The weather was increasing throughout the afternoon as the swells that grew deeper blossomed into white caps. The ocean was beginning to cast itself from off the bow and across the main deck. Dave was assigned to rig the storm lifelines along the side rails, so I assisted him.
Dave installed a few stanchions that supported a taut line that ran about seven feet off the deck. He then told me how to form a safety net by running line up and down in a V‑pattern, securing each end with clove hitches. At times, I was getting doused by ocean spray as I concentrated on my task, until we finished filling in the gaps.
The urgency of the situation was enough to help snap me out of the worst of my seagoing paralysis. With the wind picking up and water washing across the deck, care was needed to keep a hand for the ship to avoid losing my balance.
When we were done, persons on board had more protection from getting washed overboard. I was awarded with the sense that I was doing something important and useful, beyond the normal routine.
That evening the crew did battle with some nasty weather, working under the cover of darkness. Alix was our watch leader and a great encouragement to us all. She was wise, experienced and good humored. During the early hours of the morning, Alix’s watch section was sent aloft to take in some reefs and directed to set up the main staysail for stability.
Watching the others high in the tops amidst the eeriness of the green and red running lights gave me a sense of awe of their courage, agility, and experience, if not downright audacity. It was difficult enough for me to find the right line during the day when there was light, but to find things at night was a true test of ones familiarity with the ship’s rigging. Sometimes I could hear the others calling out from above, but couldn’t see them through the darkness.
Still handicapped by seasickness, but mainly from inexperience, I watched and assisted from the security of the deck. The gusty winds and roll of the ship threatened to catch anyone careless with their footing. This made watching Billy, another crew member in Alix’s watch, all the more incredible as he moved from one precarious looking position to another, breaking out the mainstaysail from its stowed position along the foremast.
Hauling up a sail on a ship takes some serious brawn, but, unlike the old men‑of‑war that usually had massive manpower at their disposal, this ship had to do it with only the handful of dedicated crew that stood every watch.
As sunrise approached during the 0400 to 0800, the weather became more severe. As I lay in my bunk below, feeling the uneasy movement of the ship, I could hear the exertions of the watch reefing in more sails during a slashing rain squall. The crew of my watch were probably out there giving their mates some extra hands.
copyright © 2002 Challen K. Yee