time I took! I thought I’d get a rest after that but it was decided that we wanted the t’gallant and royal up as well, so, as the only person on deck wearing a harness, I got sent aloft once more, Anthony joined me and once we’d taken the gaskets off, we enjoyed the view as we waited for them to set the sails so we could overhaul.

We made a speed of about 1.5 kt all morning, not exciting sailing but she did look fantastic, I never realised how big the fisherman is until now, it’s huge! As we were going so slow and the water was so calm, Doug decided we could launch the RIB to go out on a photo taking trip, unfortunately the steering on the RIB suddenly died while we were out there, thankfully LJohn was able to steer us back to the ship manually though, and we launched Virginia instead, using it as an opportunity to see how quickly we could do it as a man over board drill too.

The fun didn’t stop with the photo trips though, the next part of the plan was the bit we’d all been hoping for all day. We braced the main so that the sails were backed with wind - with the fore and afters pushing forward and the mains pushing back we stop in the water… swimming time! Not that many people can say they’ve swum in 5000 meters of water, it’s quite scary, knowing that there could be all sorts of things underneath you, but also really exhilarating. The water is an incredible clear blue, a bit cooler than the Caribbean waters, (we’ve noted a 2 degree drop in the water temperature since we left the tropics) and very refreshing. It was great to be able to let loose a little and have some fun, the watch routine gets a little gruelling when there’s so few on a ship like this. After our swim we got Virginia back on board and then all sat down to a fantastic roast, followed by a coffee and walnut cake created from scratch by Jessie and Polly (aka. Peaches and Pork Sword). We’re back to the normal routine now, the sails have been taken in and we’re motoring once more, the wind has dropped completely now and it’s set to remain like this until we get to Bermuda. The moonrise this evening was lovely, a golden globe rising out of the clouds majestically, it’s light reflecting in the glassy surface of the sea, it’s a full moon tonight, I may have to go and howl at it.

TA 2 Days 29 – 35
Blue yonder to Bermuda

Monday dawned peacefully, no wind, the water around us glassy. One of the duties of the dawn watch is to scrub the decks at 6.30, as the RIB appeared to be dribbling a bit of sand we decided to stick the fire hose into the bow holes and see what came out. Sand and water poured out of the stern hole for ages, creating our own little beach on the poop deck and filling the scuppers. We’d got rid of it by breakfast though, leaving the decks clean and lovely.

It was a surreal experience seeing the ocean so flat all day, there was still a swell gently undulating the body of the sea but with no wind the water looked like mercury. I could see exactly why sailors thought they would fall of the edge of the world. Polly and I climbed the mast to see if there was anything more to seen from up high, but there was nothing but reflections of clouds in the smooth water for miles in any direction. We had tea up there to celebrate her birthday, a thermos of earl grey and a couple of mugs are easy to sling on a bit of string and take up the rigging, and it’s exactly what you need after a good climb!

There had been a swallow flitting around the boat for a day or so, he’d landed on bits of rigging and the deck a few times but when anyone had gone close he’d flown off. We’d put out some water and crumbs but so far he’d shown no interest, as the day drew on he became less nervy of us, probably through sheer fatigue, the poor little thing must have been blown off course on his migration. He looked shattered as he clung on to the back edge of the poop deck, Polly put the crumbs and water right next to him and even proffered some on a spoon, he had a little nibble and a drink, but really swallows eat insects, which, luckily for him, we still had quite a few of from our time in Anguilla! Polly turned into a fly killing ninja, swatting them down below and bringing them up to our little friend on the poop, he ate them from her hand and as she brought more up we could see him start to re-energise a little. He became friendlier and friendlier, first landing on Jules’ leg as she lay on the deck looking at him, then he sat on Jessie’s chest, then my shoulder and LJohn’s head! We spent most of the afternoon cooing over the tiny bird, he was very fair in his affections, sitting on everyone around at some point or other, but as soon as Polly came back up on deck he’d be right over to get his flies! She named him Raphael, after one of the ninjas. He roosted for the night in the focs’le and was gone in the morning, as we were in sight of land by then we hope he made it to a garden full of insects.

