The following text was written by Chris Shipman my fellow crew on board Jamaica Get All Right. I asked his permission to publicised it a few weeks ago – no answer since then. I understand his silence as his approval.
It is very well written – with my limited English i wouldn’t express more precise how the life is on board when Mother Nature on the Southern Ocean tests us up to our highest limit. Enjoy 🙂
Thanks Shipi, we miss you 🙂
At the helm…
And here is the text:
“As a recently retired crew member (legs 2 and 3) it is encouraging to see all the messages willing Pete and the crew on to be competitive and no doubt we would also like to see a podium if not a no1 spot.
But for those of you that are yet to join the boat I thought you would like to know what that means for the crew that have to deliver the result.
As in most sports if you want to run faster, jump higher, throw further then you have to train harder and work harder. I think most sports people will also tell you that you have also got to want to win. That means when you are physically and mentally exhausted you are still able to will yourself on.
The difference with sailing is that it’s relentless; 24hours a day for 3 weeks or more.
On a boat, faster means harder. In the current conditions of strong head winds, the boat will be heeled over and frequently hammering into oncoming waves. The boat will lurch forwards as it accelerates down the back of the wave and brake suddenly and buck upwards and sideways as it hits the front of the next wave. It will do this hour after hour, day after night and night after day.
It’s in these conditions that you will be woken at 3.30am for your 4am watch. If you were on the high side you will have spent most of your 3 hours rest trying to prevent yourself being thrown out of your bunk. As you carefully lower your lee-cloth g-force and gravity combine to try and throw you forwards or backwards against the opposite wall; or often forwards and backwards in quick succession.
You use all of your strength to wearily allow a semi-controlled flump out of your bunk. Your 3 hours rest was tiring but your previous shift was exhausting. Your arms ache, your back aches and your fingers are sore with handling ropes and sails.
You have to be on deck 10 minutes before watch start to relieve yours opposite watch. You will have probably gone to bed mostly or fully dressed both because sleep is so precious you do not want to spend time getting changed and it just takes so much effort taking clothes on or off. You also have to reckon that in an emergency you might get an ‘all hands on deck’ call, where you are expected to put on boots and a lifejacket and get on deck – embarrassing and cold if you have gone to sleep in a thong. This did happen on leg 3 (sadly not the thong just the all hands) when we were hit with winds that reached an average of over 100 knots and were observed at 134 knot peak by Kris in the nav station and over 120 knots by Adam before the force of wind and waves threw him off the wheel.
Look those speeds up in mph and imagine the force of the wind if you stuck your head out of your car window whilst travelling flat out down a motorway. Now you have to clamber out on a pitching deck, with zero visibility in stinging hailstones and scream at the person next to you to be heard. On deck you are faced by pandemonium; sails that need to come down, sheets and various control-lines flying around, people shouting and moving about. No time here for careful instruction from Pete, look around; what needs doing, how can I help, what is priority?
OK so far? Now which of you are going onto the fore deck to wrestle down the flailing sail? Which of you still want to win the race?
Anyway, back to the routine 3.30 wake up call. Whilst holding on with one hand (more broken ribs and injuries below deck than on deck) you have fumbled around, in the dim red light, to find your head torch, fleece, lifejacket and mid-layer which you probably did take off and your sailing boots.
Your sailing boots are still wet from the last watch (most boots leak and even the ones that don’t, do) but you don’t mind too much because in the salty conditions your feet are still wet from the previous watch.
You struggle and stumble along to the wet weather locker. Still holding on with one hand you bump and jostle along with your fellow fatigued crew and kind-of take your turn/force your way to your hook and wrestle your foulies off your hook. Sometimes people have put stuff on the wrong hook or sometimes your foulies have fallen off into the bilge water. Not very nice but your foulies are damp and smelly anyway but this is team challenge number 1 – can you remain cheerful (but please God, not too cheerful) and support and encourage your team mates some of who feel a lot worse than you do.
