Alright, now for the long-awaited final installment of Stephanie’s First Voyage!
My final shift of the final night of our trip ended at midnight. Even though it wasn’t that late, I was exhausted to the point of barely being able to keep my eyes open. It reminded me of being at the wheel in the middle of the night during my first gale out in California last year. I had been posted at the wheel that night, legs splayed, feet firmly planted, gaze mechanically shifting between the glowing red compass and the large waves cresting in the darkness around us, hands manipulating the wooden wheel behind me. I felt incredibly strange, like a zombie, but I couldn’t quite name it. Wasn’t until I was relieved at the wheel and felt my eyelids instantly, uncontrollably and firmly close that I realized that my funny feeling was exhaustion.
Well, I managed to stay awake until the end of my shift again this time, and then I gratefully stumbled down below to my bunk, knowing that my sleep was going to be cut short by an early departure the next day. At 5 AM I was awoken by the second mate, Richard, to weigh anchor. I had been dreaming that I was using an extinguisher to put out an electrical fire caused by my laptop’s power cord when I heard Richard’s voice quietly saying my name. “We’re raising anchor in a half hour. It’s rainy and cold outside.” I thanked him and began to move, and was surprised at how rested and awake I felt just minutes after emerging from my cocoon.
Everything with the anchors went well. They did not get twisted, and came up neatly. Halleluiah. By 6 AM I’d say, we were underway, heading up the D’entrecasteaux Channel, and since my watch started at 8 AM, I stayed up, had some tea, and wrote until my watch shift began.
It must be mentioned here that my watch, led by the fearless and hysterically ever self-deprecating Matt Morris, was an amazing watch. Our trainees were smart and funny, and as much as they complained, they were always helpful and never had to be asked twice to do a thing. But what made our watch REALLY great was the watch shifts we happened to get. Our watch saw dolphins and rainbows, got to do the most work aloft, I THINK we got the most sleep, and on our final day, we were practically the only ones on deck during the strongest winds of our trip…and my life.
When our watch came on, we were already experiencing some strong gusts, but nothing too extreme, probably topping off in the high twenties. The Captain was on deck, and had decided to leave the sails in for some tighter maneuvers before we came to the open channel. Once we were there, and it was clear that we had some nice solid wind, she let us drop the sails. They filled in and we sailed beautifully for a good while.
We might have only been actually sailing for a half hour before the gusts began to pick up, and the Captain told Matt to leave someone at the wheel, grab his best trainee climber, and head up to put some gaskets on the sail so it wouldn’t flog in the wind. I continued supervising one of the adults, Colin, who was at the wheel, and Matt climbed out onto the yard with a trainee named Matthew.
Colin and I watched the wind gauge climb steadily from averaging in the mid twenties, to a fairly consistent 30 knots of wind. My eyes pin-balled between the compass, the Matt’s aloft, and the wind gauge as gusts hit 35, 38, 39.6…Colin and I glanced at each other and I instinctively said “Not quite,” knowing that we were both wondering if it might hit 40. I grabbed Colin’s camera and took some photos of the boys up above in 38 knots of wind, and managed to get one shot of the wind gauge reading 32.
The boys came down safely after pulling in the sail, and trainee Matthew was buzzing. I gave many pats on the back and excitedly reported the wind strength they’d been aloft in. They smiled and laughed and Matt, my watch-leader, said that was the most he’d been up in. We all headed back to the helm and with the winds still building, Matthew took the wheel.
The Captain, Matt, Colin and I were in a semi-circle around Matthew, just taking in the scene, motoring through these enormous gusts. The sun was shining, and the seas were comfortably low, protected from building very much by the islands around us. Each gust pushed us through the water, forcing us into a heel, bringing water through the starboard scuppers. It was around this point that I took a look around me and realized that I was sailing in as much wind as we’d had the day that gave me my big scare eight months ago. I’ve gotten back on the horse for sure, and I feel good.
Some time later, the wind dropped down to 20 knots, a respectable breeze under normal circumstances. The noise of the wind faded, and the boat sat upright, and many sets of shoulders eased down a bit. Captain Sarah turned to me with a momentary care-free smile on her face and laughed, “After that, 20 knots feels like a light breeze!” We took the rest of the day in stride and were back at the dock by 1700…an energizing end to a wonderful first voyage!