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Latest Expedition Journal

October 18:  Day 16

Posted by Whitney Horstman

A Day in the Life of an A-Watch Sailor

0600:  “Whitney…Whitney…” a gentle voice awakens me.  I stir and mutter my thanks for the wake-up. Standing outside my bunk curtain, Laura says, “It’s O-six hundred.  You have twenty minutes till breakfast and watch at O-seven hundred.  It’s warm, but might rain later so bring your foulies.”  I fumble around in my bunk, getting dressed lying down where I have some privacy, and hear Mike in the bunk across from mine doing the same after his wake-up.  

Twenty minutes later I’m in the main saloon making myself a cup of tea.  The galley is quietly bustling as the stewards quickly fill giant platters with pancakes and bowls with scrambled eggs and bacon.  The assistant steward rings the triangle chime and calls “A-watch and Others breakfast!” bringing the rest of my watch members, and any of the ship’s company not attached to a watch—aka “Others”—hustling into the dining area to grab seats.

0650:  I’m on deck, ready to go in my fashionable safety harness, checking the weather and the current arrangement of sails.  The off-going mate on C-watch, Mackenzie, updates us on the current state of the ship and we update her on what is being served for breakfast.  Watch turn-over occurs with an official fist bump between Mackenzie and our mate on A-watch, Rocky, at 0700, marking the start of our six-hour watch.  An hourly rotation between the helm (steering), boat checks, and weather observations begins on deck, with sail handling as needed.  In the science lab they are preparing the equipment for the morning’s sampling stations.  The morning is glorious, with no rain in sight, but a little light on wind for a 134-foot-sailing ship trying to make good progress.

1000:  We are “hove to”—a sailing ship’s best attempt at a stopping by backing the sails for the deployment of scientific equipment—this time for a hydrocast using the carousel which is spooled out to 200 meters depth off the science deck.  We are ravenous with hunger.  Luckily morning snack, apple crumble, arrives to great acclaim, before anyone passes out.  Deck suddenly becomes more populated as anyone awake wanders up from below decks for a snack break.  Now that everyone is aware of the nice weather, several duck back below and return with guitars and a banjo to provide musical accompaniment to our deck and lab duties for the next hour.

1230:  The morning watch is drawing to an end.  We are back underway after some patient sail-handling, coaxing the gentle breeze into setting our multi-ton ship back on course.  We are hungry again—work on a rolling deck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean builds an incredible appetite.  The smells of lunch wafting up through the galley vent and rumors of fish tacos are not helping.  The triangle chimed ten minutes ago for the lunch seating of our relieving watch crew, so we know they are on their way.  Thirty minutes later the official fist bump sets us free to decimate the lunch spread on the gimbaled tables in the main saloon.

1345:  A quick nap after lunch is brought to an end by the chime of the triangle and the call “Fifteen minutes till class!  All hands!”  A mix of alert and sleepy faces assemble on quarter deck, snatching seats on deck boxes and leaning against rails.  Ship announcements, weather and navigation reports, science progress updates, and short specialized lectures by members of the ships company commence.  These classes are not all business as moments of hilarity, made-up songs, and costumes regularly go into the mix.  

By 1530 everyone is restless with hunger.  Afternoon snack appears (“sight!”) at the dog house doorway.  Snack pandemonium ensues, as the entire ship’s company is present.  The guitars start up again (we have way more than the usual share of musicians on board).  I choose to forgo another nap to stay up and socialize, write in my journal, take photos, and study some of the sailing knowledge that has slipped my mind in the 12 years since I was last at sea on a tall ship.

1700:  Dinner time!  Stomachs rumbling, we have been annoying the stewards by hovering at the edges of the main saloon for the past five minutes as the food was being ferried out of the galley.  We descend on it like a pack of rabid puppies.  My watch then heads to our bunks, knowing our next watch will be from 2300 to 0300.

2230:  “Whitney….Whitney…” There is no way it has already been five hours.  Alas, it is true.  I wisely pre-staged my clothes and gear, and slept with my contacts in, because it’s hard to prepare efficiently for night watches.  I try to do everything in the dark so that my bunk light doesn’t disturb people from other watches who are sleeping in their bunks nearby.  I’m assigned to the science lab for this watch, so I don’t pile on quite so many clothes.  The main saloon is dim and quiet, populated only by a few members of my watch who are putting on outer layers and safety harnesses, and making cups of coffee and tea before heading up on deck.  

2330:  Scientists fist bump too.  We are now preparing the neuston net for the midnight deployment.  We lower the net boom off the side of the science deck, clip our harnesses to the rail, and heave the net over into the water.  There is a sparkly splash of bioluminescence.  The entire net lights up as it starts catching all manner of oceanic organisms.  We stand and watch, making sure the net stays at the appropriate level in the water for the next half hour, chatting, star-gazing, and occasionally breaking into soft song.  Once the net is back on board we harvest our catch and wash and stow the net.  The rest of the watch is spent sieving, measuring, sorting, and counting what the net brought in.

0100:  We are famished.  We take a break and quietly shuffle below to see what was made for midnight snack.  Orange cranberry scones!  It is now one in the morning so you will understand if this fact is enough to catapult us into silent dances of jubilation.  Someone mentions hot cocoa, and there is a flurry of activity around the coffee station.  Splendidly refortified, we troop back up to the lab to renew our plastic fragment counting efforts.

0300:  The fist bump sets us free.  Before us stretches “The Sleep of Kings,” the longest stretch of possible sleep in the weekly watch rotations.  If you choose to skip breakfast, you can sleep from 3am to 11:30am.  It’s a tough call because, as you’ve probably noticed, food is extremely important on the ship.  Some of us grab a quick bowl of instant oatmeal before bed to try to convince our stomachs that survival is possible when you sleep through breakfast.  I tumble into my bunk and quickly fall asleep, rocked by the ocean swells.

0700: Chime, chime, chime “A and C breakfast!”  Sunlight pours through my porthole window.  I close my eyes more tightly, determined to ignore the call.  Ten minutes later I’m at the table spooning fresh sliced fruit into my bowl and smiling at the complements on my impressive bed head.  Another day begins.

P.S  We had what appeared to be a minke whale pace the ship at twenty yards off the port rail for quite some time last night at sunset.  It appeared to be listening to the impromptu instrument band playing on the quarter deck.  It was amazing.  Every time it surfaced to breathe, everyone cheered.  We have a new friend.