Location: Atlantic Day 17: 16*42.85' N by 56*28.59' W
A day aboard Argo as we approach the end of our transat…
11:30 pm. I startle awake as Wiggy ghosts in and out of my cabin to wake me for watch (he usually does so by patting the top of my foot, which is the only safe appendage he can find in the dark). I struggle out of bed some ten minutes later, managing to pinball into almost every wall in between my bunk and the head in spite of flat seas (I’m not very good with wake-ups). By quarter to, I’m up on deck, blinking owlishly at the bright stars overhead as I emerge into the final minutes of Watch Team One’s shift. Jake, our student watch leader of the night, receives the briefing while Steve and I listen in. We’ve been doing a lot of that of late — listening in or hovering over shoulders while our students do the lion’s share of the work running the vessel. It’s a good feeling. We make it to midships to brief the rest of the team by 11:50, and relieve Watch Team One at 11:55. Two students head up to bow watch, two swing down to do a boat check, one steps up to take the helm, and the rest of us find our perches in the cockpit, listening to Danielle’s jams and trying not to get rolled out of our seats by the occasional swell.
12:20 am. “Oh my God, it’s only been 20 minutes,” Lars says from beside the helm. He receives sighs of agreement from around the cockpit.
Watches are a funny animal. Some of them shoot by in what feels like minutes; others seem to drag on for twice the time they actually take. We listen to music, snack, and chat to pass the time — but there are evenings when even our most passionate conversations about the kind of burrito we want to eat when we get to shore aren’t enough to make the time fly.
“If anyone can show me Phoenix, I’ll love you forever,” Carmen speaks up from the port side of the chart house where she’s looking to the south for the setting constellation. We have a book on stars that lives on the chart table; we’ve been consulting it frequently as the moon has waned to try and collect as many as we can. I’m not great with constellations. I’m the sort of person who can see shapes in just about any object, so as I look to the horizon of the southern sky, I see about four or five groups of stars that could plausibly be a Phoenix. Overhead, Orion and his dogs stand vigil over the sky. Cassiopeia navigates the Milky Way to the north. Below her, I see a group of stars that looks to me like a man jumping up and waving his arms overhead. When I vocalize that thought, Ben looks at me and smiles.
“Tina. That’s the Big Dipper.
In my defense, it was only partially risen.
2:00 am. Carmen heads into the chart house for a boat check, and I accompany her; it’s time to turn on the generator to give our batteries some loving. We communicate mostly in whispers, not wanting to wake any of the staff that is asleep around us. Bridgette chooses that moment in time to stick her face in the portlight above the navigational computers. Carmen leaps backward in surprise, and, arms windmilling, manages to take out the trash can and land in a welter of arms and legs and tangled PFD on the floor.
Bridgette, Carmen, and I all laugh so hard we start to cry — which is very hard to do in silence, for the record.
3:45 am. My watch team uses dance partying as a strategy for staying awake as the final hour of our watch comes to a close. It is at this point that we learn that Tommy can seriously shake it.
Did you know it was possible to do the worm in a type 5 PFD? Neither did I.
10:00am. I wake up from a series of vivid dreams about Argo’s refrigerator (I’m the provisioner: I can’t help it) to kick my sheets and blankets off. We’re close enough to Dominica that the days are already Caribbean hot; the sun shines bright on Argo’s deck, illuminating cerulean-blue seas around us and absolutely baking all of the compartments below deck. As I struggle to free myself from my sheet cocoon, I glance out the door of my cabin to see Carmen with ear defenders on, clutching an enormous bowl of dough two-handed, forging bravely into the engine room.
Huh, I think, not even considering for a moment how strange the whole thing actually is, I hope she chose the Parker House Rolls recipe. It’s the tastiest.
(The engine room is a great resource for bread makers, butter melters, and chicken defrosters.)
12:00pm pt. 2: SLS class. At the beginning of class, we change our clocks, falling back another hour to UTC-3. It’s strange to spend a whole hour in-class discussion and emerge just past 1 pm; on days when we’re traveling westward and rolling back the hours, the afternoons feel like dog years. It’s amazing how much you can get done in that extra hour: reviewing the CPR/First Aid exams for all of our newly-certified first responders, PSCT review, and exam for our future Yachtmasters, deck showers, watch, deck wash…
2:20pm. When you walk through Argo underway, each compartment is like a little vignette — a diorama, a slice of life — separated from all of the other compartments by watertight doors. Up forward, it’s all hustle and bustle as the students get ready for deck showers, abandoning naps, and movies halfway through. In the salon, there’s reggae playing and a tight huddle of students in the corner furiously studying for their exam. On the far side of the salon, students are chatting, playing games, or drawing caricatures of Captain Ben riding a hammerhead shark. The chefs have chicken quarters defrosting in the sink and are dicing up carrots and sweet potatoes for tonight’s roast.
In the chart house, you can hear the sound of the shower pump turn on, a low thrum that sounds like a pipe organ filled with honeybees. A few more students are peppering Wiggy with questions for the upcoming exam. Up on deck, the saltwater shower hose is on, spraying water at a velocity impressive enough that standing under it feels a little bit like sitting beneath a waterfall. This time of year and this close to the Caribbean, the water is refreshing, and standing under the spray washes away all of the sweat and grime of the past day’s work (or “tackiness,” as Stephen calls it). Showers roll into free time as everyone not on watch heads below to take their exams, to jam out on their guitars, or to get in that last pre-dinner power nap before another night of standing watch.
6:45 pm. Tonight’s squeeze question is, “What’s in Your PFD Pocket?” As it turns out, some of us have candy habits, the only evidence of which lives in the number of wrappers stuffed into the bottom of said pockets.
7:15 pm: Carmen shoves her face into the portlight over the computers in the chart house as I’m writing this, and seems disappointed that I don’t flail backward, trip over the chart house trashcan, and land on the floor.
7:45 pm: By quarter to eight, Steven and I are up on deck, brandishing the last of our coffee and Coca Cola stashes. The stars are bright overhead as we emerge into the final minutes of Watch Team One’s shift. Tommy, our student watch leader of the night, receives the briefing while Steve and I listen in. We make it to midships to brief the rest of the team by 7:50, and relieve Watch Team One at 7:55. Two students head up to bow watch, two swing down to do a boat check, one steps up to take the helm, and the rest of us find our perches in the cockpit, listening to Danielle’s jams and trying not to get rolled out of our seats by the occasional swell. The wind is out of the east, the Big Dipper has yet to rise, and Dominica lies 290nm to the southwest.
It’s going to be a good night.