Thursday, January 06, 2005

Nicole: No sight of land

0900 Thursday
It happened sometime in the night, while I slept blissfully in spite of the constant motion above and below me. This morning I stumbled bleary onto the deck and scanned the horizon for land, but there was none. Sometime in the night we lost sight of terra firma. Somehow this magnifies the feeling of being at sea and the understanding that this small vessel of timber and steel is the only piece of solidity between us, and the murky deep.

Yesterday people swam for an hour or so after we did the man overboard drill. Lobster lines had fouled the prop, though not in a serious way.

Divers went down to free it and to check if the lines led to any sea creatures upon which we might dine, but there were none. The food on board is surprisingly tasty, though I do not envy the job of the cook, as there is always someone unsatisfied by the food, and cooking for 30 in any kind of weather must be quite a trick.

For now I must be off, as I sneak all time to write from my "idle shifts" on watch. Idle is a misnomer as we use the time to clean the heads and the galley and the deck, depending upon the time of day and the assigned watch. Consequently I feel a bit like I am shirking my duty to the rest of my watch by not helping to clean. The crew is pleasant about this, eager and willing to help make time so that we can write in our logs, but they may not be so eager in a few days, and I prefer not to find out. This is a small space and harmony among all present is the preference. So with that, I think I will head to the weather deck and attempt to make myself useful.
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posted by Nicole

Nicole: Wednesday night

2200 Wednesday
It's night. The sun left us quietly this evening, sinking slowly into a silver sea. I had hoped we would lose the shore today, our first day underway, but we are hugging the Florida coast with the hope of catching some slight breeze. We motored most of the day, an unfortunate state of affairs for a ship such as this.

I barely know where to begin by way of relating my experience since arriving. The ship is beautiful, in a weathered way. There are 7 miles of line and I do not begin to know what is attached to which in any useful manner. Orders are given in a language I do not speak and I scramble to be helpful in any way I can. I learn by pulling on things and watching what moves.

There are 21 of the Bounty's crew and 12 of ours and together we are the image of a motley crew. The regular crew comes and goes, as is the wont of sailors, and many have worked on several ships. The captain is much respected and mostly invisible. His job is less sailing the ship than managing it and I do not envy him that task. I assume he will be grateful when we leave the range of cell phone reception so that he may have some peace.

The mates are the ones from whom we take most of our instruction, and they lead the watches, of which there are three, A, B, and C. The individual watches bunk in close quarters, because we wake together and it is convenient to wake everyone in the same place, and not to worry about disturbing a bunk mate on a different watch. Then again, it is curious to hear myself speaking of disturbances because the ship altogether is a loud place. A bell is sounded every half hour to mark the time. The engine room is so loud one must put on ear phones to reduce the noise when checking the gas and the bilge. The sewage system has fans that whir continuously (just near my head where I sleep.) The air conditioning is loud in the aft crew quarters. The 'tween deck is the most spacious of places to sleep, but people are continuously walking by on watch, opening the door to the engine room and calling out that a hatch is open or standing above their heads listening to the Coast Guard updates that come across the radio.

We climbed into the rigging today and unfurled the sails to express our wish for wind. In the afternoon, when it became apparent that our wish would remain unanswered, we climbed again and furled them all once more.

I find it easier to be in the rigging with a job to do, as it takes my attention away from the distance between myself and the deck, and the precarious nature of the balance that prevents us from meeting. We are mandated to wear safety belts, but not to clip them on. I still do, but most of the crew does not. Somehow the feeling of safety provided by the belt is tempered by the notion that it is as likely to break my back as it is to save my life, should the circumstance arrive. Mostly, I concentrate on the task at hand and the glorious view. We choose the risks we take, and this is one of mine.

