Oct 302012

A lot of you probably know already that the HMS Bounty sank off the coast of North Carolina early Monday morning. The entire tall-ship community and beyond is in mourning.  I send my prayers and condolences to the family, friends and ship-mates of Claudene Christian, who was recently found unresponsive and later pronounced dead, and Captain Robin Walbridge, who has still not been found.  Deepest gratitude to the brave Coasties who went out into that storm to rescue the crew.

Jan 312012

The other day out on the water, my crew-mate Alex and I were standing bow-watch together. We were looking out at the waves, and Alex asked what wind force I guessed it was. “I think seventeen knots. Twenty at most,” I said. He ran back to the helm where we have an anemometer, a wind gauge. “The anemometer says twenty-three but our speed downwind is 5. That makes it eighteen knots!”

When I was First Mate on the Bill of Rights, I used to quiz my crew (and myself) on wind force. There’s a guide called the Beaufort Scale which allows you to estimate wind speed based on sea-state. Zero knots is “surface like a mirror”. Force one, or 1-3 knots, shows ripples. Force two, or 4-6 knots, ripples begin to form crests. Force three, or 7-10 knots, crests begin to break…you get the picture.


A scale that relates wind speed to psychological stateI remember one time we found a “Psychological Beaufort Scale” which I thought at first was a joke. It’s not a joke, but I think it may be better for judging your own sanity than the wind speed.

It’s important to be able to estimate wind speed by observing the state of the ocean. We decide how much sail area is safe to carry based on wind speed, and being able to judge that without running over to the anemometer could help you out someday. GPS isn’t the only bit of technology one which the modern sailor has become too reliant. Here’s a clip of the full Beaufort Scale. Note that sea state is also affected by any nearby landmasses, and the length of the storm.

A scale that relates wind speed with sea state


Jan 172012

Alright, now for the long-awaited final installment of Stephanie’s First Voyage!

Weather through a portal

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.

One of three rainbows our watch saw during the voyage

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.

A neighbor enjoying the wind

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.

White horses lining up

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!

Jan 152012

Hi there. So on my last post, I left off when Donnough went ashore to get our trainees and the rest of our crew. We got pretty lucky with that because the wind just happened to lay down to a nice 15 knots or so for the entire time he was ferrying people back and forth, AND while we craned our zodiac back onto the deck-house for safe-keeping (there is a large “derrick” on the fore-mast which is used to lift heavy objects on and off board, including man-overboards). The weather really is interesting around here…you just can’t count on it being the same literally from one minute to the next.

Since I didn't get any good shots of us anchoring, the beautiful photos in this post are from my Second-mate Richard, taken from the zodiac on a calm day while we were at sea.

At some point after our shore-party got back on board, with the winds getting back up into the mid-high twenties, the Captain decided to put down a second anchor. On the water, one encounters all kinds of potentially dangerous situations, and choosing from the wide variety of possible courses of action is the artful skill developed by captains over a lifetime. Each response has its benefits and risks, and the key is to know those well, and understand how it will all play out.

When you’re expecting a blow, you might decide to head back to the dock if you’re close enough to home; you might also choose to “heave to” if you’re out in the open ocean and you have no other option. If you’re nearby to a harbor of safe refuge, or even just an island that you can put between you and the blow, you might drop an anchor there. The risk of anchoring in a protected cove, of course, is that if you have a wind-shift, you could find yourself precariously hanging off your anchor on a lee shore.

In this case, you might want to put out a second anchor, to guard against the possibility of dragging anchor onto the shore and wrecking your boat on the rocks. However, the risk THERE is that if the winds are shifting frequently, your two anchor chains could get twisted, leaving you in a difficult situation when you try to retrieve them. Lots of factors to consider! I just found a fantastic article on gcaptain.com discussing the benefits of using two anchors in rough weather…worth the read!

Anyhow, the safe way to set two anchors is to set them far from each other, preferably at a 90 degree angle from one another, which is exactly what we did. Throughout the rest of the night, the wind howled and shifted, but our anchors remained untangled, and did not drag. Eventually the wind settled into the north-west, giving us a comforting view of our stern without land behind it. Still, during my watch shift I was very aware of the strength of the gusts. They ended up topping out in the high twenties, and I was really grateful to go to sleep that night anxiety-free, knowing that we were well-secured with a crew that could handle what might come…and what DID end up coming the next day! Stay tuned! :)

If you look at the water by the bow on the port side, you can see the swell we were experiencing. Doesn't look like much, but we could really feel it!



Jan 142012

January 9th, 2012

Well, we are finally back at the dock, the last day of my first voyage on Windeward Bound. These last two days have been quite exciting…

The whole voyage, our first mate Donnough had been telling me that we needed to be south at Recherche Bay by Saturday night because a gale from the north-west had been forecast to come in sometime Sunday morning. Saturday night came, and in the dark we felt our way into the little cove with the help of a spotlight and some lookouts. I happened to be on watch at the wheel as we came in, and Donnough stood by and let me steer us in!

Our anchorage, Recherche Bay

Taking commands here can be difficult for me because of the accent; I often have to ask for a repeat. Being called to by the Captain was a bit nerve-wracking, since in a small harbor with reefs (shoals) things can get tight. “One turn starboard!…Amidships!…One spoke to port!” I was really concentrating on listening, trying to will my ears to understand. In addition, I’m not the most experienced helmsman, and I’m still getting used to the way Winde steers. At one point the Captain came back to the wheel to ask my heading, which was a degree or two off the ordered course. She looked at me and said “It is absolutely imperative that you not deviate from the course at all. The waters are full of reefs here.” So, what do you do in this situation? You quickly learn to steer perfectly! Not a degree of deviation.

Luckily, I brought us safely to our anchoring spot and for the rest of the night and the next day, we sat at anchor, keeping entertained with games on board and a shore visit, while we waited for the weather to come in. By early afternoon, with the kids still ashore playing cricket, it did…but from the south, putting us on a lee-shore!

The crew checking out the weather

Most of the crew was aboard when the winds started, and we all sort of wandered about as it picked up, sitting in the deck-house for a while, then going outside, casually checking the anchor chain, the wind-gauge, then making small-talk, then checking our shore party out through the binoculars. It’s interesting watching how different people react to the uncertain potential for a big blow: some like to keep busy, others just sit still.

We were all in the deck-house, the captain, first and second mates, the cook and I, when our shore party called for pick-up. With the winds whipping outside, Donnough, with his slurry of Irish and Australian accents, offered to our second mate, Richard, to go pick up the party. “That would be nice, Donnough, if you don’t mind,” Richard responded. Just then a big gust shifted the boat, and we all paused for a beat like prairie dogs alert to an intruder.

“Let the old ones go first, that’s what I always say,” our cook Jan said with typical Aussie humor as the gust lay down. And with a piece of Jan’s home-made orange cake in his hand, Donnough was out the door. “Give me a piece of cake and a whittle, and I’ll be ready for anything!”

Our view from the anchorage...sometimes a squall comes through in brilliant sunshine.