SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
October 26, 2014
On the Lookout
33° 59’ 55.20” N x 13° 37’ 52.80” W
Near the Seine Seamount
For the past few weeks, we have been assuming various roles on watch such as helmsman, lookout, science labbie, etc., and getting a feel for each of them. Each position contributes to the overall success of the ship, so it is important to for us to become proficient in every role. My favorite job while on watch is lookout. Contrary to what we expected before departing Woods Hole, there are not many other boats sailing or motoring within our sight, so a lot of our time as lookout is spent with our thoughts. When we first sailed out of the Port of Barcelona (it seems so long ago!), A Watch was on deck and I was on lookout. Ever since then, I volunteer to be lookout every chance I get and relish the time spent alone at the bowsprit. I usually spend much of my hourly shift singing (off key), but it is also a great opportunity to reflect on the day and everything we have been doing. In fact, this very blog post was mentally written as I stood at the bow and looked ahead to the gorgeous sunset we were sailing into.
Time has been flying by and things have been changing on deck. After leaving Cadiz, we moved into Phase II on watch, which includes a shadowing system to train us new sailors to become Junior Watch Officers. We essentially take turns acting as the Watch Officer, or mate, and take on the responsibilities that ensue. Today, Courtney and I shared our six-hour afternoon shift as shadow. After C Watch’s shadow, Maggie, successfully turned the deck over to us by filling us in on all important news like trends in wind, status of the day tank and traffic reports, I took over and had my watch mates relieve the C Watch helmsman and lookout. The wind was picking up, so my first order of business was to set the square top sail (we sailors refer to it as the “tops’l”). The square sails are not a part of the four lowers (mains’l, mainstays’l, forestays’l and jib), which is what we usually have set while underway, so setting the tops’l is always exciting!
We quickly learned that it takes the strength of a small army to set the tops’l on the windward side of the boat. Even after recruiting our watch mates in the science lab to help with the sail handling, we still had to put all of our hands (nine people) to raise just the port side before we could go ahead and move on to the starboard side of the sail. We were tired and our hands were red and calloused, but we were more than proud to be on watch while we set the tops’l.
Things calmed down a bit, and the regular rotation of watch continued. I spent some time in the doghouse, learning navigational things from our mate, Scott. It was up to me, as shadow, to keep an eye on the time to send someone on a boat check every hour, relieve and replace the helmsman and the lookout, record and chart our location, along with many other little tasks that go into running a successful watch. So far, it has been decided that the biggest struggle of shadowing is to keep the big picture in mind, and not let an hour pass without completing every detail necessary.
We were happily sailing on a starboard tack when it was about time to set another sail. Before I could call out “Hands to set the J.T!” it came to my attention that a gybe was necessary to raise this sail. Gybing is the process of turning the boat with the stern to the wind. We are all professional gybers by now, because we must gybe for science deployments at least twice a day, not to mention all the gybing we do just to change direction. In this particular scenario, we did not need to change direction; we only needed to gybe so we could raise the J.T. sail with the wind on the port side. This means that once we set the sail, we must gybe again and return to our original course. Because we had so much practice, Scott allowed me to take the reins on this sail evolution. I was the one calling the orders, just as I have watched the mates do for the past few weeks. As I stood at the quarter deck and called out “Hands to the main sheet!” I couldn’t help but grin as I heard a chorus of my watch mates repeating this command. We went through the whole of a double gybe consisting of easing, hauling and passing sails until the J.T. was set and we were back on a starboard tack. I proudly called out “Coil and hang the deck!” so my tired watch mates knew they did a job well done and it was time to clean up the lines that were strewn across the deck in the long process.
Before I knew it, my time as shadow had come to an end, and Courtney took over my temporary responsibilities. He sent me to take the weather observations for the logbook, which was soon interrupted by the apple pie that our friends in the science lab brought us for snack. After we licked our bowls clean, I finished the weather observations and was on my way to the bowsprit to take on my favorite job again as lookout. As much as I loved standing at the bow and admiring the beautiful sunset, I couldn’t help but be a little bit jealous of some of my shipmates at that moment. Veronica was sitting at the top of the mast, gazing at the same view I had, except 20 feet higher, and Amie was just behind me doing yoga and saluting the sun as it began to tuck behind the golden clouds. As lookout, I had plenty of opportunities to plan my day tomorrow, which will undoubtedly include climbing aloft into the rigging, and some twilight yoga.