Today from the cross trees (high above the deck) I watched seven dolphins dance at the bow of the boat. I'm not sure I know how to play like that, but I wish I did. Maybe if I spent enough time this close to the place where the sun hits the sea I would learn.
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posted by Nicole

Rose: First day on the high sea

First day on the high sea. It was fun seeing some Florida folks wave us good bye. I already feel dirty enough to have been on board for 12 weeks, but realize that I only have a small introduction of the sea slime that will come. We've seen wonderful dolphins playing by the bow, and heaved sails up and down despite a windless sea. It was a wild beginning.
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posted by Rose

Allison: on the A watch

Tonight will be my first of sleeping on the open water. Luckily, for me, there is just a faint breath of wind, which rocks the Bounty very gently, like a crib. My bunk may most accurately be described as an open topped coffin. It is just wide and long enough to lay myself out in and if I were to be decapitated, I would just be able to sit up straight. The wee mattress is surprisingly comfortable; I have slept on much worse. We, of the A watch, are bunked in layers of two, which are situated to form an O with an opening through the bottom. This makes for very close quarters, which are not divided by sex, but every person is sensitive of the privacy of those around.

Today was a wonderful first day, encompassing many adventures. I climbed up to the yard of the fore mast twice, the second time to furl the sail. During this trying moment the sight of five playful dolphins playing together in the bow-wave relieved my anxiety. Presently I am off to catch a quick shower and then a few z's before this evening's watch from eight 'til midnight. Thinking of my lovely friends and family.
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posted by Allison

Anna: First day

We left the port at St. Petersburg this morning and have been sailing south along the Florida coasted towards the Dry Tortugas. There has been very little wind all day so we have had to rely on the motors instead of truly sailing. We went aloft today for the first time, which was a bit terrifying, but after sitting on the yard arm long enough I did eventually become relatively comfortable. The thought that all I have to do is let go with my hands and I will fall to some kind of unpleasant fate is really very scary to think about while I am climbing.

I suppose however that this is the very thing that keeps me from falling--a combination of common sense and fear is what keeps my hands holding on tight. I have just finished my 1600-2000 watch and am headed for bed soon. I am on the 4-8 shift so I am in bed at 8 pm and up at 3:30 am for my next shift.
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posted by Anna

Natalia's quarters

After reading other people's descriptions of their coffin-like bunks, I feel almost guilty speaking of my accommodation. Yet, I will do it, as my living situation is not only super comfortable, but may even be considered of historical and cinematographic importance...

To my surprise, I was assigned to sleep in one of the "Officers' Cabins". I am pretty sure by now that it is in fact what once used to be Captain Bligh's cabin; for those who have seen the movie Mutiny on the Bounty, it will probably make sense to say that I am sleeping in Marlon Brando's queen-size bed! It seems like Fletcher Christian, the mutineer from the historical Bounty, is my neighbor, and John Adams lives right across. I have a wooden cupboard, a huge mirror, AND a door to close. Even though I do miss my skylight bunk from my previous sailing trip with SEA (I had a bunk under one of the hatches), I must admit that sleeping in a cabin is an upgrade.

It is 18:54 now and I can hardly wait for our watch to be over, so that I can head straight to bed and gather some energy for more adventures up the rigging tomorrow. By the way, I am on C watch again. The sunset was gorgeous and I couldn't help but think of my fellow shellbacks. I miss you all very much.
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posted by Natalia

First day at sea

Morning flat calm. Captain Walbridge briefed the crew and had these words for the Mount Holyoke students. "We will take you," he told them, "to the Dry Tortugas. You and we will take the ship to Key West. Then you will take us back to St. Pete."

We backed off the dock at about 9:30 a.m. and motored down the channel. Then the students were sent aloft to practice their "up and overs." Mike scampered up to the main crosstrees, about 85 feet up. Nino, Anna, Maria, Rose, Natalia, and Cindy went to the main top, where they had a brief class before climbing up to the main tops'l yard and loosed its sail. Carly, Anna, Allison and Nicole laid out along the foreyard and loosed its sail, while crew on deck set three stays'ls. The wind barely whispered, however, and we motored on out past Anna Maria Island and down the coast. Nicole climbed up to the foretopmast trees with the first mate.

After lunch we laid about in hot sun and ran through some safety drills, including a man-overboard drill, after which the intrepid went swimming, swinging off a line attached to the main yard. While the sailors swam off the port side, three dolphins snorted and dove to starboard.

The captain spent his first day on the phone.
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posted by Chris