Wednesday, 1 April 2009

My trip on the Jeannie Johnston trip to Dublin - day two

I awoke this morning to be greeted with beautiful sunny skies. The watch system had not yet started, so I went up for breakfast at about 07.30 - a fry up and porridge. I had a fry-up and waited around. Several people seemed rather hung-over after the previous night - I was glad that I did not go on to the club. People seemed friendly enough, although, like the previous night, I had little idea of what was going on. Overnight the massive cruise ship 'Independence of the Seas' had docked - it was the reason we had to move the previous night. I had seen her before, but from the water I got a true sense of her massive scale.

Eventually we moved off, under engine power rather than sail for this first part of the journey. Soon everyone was assembled on the mid deck for training. We were instructed how to put on our harnesses and adjust them, and one volunteer had to put on an immersion suit, which were situated in various places around the ship. We were also shown all of the emergency exit hatches, which could be climbed through in emergencies. Then we all did the 'up and over'. This involved climbing the main mast up to a platform above the lowest (course) sail, and coming down the other side. I had recently twisted my right ankle, and the injury had been enough to prevent me from doing any walking. Despite this it was easy enough, although stepping on the ropes caused discomfort in my ankles.

What amazed me is exactly how many ropes there are on board the ship. The area around the masts are covered with pins onto which ropes are tied, and large areas of the side of the ship also have them. Each rope on each pin has a specific purpose, none of which I could fathom at first. Every piece of wood appeared to have elegant, flowing shapes, from the handrails to the pegs, the samson posts to the sails themselves. It was clear that a great deal of love had gone into the construction of the ship.

After a safety tour of the ship, we settled on deck. We were divided into watches, and I was put into the main watch - 08.00 to 12.00 in the morning, and 20.00 to 24.00 at night. I was not too displeased by this, as it meant that I would get eight hours in which to sleep at night. The only downside was that I would not get the opportunity to see sunsets and sunrises. As it was not yet midday the main watch was on - so myself, along with two men, Peter and Neil, and a woman, Natasha - were assembled by our watch leader and set to work.

Initially I was on watch on the bows, looking out for any obstructions. Unfortunately there were so many other yachts around in the river that it seemed like an endless task. One yacht came rather near from the port side, and the sail nearly hit our main mast. The manoeuvre was rewarded was a sharp blast on the ship's horn. After the watch I stayed on deck to watch as the day unfurled. It was fascinating to see the coastline that I had walked from the sea - there were familiar places that recognised everywhere. The Isle of Wight was on the port side, and on the starboard was the mainland. We soon passed Hurst Castle, which is built onto a spit that juts into the Solent, and then approached the Needles.

As we went further westwards the number of ships in the channel decreased. We had lunch, then we started assembling to prepare the sails. We unfurled the main sail and top gallant on the main mast, and the top gallant, main and course sails on the foremast. To unfurl them people had to climb up and untie the ropes - called gaskets - that tied them up. Then ropes had to be pulled to fully unfurl them. All of this was pretty much as I expected, but then came something else - we actually had to lift up the heavy wooden beams of the arms in order to tighten the sails. This was hard work, and I was glad that the lowest and heaviest arm, the course, did not have to be lifted.

Then the sails were angled in to wards the wind. Again, I had not been aware that this was necessary, but the ability to angle the sails into the wind obviously makes the sails much more efficient. In all the films I have seen of sailing ships the arms are set at right angles to the deck, and it was intriguing to see them tilted so much.

I stayed awake for our watch at 20.00. The Dorset headland of St Aldhelm's Head was visible in the distance. It was quite pleasing to be able to recognise it - I have walked over those hills twice before. The first watch was fairly boring. I spent some time on the helm, keeping the ship on course, and several hours on the bows, looking out for any lights. It soon got dark, and the chances of seeing anything other than lights were remote until, at last, the moon came up.

I quite enjoyed sitting on the bows as I chatted to my watch-mates. As we looked down into the white, foaming water at the bows I was surprised to see some phosphorescence - sizeable specks of white light that disappeared rearwards towards the ship. Neil and I asked many people about this during the trip, and we got six or seven different answers as to what the phenomenon was. At times there were many of these specks, at others very few.

Before I knew it midnight had come, and the next watch relieved us. But before we could crawl into bed, the sails had to be set. So for half an hour we pulled at more ropes, turning the sails more into the wind. Doing this in the dark added another level of complexity to it, and I was glad that experienced people were around to tell us which ropes needed to be pulled on.

Towards the end of the shift I was starting to feel a little queasy, and eventually this got too much for me. I was sick once over the bows of the ship whilst on watch, and then, about an hour later, from the stern. This was embarrassing for several reasons - firstly, because I was the first person to be sick, and secondly because there was hardly any swell. It slowly dawned on me that I am truly a landlubber!

Eventually we got to go to bed. In my naivety I had expected to sleep to just the sounds of waves lapping against the hull, but instead there was the muffled roar of a generator. By law the generator must be kept on at all times whilst we are at sea, and the noise was surprisingly loud - and my berth was midships, so it must have been worse for the fellows in the stern. The noise was not too bothersome, however, and I soon got used to it. I feel asleep, tired but excited.

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