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Monday, May 07, 2007

Shipboard Life

A week after moving aboard, the realities of shipboard life have set in. Saturday night was my night to be on watch. Being on watch consists of taking care of the flag, regularly doing boat checks and correcting problems, and staying with the vessel or at least ensuring that someone is with it while you are gone. We are on watch for 24 hours, from 8am to 8am.

We are actually really lucky when it comes to our watches. We have an absolutely fabulous crew of volunteers who come in to give up a break during the evening hours. This means we can get off the vessel, relax, and get a bite to eat instead of feeling chained to the ship. In reality the only big downside to being on watch is getting up every few hours overnight to check bilges and docklines. Our docklines are usually the big concern, as the tide change is 6-8 feet and the lines have to be adjusted accordingly. Saturday the midship fenders and fenderboard started being a concern too, as it kept getting pushed out and scraping up the side of our brand spankin’ new boat!

So Saturday night, being on watch meant getting up at midnight and four for boat checks, one of the other guys was nice enough to take the two o’clock check for me (the checks are scheduled around the tide). Unfortunately, at four, the fenderboard was once again out of position and the wind was pushing the ship against the dock which made it impossible to correct the problem alone, so I had to wake up Sam—the only other person aboard last night—to help me out. Even working together, it took a lot to push the 150 tons of ship against the wind.

Then it was back to bed, being incredibly grateful that Sunday was our day off and we could sleep past seven for the first time in a week. (This past week we had enough deadlines to meet, we were up at six a few times!) Sleeping in was not to be. Just after six, a downpour started. I leapt out of my bunk, grabbing for my raincoat. All our hatches were wide open, one with a fan in it! Sam joined me on deck in moments and together we raced around closing hatches and covering important things. By the time we had the hatches closed, my pj pants and hair were completely drenched and it was time for strong, hot coffee. So much for sleeping.

Luckily, it was my day off, so I was able to spend some time away from the ship drinking mass quantities of coffee and drowsily reminding myself that I would get to sleep through the night for a change (I'd gotten up at 4 on Friday to check docklines too). Apparently, however, the weather conditions had other plans. Starting sometime Sunday afternoon and lasting until Tuesday or Wednesday, we are under gale force winds in the harbor (they are calling them hurricane force out of the harbor). When I returned to the ship Sunday night, the Captain called and said he was on his way down for the night. The four of us on board agreed we needed to have someone up at all times, so it was a two hour watch rotation for the night. I had the four to six watch, during which time I realized my blood has already thinned too much. I was freezing even with my rubber raingear on for wind protection! Thankfully, I was able to snuggle back into my bunk, carhartts et al, at 6am to catch another hour of sleep. In total, I only slept about eight hours in the past two nights.

Generally speaking, life on board is not quite that exciting or that much work overnight. I’ve gotten used to my hands having a permanent black tint to them from tar and dirt embedded under my nails. I only notice the ship’s sway when I’m on land; an inner ear phenomenon that I’m sure contributes to why boaters prefer to be on the water. I finally mastered the art of getting on and off the ship at low tide, quite a feat when the dock is seven feet above the deck.

Since I took pictures last Sunday, there has been major progress. By Monday afternoon, all of our spars were in place instead of just the masts and boom. Tuesday was a big day. We had the ship's architect in from California and a few representatives from the USCG for our incline test.

In preparation for the test, one hatch for each of our three cabins had the ladder removed to install a pendulum. We had people reading the pendulums as we moved 3000 pound blocks of cement from side to side. My job during all of this was to look good in my hard hat and take care of the cement. The first mate and I shackled the strap to the cement blocks, guided the guy in the Lull (A piece of heavy machinery that did the real heavy lifting), and guide the blocks so they didn't hit anything and landed on the dunnage we had down to protect the deck.

There is still number crunching going on, but early reports suggest the ship’s center of gravity is actually lower than the architect expected, meaning we are even more stable than designed. There is a surprising amount of mathematics that goes into figuring this stuff out. Not only did we need to have exact measurements of where each block was from the centerline of the vessel each time we did a pendulum reading (we did 8 readings), but we also had to take two different types of draft measurements, have the exact weight of every single thing on board recorded (including ourselves), and take a reading of the salinity and temperature of the water to figure out it's buoyancy. All of this was then somehow mathematically calculated with the vessel specifications to determine what our center of gravity will be underway and how the vessel will respond in various seas. Perhaps if Kathy ever gets sick of teaching, she can start doing this kind of stuff.

In terms of preparation to sail or even provide tours, we still have a long ways to go in the week and a half until the Maritime Festival. We bent on our first sail, the foresail, on Friday. Not only did it fit perfectly (really exciting since it, like everything else, is brand new), but it looks great. This week we should get the rest of the sails on as well.

It is looking like we will be working now straight on through the Maritime Festival to make sure the ship is rigged, passes the USCG attraction vessel certification tests, and is ready for the parade of sail. The Festival itself should be incredibly fun. There are seven other tall ships joining us: Picton Castle, Tarangini, Gloria, Prince William, Spirit of Bermuda, Schooner Virginia, and Pride of Baltimore. Additionally, there are a bunch of live entertainers, a wooden boat show, a family boat-building competition, pirate re-enactors (yes, all of you Pendalouan peeps, there really are people who do that as a hobby, I’ll try to get the info so you can join a group!), and the whole three day shebang ends with the parade of sail on Sunday night. Also, we’ll be hosting a children’s village and education tent. My boss, some volunteers, and I will be making pirate hats with children in addition to teaching them about plankton, ground water flow, and handing out temporary tattoos of the ship. As if all that wasn’t enough, Craig is getting into town on Sunday, so I’ll have my first guest! Yay! (Yes, the rest of you should all be jealous of him and thinking about how to arrange your own visit to Beth and Charleston).

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