Location: BVI to Nevis
My day started at 4:00 with an anchor watch. I woke the crew at 7:00. I honestly don’t recall what was for breakfast exactly, but it was surely not unduly eventful. Breakfast was followed, for much of the crew, by a training dive. The topic was buoyancy control, and I am told it was an enjoyable dive. Several other crew members and I had been fighting a head cold and were thus unable to dive. We had the morning off and lounged in various locations, reading or sun tanning. Once the divers returned, the crew got to work. We had a passage to prep for, and as we would find out, it was going to be a doozy.
Passage prep began by making the ship “40/40”. 40/40 means that everything on the boat, above and below decks, needs to be tied down securely enough that it will not move if the boat is leaning 40 degrees and facing wind speeds of 40 knots. The engines were then checked, sails and lines inspected, and watch teams briefed. The passage from Virgin Gorda to Nevis would take about 24 hours, and to assure that the boat was manned adequately at all times, the crew was spilt into two watch teams. Each team would spend four hours on watch, while the other team slept, and then the watches would switch.
At 17:30 we raised sails and set course around the east side of Virgin Gorda. Our sail plan was a reefed mainsail, a reefed foresail, and the staysail – a conservative sail plan that would be supplemented by the ship’s motor for the passage due to the near headwinds for most of the passage (reefing a sail decreases the total area of the sail, which in turn means that it is easier to control). We put Virgin Gorda to our aft and set our sights on the open ocean. The sunset on calm waters and dinner was served. We had rice and chili, which was indeed yummy, but probably better served on solid ground. Speaking as one of the several crew members who tasted it twice, it tastes better going down than coming up.
The first watch (from the start of passage until 20:00) proceeded uneventfully. When the watch changed at 20:00 hours, we were looking at 3-4 foot seas and consistent winds out of the southeast. Ocean Star was certainly moving, but all in all, the conditions were calm. Over the next 4 hours, the seas would get rougher. It began with a squall. We had to quickly dump the sails (which just means letting them out so that they no longer are holding the wind). The swells went from four feet to five, and then six and seven. As we fell from each swell, the next would crash over the bowsprit, and onto the deck. Ocean Star bucked in the swells. (I have no pictures of this portion of the passage, as no one wanted to, or even thought to risk their camera being thrown off the deck.) The watch team huddled around the cockpit; our life vests harnessed to the boat until the boat check. Boat check happens every hour, on the hour, and entails checking over the deck to make sure everything is still 40/40, checking the engine to make sure all systems were running regularly, and monitoring the salon. Boat check means venturing below decks and risking seasickness. The constant tossing of the ship is much less bearable below decks, especially if you’re already not feeling great. Without the horizon to keep focus, even the most experienced sailors are often brought to seasickness (certainly, more than one staff member succumbed). Each boat check became dreaded, their only upside in their marking of the passage of time (and how much closer we were to bed). The second watch too passed, and though uncomfortable for many of the crew, was ultimately not much outside of ordinary.
When the 20:00 to 00:00 hours watch ended, I went to bed, and I cannot speak specifically to what occurred between midnight and 3:15, other than some somewhat tossed sleeping in our bunks by the members of my watch.
At 3:15 precisely, the ship’s alarm went off. “Emergency – the bilge alarm has been activated” (A bilge is an area under the floor of a cabin space). The bilge in the forward cabin (incidentally where I sleep) had been taking on water from the anchor compartment in front of it, and now the bilge of the tiny space was filled with almost two feet of water. After the alarm, all crew members mustered on deck as we are trained to do, and we got to pumping/bucketing out the bilge. Within and house, the situation was remedied, and the monotony of passage continued.
The conclusion to my story occurs after I was no longer skipper (the day had changed), but I feel compelled to include it to give some peace of mind to the many parents (and few other people) who may be reading this blog. As the night came to a close, the sea calmed, the bilge was empty, and all crew and belongings made it safely to Nevis. Most, though this may surprise you, didn’t even get wet. Though the passage was, at times, thoroughly intimidating, we were all the better off from experience. And now we all get to tell the story of how we crossed part of the Atlantic in a sinking boat. Because everyone knows the best stories need a bit of hyperbole.