As it was Polly’s birthday and our last night at sea with all the current crew, the permanent crew got plotting and organised a crossing the tropic line ceremony. We’d crossed the line days before, but that’s a minor detail that wasn’t going to stop anyone! Crossing the line is usually done on the equator, sailors who haven’t crossed it before traditionally ask permission from Neptune to enter his realm, and make a penance, which generally involves being covered in gunk of some kind. On this occasion Keith played the role of Neptune, with LJohn in one of Jessie’s dresses as his wife Persephone, Ben was master of ceremonies and Tom and James and Francis were policemen, keen and ready to drag us before King Neptune and cover us in the foul mix of custard, tomatoes, beans and god knows what else! Polly was first, cowering before Neptune while the charges against her were read out before getting a good dousing with goo. She was followed by David, Anthony, Jules and Tom, they made a sufficient sacrifice and Neptune allowed us to continue our journey. I was relived to have escaped, though no doubt I shall be gunged some other time, Ben had actually written the charges for everyone, but the sun had gone down and it was getting dark and cold so it got cut short. I didn’t escape entirely though, Polly came and gave me a big slimy hug! After a good sluice with a hose for both the deck and the participants, and then a quick shower for the latter, we had a birthday cake in the shape of a canon created by James and presents for Polly, which ranged from an ashtray hand-made from a coconut shell, to a pair of used socks! We stood on the poop deck later, watching the phosphorescence sparkling in the wake, occasionally something large and glowing bright blue, deeper than the rest, would shoot out from under our feet, magical and weird.

The next morning we could see land, a most welcome sight by then! The passages into Bermuda’s harbours are narrow and surrounded by reefs so we had to pick up a pilot to guide us through. The gap in the rocks we went through to get into St Georges was pretty tight, amazingly there was a cruise liner in the harbour too, getting that thing through the gap must be a very exact science! Once we had anchored we spent some time cleaning the ship and then relaxed, after 7 days at sea on a three watch rota we were all pretty knackered and keen to get some rest. A party of us went ashore in the evening to celebrate Polly’s birthday with beer, the prices here are high compared to the Caribbean, but they have cider! (I’m not a beer drinker, so I’ve been dreaming of a cold pint of fizzy appley goodness for the whole trip.)

We spent the next three days in St Georges, doing bits of maintenance and pottering about. Francis got me to help him with some bits and pieces on the rig that he wanted to tweak; moving a rope, adding a shackle or a block to make things run better, it did involve getting to some of the less accessible bits of the ship though, such as the end of the spanker boom, which was fun until Francis started leaning on the sheets as he chatted to Mike and got distracted! While I was up there we were visited by the crew of Spirit of Bermuda, a training sloop which was anchored close to us, about 40 girls invaded the ship, all about 13 or 14 and hungering for our Oreos and sugar! They were shown around the decks and rig and were really interested by it all, I think we’ll see some of them back in a few years. After they’d gone we made a trip over to another ship, the Atlantic Explorer, which is an oceanography ship who we’d started talking to on the radio a couple of nights before as we drew close to the island. They have some serious bits of kit on that boat, Anthony was nearly drooling over the computer systems, not surprising as he’s off to do cybernetics at Reading Uni. He told me he now wants to work on unmanned submersibles - combining the sea and his degree nicely! As there wasn’t much going on in St Georges the cabin 10 girls decided to go on a little shopping trip to Hamilton on Friday, we took the ferry around the island and spent a few hours wandering about the town, buying some much needed new clothes and trying on the rest of the shop for the fun of it.

On Saturday we had a nice little day sail planned, taking Pelican from St Georges to Hamilton. The weather forecast had said about 15 knots of wind, which would have been great, however, when we got out there the wind was blowing a hoolie, gusting to 48! We quickly decided not to put up any sail as just with the wind blowing across the rigging she was heeling 10-15 degrees to port! It was fun anyway, the sun was shinning and the well deck got a good soaking from the waves, we even got spray on the poop deck which we’ve not seen before. Once in Hamilton’s harbour we were protected from the wind and were able to moor up on the quay without any trouble. During the afternoon we opened the upper decks to the public, we’re known locally as ‘The Pirate Ship’ and have had a steady stream of people wanting to take a look around. After supper we went out, the nearest bar is directly across the road from us so we didn’t have far to go, and there was no chance of getting lost on the way home!

Sunday has been a day of rest, not much is open in town, and some of us aren’t up to going to the bar quite yet anyway. We’ve been showing people around the ship again and will be going out for dinner tonight to wish farewell to Tom and Doug who leave us tomorrow. We’ve had a few new joiners; Rachel and Mick have joined the ranks of the voyage crew, we have another Keith who’s taking over from Francis as the First Mate and Becky who’s relieving Tom, more will be arriving over the next couple of days.

Day 36
Been oiling harnesses all day, people arrived, three mins left on this internet session!!

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