This blog was meant to be one of several that I was to write during my leg across the Great southern ocean.
However perhaps that is the point, because it is now written in retrospect. The fact of the matter is there is absolutely no time at all during the rougher sections (which in the Southern Ocean is pretty much every day) to sit down and write, let alone have the composure to compose. Hence this has turned into retrospective comments, observations and advice for “Newbies”, and memories for hardened sailors!
Remember that I had not sailed before, apart from my 4 training weeks, but my admiration goes out to the skipper whose job, amongst many other things, is to file a daily blog somehow.
Leaving Cape Town, as one of 22 crew, I brought with me music and videos, games and podcasts to enjoy during our time off, but the truth is the watches /shifts came and went so rapidly there was barely time to get the required sleep. No matter how hard I tried, it took me 20 minutes to get into my mostly damp foullies (foul weather gear) don my life jacket, boots without soaking my socks, find my gloves and hat and glasses all in the semi gloom, fill my water bottle and clamber upstairs in time for watch change. This is a necessarily regimented event, as there are another 11 tired, cold and hungry people wanting to come down off the deck. The same of course applied in reverse – to extricate myself from my now very wet Lifejacket and foullies and boots. Add into the mix the 40 degree deck angle in a tossing boat and the occasions when a meal needs to be consumed. Thus the 4 hours off watch has quickly disappeared, allowing perhaps two hours of sleep at most. The six hour break was of course marginally easier. However, in all cases, the wake-up nudge seemed to come after only half an hour!!
Adding to the mix and the thought process, because of the need to hydrate, there was often the need to get up for a pee during that time. This in itself was a major challenge, whilst half asleep in rough weather, finally leaving one wide-awake after the exertion! My tip of the year, and my new best friend, was my Pee bottle, being ultra careful not to slop its contents into your sleeping bag!! Remember I am 70, although I noticed even some of the young fellows eying it enviously!
Organisation – in advance -is probably the best advice I can give, and even though I more or less gave it to myself, I still found myself rummaging between my three specific “eight day“wet bags and my stored baggage. Eight day bags you say to yourself? Yes that’s it, when you’ll plan to do a clothing change every eight days. Bear in mind though, it’s cold enough that you will sleep in your thermal underwear and often additional layers, and that works well enough with a wet wipe bath not to stink you out completely in that time. Actually one doesn’t notice, as everyone is in the same boat so to speak!
For someone that is used to showering once or twice a day it seems quite a shock to the system – but you’ll soon learn that, apart from water being rationed, even with the new 60 litre per hour water makers on board which have proved less than reliable, in rough weather it is a major battle and achievement to take a shower in the small head.
Bunks and storage – Hot bunking requires a level of understanding with your bunk mate, as when they climb in, cold and tired, they can reasonably expect a level of decorum! We came to a good equation of leaving our sleeping bags laid out underneath each other. Each person gets one and a half small compartments alongside the bunk, which are often wet from condensation or seawater that works it’s way down from the deck fittings above. The lower bunks, while a bit easier to access are very tight quarters, while those above feel positively spacious height wise!
Social – As a “legger” and never having been in the army, the social experiment of being thrown together with up to 21 other crew is an eye-opener. Fitting into a world where the “round the worlders” have established their routine and their status, needs a relaxed and socially conscious effort. A good carefree sense of humour like mine went a long way!
Up on deck of course is the sailing action, which I have previously described as being in a relentless cold washing machine. Obviously this depends upon which legs you are on, and in light winds an awful lot more needs to be done in terms of sail changes and adjustments, sometimes even just to keep moving. However on the long downwind legs(which my Leg 3,and 6 tend to be) there is not as much tacking or gybing to be done, but a lot of trimming, riding the bucking bronco and hanging on for grim death! This while being smashed by walls of green water which seemed to have the aim of totally drenching you whilst all the while trying to drive you overboard. (You are tethered in above 15 knots and at night) Not so much fun on those endless cold, cloudy, snowy nights!
Clothing – everyone derived their own formula for the best option, and I did have a dry suit, but I found that I sweated so much inside it that I ended up just as damp as I did in my foullies, and also I found it easier to layer under them – and had more pockets for the ancillaries such as gloves, headlamp, water bottle etc.
Water finds it way in anywhere it can, so it really helps to rigorously check all the vents and Velcro’s, it’s so easy to forget one, and suffer the consequences for the ensuing hours!
Speaking of hydration, the effects are the same whether working or sleeping, but perhaps an even greater challenge when on watch, as then there is more gear to get off… remember this is the man complaining!
Food – Well one quickly realises that the Victualler should be one’s best friend because of the care and attention they put into the shopping, and then the division into the day bags is all important.
There is a rotation system for all the chores to be done below decks such as engineering, bilges, cleaning and navigating, but most importantly as “mother“, a generic name for chef, or should I say cook. Here one meets another mother from the opposite watch, so the two of you work a 24 hour period to try to produce culinary delights for 22 cold and hungry people, exactly on time, on five small burners on the pitching gimballed stove and a small oven.
Then, let’s not forget the mighty and almost continuous task of washing up, quite often in cold salt water. The boat starts each leg stuffed to the gills with supplies and fresh fruit, (apples and oranges) which lasted remarkably well. The rest is largely packets and cans, and fresh Bread is baked daily where possible. One quickly realises that the ample supply of snacks, chocolate and other goodies readily available on the training legs does not materialise on the race – there isn’t the space, and sometimes not the budget!
Well that’s all for now … you can email me questions and comments.