“Next Stop, Canterbury West!”
Well friends, I have left IceBear and am en route to London via the 1 hour 12 minute fast train from Ramsgate, UK where we made landfall early this morning around 2am. It is now 11:40am, and we have much to catch up on. Apologies for dropping off the Social Media radar. Though the North Sea is chalk full of oil platforms and offshore wind farms, they have yet to install 5G. Let’s begin where we left off…
My trusty watch mate, Alejandro, and I assumed our post on Tuesday evening at midnight. The same routine ensued - sit up in my bunk, straining to keep upright as I am sprung forward and aft by the motion of the boat, while leaning uncomfortable against the taught chord of my lee cloth - I’ve come to love and loathe that damned thing with equal vigor.
On land, one would simply climb out of bed and put on the necessary clothes required for the day. Not so at sea. The mental gymnastics of reducing the process of using the head, brushing teeth, donning foul weather gear, consuming anything or nothing, and making it up on deck to relieve the current watch in the least amount of maneuvers began. Alas, the motivation overcame my procrastination and I reached up to the handhold above my bunk, clinging for life as I swung out both legs and grasped for the wall handhold before I was rocketed back to my bunk by the rolling vessel. Another day had begun. Or was it night? What day is this?
20 minutes later, I was adorned in my saturated bibs, boots, and jacket. These “foulies” must have been named for the rancid brine smell that they emit after a few days of marinating in the forepeak, scrubbed daily by the salt water bath they receive in the cockpit. What nausea disappears during my sleepless rest is at once recalled from a brief whiff of the clothes. Under the foulies, I’ve decided that my down jacket is much too wet to afford any warmth, and opt for a less saturated, still damp sweatshirt. Is this trip over yet?
On deck, starving, I took up position in the cockpit and anchored myself to a metal ring that, when called to duty, would tether me to our sinking vessel. Comforted by those thoughts, I slumped into position, awaiting my four-hour shift to conclude.
Unlike the night prior, we were under a starless sky. The darkness illuminated only by blinking red lights of offshore wind farms passed in the night, and the superhighway of cargo ships and barges eager to elbow us out of their way. We were heeled over such that with every couple waves, our life lines on the lee side of the boat would go under water and we were forced to stand nearly upright with legs braced against the opposing seat. I’m sure there was more comfort rotting away in the dungy caverns of the Tower of London circa Henry VIII‘s reign. I feel ya, Anne Boleyn.
Not surprisingly, too much sail aloft which causes the extreme heel is not good for the rigging. Never mind none of this was good for the crew hours ago, but who am I to complain? And so, Andy came up the companion way stairs and instructed Alejandro and I to leave the safety of the cockpit and crab walk up to the mast, fully exposed to the rain, waves, pitching, and darkness so that we could reduce sails, trim the sheets and help right the movement of the boat. “There is no fucking way I’m going out towards the bow in this weather, and let me tell you something about this trip and the abject disrespect for safety and comfort…” I thought to myself. “On it, captain” I said aloud, masking the fear of being swept overboard. I retract all former complaints on getting dressed belowdecks, for this new task made the former laughable.
20 minutes of slipping, swearing and yelling over the howling wind, head lamps intermittently lighting our way and blinding our crew mate, Alejandro and I completed our task and were back in the snuggly cockpit, exhausted yet very pleased that we had somehow cheated death and successfully bridled the bucking horse we rode. While proud of our work, I was more excited about evading the boredom and inescapable discomfort through the harrowing task. Yet, back to the discomfort my mind returned. But so briefly.
"What was that?!” Andy yelled back to me from his cozy perch at the top of the companionway? “Did the main release?!”
I looked up and saw the main sail uncontrollably flaking in the wind, while the reefing line that normally fastens it to the boom in heavy winds was happily waving at the passing ships in the distance, with complete unconcern for our safety. “WTF!” I said aloud or to myself or in my head. Who the hell knows, this wasn’t good.
“Hold on guys, I need to wake more crew!” And down Andy went, leaving Alejandro and I staring dumbfounded at one another. Should we just jump in the water and end all this? Enough with the foreplay, Poseidon.
Up came Nadim, Jim, and Jackson after their “quick” routine of gearing up under sail. Head lamps shining, hearts beating, we all listened to Andy’s quick instruction of who would go where and do what. Alejandro and Jim would remain in the cockpit to control lines for sails, while the three young men and most nimble (our inflated egos overpowering our sensibility) would go forward, reduce the main, lash her down, and return unscathed to tell all who will listen about our heroics at sea.
Another 20 minutes of battle with an ill-behaving sail ensued, perfectly choreographed by the three of us, like a 7-year old’s dance recital. Back in the cockpit, after a round of at-a-boys and fist pumps, the three off-watch mates returned to their slumber while Alejandro and I were left to our misery aloft. 2.5 more hours to go. Ugh. Anne, please God, trade places with me.
Needless to say, I’m not writing from the grave. We made it through the night, retiring to the comfort of another rolling evening in the bunk, followed by another exhausting day on the water. Why are you so angry with us, North Sea? I am vaccinated, and come in peace - please stop torturing me.
Wednesday is somewhat of a blur. The seas continued to boil, though the sun peaked out its head after sleeping on the job the last couple days. It’s presence improved the spirits of the crew mildly, though the exhaustion and discomfort was visible on all faces. Jackson had succumbed to his second bout of sea sickness, and worse than the Baltic, retired to a horizontal position for 18 hours. He complained of bed sores and cursed the seas while still exhibiting a friendly countenance and cracking jokes at key low points in the cabin discussions.
Finally, there was great hope. Andy had been downloading weather throughout our trip and each forecast had underplayed the wind we were experiencing. Like a great meteorologist, the reports were 30% accurate, half of the time - a report of 20 knot winds out of the west translated into 35 knot gusts from the north. And so, when he received the latest report showing 50-60 knot gales in the English Channel precisely as we were to pass through, he made the executive decision to make landfall in Dover, 150 miles East and north of our original destination of Portsmouth. We have 35 miles to go, he shared with his emaciated, waterlogged crew. And we rejoiced - only 6 more hours of hell.
Alejandro and I donned our battle gear and took up our watch at 8pm to fend off freighters, dodge windmills, and aim the boat for the final approach with the midnight crew. I have never been more cold, and began the shift hiding under the dodger to avoid some of the wind and splashing waves. But, left to my own thoughts, as Alejandro happily endured the elements in the cockpit, I could not escape my own misery. So I crawled into the cockpit and suffered less as we entertained one another for the last four hours of our watch duties.
At midnight I collapsed into my bunk, after reversing the process of assembling my watch uniform. I awoke to a still boat, laughter and the sound of beers opening. Removing my headphones, and pulling down my sleep mask (I’ve obviously become a diva at sea), I saw the smiling faces of a crew that was safely dockside. We made it. No I don’t want a beer, I’m going back to sleep. And I quickly dozed off again…
It’s now 12:45. My train delivered me somewhere in London. I just finished a tuna sandwich and chips, sustenance for the remainder of my journey - a taxi to Paddington station followed by an express train to Heathrow and a bus ride to the hotel. After check-in, find the on-site Covid center, pass the test, spend the night and fly home. I’ll share my thoughts on the entire trip once I’ve had a chance to bathe and spend a night in a bed larger than a floating coffin. For now, I’m more concerned with what side of the street to hail a cab.
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Home Base | Denver, CO
A family of six that
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