Life at Sea: Sometimes Smooth, Sometimes Not

Posted on 4 December 2018 @ 9:26pm

Life at Sea: Sometimes Smooth, Sometimes Not

The voyage from Madeira to Morocco was only 4 days but felt like an eternity. Shortly after departing Funchal, Madeira, everyone was refreshed and excited for the short sail to Morocco. Shortly after that, the mood changed. As soon as we cleared the islands’ shelter, we were hit by 25 knot winds (40+ km/h) and up to 6m swells. Just 30 minutes into the rough water, the excitement faded, and the breezeways were packed with sick and tired Floaties. A few of us, including myself, felt right at home in these tough conditions and before we knew it, we were doing 9 knots of speed with only 4 sails: the forstaysail, mainstaysail, inner jib, and lower topsail.

We briefly had the mizzen set but, within a couple minutes, the rear of the sail ripped from the pressure and we rushed to take it down. The whole time, swells up to 20 feet rocked and rolled our reality. Seeing waves of the magnitude we witnessed was incredible. It really gives you a true respect for the raw power the ocean contains. Each of those waves represented pure energy crafted over thousands of nautical miles by the inner workings of the winds and currents. Occasional comic relief was provided when we hit a huge swell and stuff of all kinds would fly across the mess room crashing and clang about.

            Halfway through the sail, on the 30th of October, the mood slightly improved. Additionally, a pod of roughly 50 dolphins decided to make a grand appearance. Despite the relentless rocking, we began to tolerate the warped reality we would temporarily be exposed to. As the day progressed, the spirit of Halloween began festering in all of our minds, as people started thinking about what costumes would be possible to make with our limited supplies.

With the coast of Morocco only 40nmi (nautical miles) away, the excitement was slowly building in our exhausted brains. I happened to be on 20:00 - 22:00 watch on the night of the 30th. At the beginning of the watch, I could see the light pollution of a coastal city faintly tinting the sky. As the uneventful watch progressed, the lights slowly revealed themselves over the horizon until the bright footprint of a city was in view. It’s truly relieving to see land after a long time out at sea. Even more-so when you step off the gangway and set foot on solid ground for the first time in a week.

            The 31st was an absolute blast. We all woke up to a view of the Moroccan coast just off the left bow. We anchored up just outside of Essaouira at around 12:00 and were all ready for Morocco. We all expected for the rolling to let up once we were anchored but boy were we wrong. The large swells continued even when we were sheltered by a small island that was just outside the bay. Eventually, we would end up being forced to leave due to the severity of it. The day itself was amazing. Seeing all the creativity of the students translated into resourceful Halloween costumes was a joy to all. We had a great dinner that night consisting of bread representing Dia De los Muertos and a pumpkin themed meal.

Class Afloat, Sailing Blog

Thomas and Lulu dressed up as Soundcloud rappers on the day of the 31st.

            On November 1st, we saw a fellow tall ship for the first time on our journey. We were anchored in the bay outside of Essaouira and someone on watch pointed out the ship slowly approaching. Not even 30 minutes later, they were circling us just 200ft away. Further research revealed that they were part of a German program somewhat similar to Class Afloat. The name of the ship was the Pelican of London. With both populations lined up along the walls and railings, we started chanting back and forth and generally messing about. It was very unique to be able to relate to another group of people; not many people are doing what we are.

Later in the day, around 18:00, after 28 hours of facing the onslaught of large waves constantly rolling under us, we decided to leave anchorage and try to find some calmer waters nearby. There were worries that we wouldn’t be able to make it back to the bay for the port program scheduled for the 2nd, but in the end we were just fine. The decision made that night was to sail in a big loop to keep the boat as stable as possible. Not lacking fuel, this was no real issue, and we did the equivalent of a Sunday drive aboard a tall ship, in Morocco. 

The initial plan for the 2nd of November was for all of us to be ashore and on the busses by 09:00. That, however, didn’t happen. Since there wasn’t a suitable dock in the port, we had to go ashore on the tenders. A day prior, the crew had starting assembling “Black Betty.” Black Betty is a larger inflatable with a little 60hp outboard engine which usually lives in a box on the bridge deck. When it came time, at around 10:00, we boarded Black Betty 12 at a time. Over the next 2 and a half hours, Philip and Sam ferried all of us safely ashore. The ride wasn’t perfect with all of us sitting in one big puddle by the end of it, but nothing was lost and everyone was just happy to finally be ashore. The Sahara lay ahead.

Written by Class Afloat student, Austin Bullock

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