Friday, 3 April 2009

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

I woke up to find that one of the watches had furled the sails overnight. We had just rounded Lands End, and now that the winds were north-easterly we had little chance of making any headway to Dublin by sail. It felt a shame that we were going to motor for the rest of the way, but it was unavoidable. There was a lovely red sunrise as I ate my breakfast whilst on watch - my harness clipped to a safety cable whilst my plate of bacon and eggs rested in my hands.

During the watch we furled the sails. I was still feeling a little queasy so opted not to go up again. Instead I stole occasional glances up at the people working high above me as I kept watch. We saw a couple of ships early on, but after that there was nothing, the sea was more or less deserted. After this there was more cleaning. Jim would wash the decks down with a hose whilst we scrubbed sand into the wood using brushes. Once we were finished Jim would wash the resultant sand off again. It was not hard work, but the short brush handles meant that I had to uncomfortably bend my back to use them.

Being on the helm is fun - you ignore the binnacle and instead stare straight ahead at the red numerals of a digital display. Beside the binnacle were two iron spheres; one painted red, the other green, designed to compensate for the iron in the ship. When taking over the wheel the person leaving says the course they are doing as three individual digits - say 2-4-0, and you repeat it in the same manner, saying that you are taking over. At all times someone had their hands on the wheel. You turn the wheel to the left to lower the course (i.e. turn to port), right to raise (i.e. a turn to starboard). Unfortunately the ship's reaction is not instantaneous and you have to judge turning the wheel carefully to avoid it running away from you.

I found it fairly straightforward; beside the digital display was another instrument showing the amount of rudder applied. You turn the wheel in the relevant direction, then as it starts to approach the desired course you start taking it off - if you leave it to late you will run past the desired course. It would then prove quite easy to remain on that course, until the current changes slightly or a gust of wind causes the course to jump up or down by a few degrees. You then need to bring it back around to the correct heading. It is the sort of simple challenge that I enjoy.

I skipped lunch, and afterwards I started to feel increasingly queasy as the swell started to build up. I went below for a lie down, and the seasickness really struck me. It was like being simultaneously very, very drunk, and very, very hungover. A splitting headache throbbed in time with the sound of the engines, and the ship's swaying induced the nausea. My body would go up, right, left, then finally down, a pattern repeated for hour upon endless hour. I lay in my bunk with my harness on, counting the hours until the start of my watch. When 20.00 came I was in no fit state to walk yet along work, so reluctantly I had to say that I was unfit for duty. It was not something that I enjoyed doing and I would not have minded being up on deck, but my physical condition totally precluded it. Somehow I actually managed to fall asleep after midnight, and actually slept well. Fortunately I did not have to use the bucket that had been kindly provided for me. As I fell asleep the groaning and creaking of the ship's timbers combined with the fierce slapping of the waves against the hull and the throbbing of the engine to form a surprisingly relaxing melody.

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