As we sailed out of Valencia and into the pale blue Mediterranean, I was preparing myself for a lengthy ten day sail. But time seems to pass a lot faster out at sea, where the constant activity of school and sailing keep you busy during the day, and night watch, despite only being two hours, seems to blur the separation between one day and the next. I’ve come to enjoy my time at sea, almost as much as time in port.
As I have started to learn the rigging, sails, and have improved at sailing the ship, watches, and even night watches have become something I really look forward to. On a calm night, being posted at the helm, with the breeze on your face and the night sky unfolding above, can be almost meditative. But my favourite night watches so far have been during rough seas. Whether it is sheeting in a sail, tying down tarps, or just trying to stay on course with 12 foot swells trying to take the rudder with them, there is never a dull moment. Doing something as mundane as hauling in a line becomes exciting with sea spray coming over the gunwales and the ship heeling so far over that getting from one side of the deck to the other is a hike.
During one of the night watches, the 8-10 block, Captain Dom was giving us a lesson in the bridge when the radio went off with an emergency broadcast from the Spanish coast; all vessels in the area should post a lookout, because there is a small rubber boat of migrants in the Mar De Abalcain, (directly ahead of the Gulden Leeuw), and to report its location to the coast guard if seen. As captain explained to us, the reason for this was not so they could stop them before landing on the Spanish coast, it was because the boat was too small to appear on radar, and was at risk of being hit and sunk by a large ship such as a tanker or the Gulden Leeuw. During the night, one of the lookouts on watch spotted the rubber boat floating ahead of the ship. However, by that time the migrants had already been evacuated by the coast guard.
View of a ferry in the Mediterranean from the aft deck, taken by Austin Bullock.
We awoke on the morning of the 19th with the dry, rocky shore of Morocco off our port (left) side. My watch block for the day was 10:30 to 12:30. It was a cold, grey day outside, and on my way up the bridge deck, I slipped on my foulies, which are the Class Afloat foul weather gear: a red, heavy rain jacket and black rain pants. We passed through the Straight of Gibraltar under a thick blanket of fog, flashes of lighting and the boom of thunder all around us. Through the clouds we could see the outlines of the many freighters around us, periodically illuminated by a fork of white lightning. The rain hit us straight on, the wind whipping it into a torrent of biting water droplets that made it nearly impossible to keep your eyes open. We took turns at the position of lookout; there wasn't much to do other than tighten the hood of your foully and shield your eyes from the rain. As we passed out of the Straight, the weather cleared and we were suddenly alone on the Atlantic, except for one or two cargo ships on the horizon.
A sunrise on the Mediterranean Sea during morning muster, taken by Austin Bullock.
On our last night at sea, as we were nearing the Madeiran Islands, we were awakened at 5 in the morning to the wail of our general alarm. After jumping out of my bunk and throwing on a hoodie and shoes, I made my way up the stairs to our muster stations in the mess. We sat there in silence for several minutes, unsure what was happening, and then to everyone’s great relief captain Dom announced that there was no emergency, and we could all go back to sleep. The next morning at Colours, we found out what had happened during the night, someone accidentally bumped into the manual alarm point, and triggered it.
On the morning of the 24th, the dark mass on the horizon materialized into the island of Madeira. My day watch for the day mainly consisted of harbour stowing the Gulden Leeuw’s main sail. Harbour stowing is basically packing a sail very well, so that it looks good and clean for our time in harbour. First, we stood on the benches below the boom and pushed any of the sail hanging down up into the lazy jacks, which are ropes that run between the gaff and boom to keep the sail in place when it is lowered. After that, myself, Eliane, and Alice put on deck harnesses and climbed from the roof of the bridge out onto the gaff. We spent at least an hour out there, pulling, pushing and kicking the rough white canvass into place. Adding to the challenge was the rocking of the boat, making the boom that we were sitting on sway back and forth like a massive swing.
Although our watch periods can be difficult, involving anything needed from keeping the ship in top condition to moving in the right direction, they are also very rewarding. I never know what to expect as I climb the curved wooden stairs and make my way past the crew mess to the bridge for watch handover. Some days we spend time maintaining the ship, and protecting it against the wear of the elements; others we spend sailing or working with the rigging. Some common jobs include sanding and oiling wood on the ships exterior, washing the ships laundry, and painting. Overall, the work we do onboard adds an interesting and in my opinion very valuable element to our education; and makes the whole experience of sailing in our school more authentic.
View of Funchal from the Gulden Leeuw.
Written by Class Afloat student, Jordan M.