Trip Reports

The Crew: (08 Mar, 2001):
Tha Captain
That the sea is a dangerous place is sufficiently documented. The perils are well represented in film and fiction and include sharks, pirates, containers lost off ships floating invisibly just below the waterline, gales, unlit vessels, fire, rogue waves, gangrene, explosion, corrupt navies, food poisoning, infection, dismasting, hurricanes, sinking, rudder failure, burns, civilians driving nuclear submarines, contaminated water, scurvy, broken bones, tsunamis, rats, contusions, fog, saltwater crocodiles, dehydration, lightening, anchor failure, fishing nets, hypothermia, terrorists, whales, malaria, unmarked obstructions, strong currents, exposure, lee shores, waterspouts, reefs, large ships, seasickness, mutiny, dismemberment, dementia, and death. We need not speak of these here, but will note that Samuel Johnson said that no man who had the wherewithal to get himself into a decent prison should consider going to sea.

We are not ashamed to say, however, that we find none of the above difficulties as daunting as the distress we fear as a consequence of our long separation from hearth and home, friends and family, and the comforts attendant thereto. Both skipper and crew live lives full of the common pleasures and amusements. Neither has a bone to pick with the world, nor the desire to bitterly rid himself of the problems of contemporary life. Perhaps the adventure will make homesickness moot, but perhaps not. We just have no way of knowing, and for this in particular we have no emergency back-up plan.

The Crew
So where's to find them such as would sail? The captain must be a person of unshakable will, great personal discipline, and possessed of the ability to lead and inspire men. He should be an able navigator, knowledgeable in all areas of the ship's operations, and have the ability to repair anything on board at sea if necessary. He should be of positive disposition and be able to make swift and sound judgments with insufficient information even when ill and exhausted. He should be physically and mentally courageous. A flair for derring-do and a gravitation towards good luck will fill out the picture.

Quite obviously, we don't know anyone like that, but for better or worse, there's no test to take or certification to acquire if one is inclined to undertake this sort of thing. So we're just going to do it ourselves.

Our crew, Terry Shrode, is one of those stouthearted men about whom you've heard; and indeed one would have to search the pages of fiction to find a companion more boon than he. Unperturbed by the prospect of going to the foredeck in a gale, tracking down a fuel leak, or loading 2000 pounds of fuel, water, and provisions aboard, he is withal a steadfast, gentle soul never prone to utter a discouraging word. Men, I have observed, are never named Faith, or Hope, or Charity. But Terry steadfastly exhibits all three.

About your correspondant, the captain, the less said the better, though it might be argued that his success in enlisting Mr. Shrode in this endeavor is a point in his favor.

As for onboard routine, it is natural to ask, "What do you do at night? Do you just go to sleep?"

And indeed, had we servants, we might. However, someone must stand watch 24 hours a day and there are only two of us. Sailors who undertake shorthanded voyages deal with this in different ways. Some just sleep when they feel like it, leaving providence on watch. Others sleep for short spells, not more than twenty minutes at a time, which is approximately how long it takes between a large ship's appearance on the horizon and a collision. Our plan is to split the night into two six-hour watches and have shorter ones during the day, so someone will theoretically always be alert. We will experiment with this when we get out there but for now we think that, except in difficult conditions, this gives the crew a solid period of rest and is better than dividing the night into smaller increments. Nevertheless, the combination of less than normal sleep and the wear and tear on the body caused by the ceaseless motion of the boat mean that fatigue will be a constant problem.

Entertainments at sea are rather limited. Although conditions can change abruptly, the typical experience is hour after hour of similar weather, where little needs to be done so far as trimming sails and adjusting the course are concerned. Steering will be done by hand only in harbor and close to shore, assuming that the vane and autopilot work. Navigation, of course, will be a daily and sometimes hourly job depending on how close we are to land. It is a pleasure when the weather is good and the boat is moving well but not so jolly as conditions deteriorate, at which very time it is necessary to attend to it the more diligently. We will have books, musical instruments, a stereo, and the computer. We'll be talking on the radio with other boats and stations on land and will be emailing you with the latest dish. We'll have a fishing line out. But the vast majority of the time, there will be nothing to do.

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