So now you need to get your foulies on and this needs 2 hands. But wait you just have an inkling that within the next hour you may need a tinkling and there are few things worse than having to take off recently donned foulies to go to the loo and then put the bloody things on again.
Ohhhh so now to the heads. You dump your unhooked foulies on any free floor area and assuming 1 of the 2 cubicles are free you negotiate your way along to the free heads. Why are they called heads? Is it because they are barely big enough to fit a head in, or perhaps because you have to wedge your head into one corner of this small cubicle to stabilise yourself and to free up that vital second hand, or is because the last time you were in here you had your head down one of the pans while you were vomiting?
In rough weather the heads are not a pleasant place. Even with a diligent mother watch at 3.30am the heads will often present a wave of urine and salt water that washes to one side or another with the movement of the boat and a fragrance to match. Wearing boots to the heads is strongly recommended. You quickly learn to value the more diligent mother watches that really work hard to keep the boat clean and sanitised in all conditions.
For those of you that read Nick Bush’s blog you will be aware that there are various methods of using the heads to minimise the risk of weeing down your trouser leg or over your shoulder. With a continually changing gforce and gravitational effect (eg when the boat drops off a wave you and any other unrestrained substance tends to move upwards (negative G)) no method is fool-proof, or should I say watertight but I favour the old fashioned sit down and hold on method. Slow and a little boring by some peoples’ standards but even with this method there is a danger that the loo will become a sloshy kind of bidet. So you don’t want to hang around, first thing you want to do is pump that loo, but be careful this boat is a bucking broncho and now you have restricted your agility by leaving your apparel lassoed around your ankles. So you pump furiously with your one free hand hoping the loo is not going to block and then with equal haste you pull up your underpants and trousers. The reader may care to try and pull up and adjust their garments with just one hand next time they visit the loo and then imagine doing this with a floor angle that moves 40% one way and then 40% another.
Now back to those foulies. If your legs are long enough you can sit on the high side with your feet braced against the galley, otherwise down to the leeward side and let the lean of the boat hold you against the hull.
Long legs equals big feet, so wet boots off helps get those foulie bottoms on but now you are feeling sea sick.
You have lasted well but after 2 days of heavy winds your body has had enough. With your foulie bottoms and mid-layer on you are getting warm, too warm. Your body probably thinks it has been poisoned and your temperature rises some more.
Your boots are on but you have got to get that smock over your head. You are worried that you might be sick inside your foulie top. Your movements are frantic even a little panicked; if you can get on deck you will feel cooler, you might even begin to feel a bit better, you don’t want to let your team mates down and the thought of being sick in front of everyone is embarrassing.
But the inevitable happens you make a lunge for the food waste bucket, luckily you make it as your stomach spasms and the last of your energy drains away as you vomit into the bucket. You lay on the floor as you do not have the strength to stand and continue to vomit until your stomach is empty.
In any other circumstance you would go to bed until you feel better. If you have a partner they would give you sympathy and care. Not here!
You are hot-bunking, your opposite number is cold, wet and tired and they need their sleep. But you do have a decision to make, you could curl up somewhere in the relative comfort of the boat, there may even be a nice warm bunk that is free. So tempting to lay down and wait for the nausea to pass but based on how long some of your crew mates take that could be 2 or 3 days – if everyone did that who would sail the boat?
You can hear the roll call upstairs; everyone has a number so in the dark you can check everyone is there by calling off your number in turn. You make a final effort, grab a plastic bag out of the galley in case you are caught short, wrestle and fumble with your life jacket and out into the dark.
So now you are on watch; the boat is still thumping through the waves and occasional waves break over the boat giving you a good soaking but your foulies are doing their job (assuming you have tightened neck and wrist bands).
Pete comes on deck and its time for a sail change. The wind has got up and the no2 needs to come down and the no 3 needs to go up.
It’s going to be a bare headed drop, it’s the only safe way to do it at night with restricted bow space.
If you are physically able then you will be up at the pointy end.
Hoods down so you can hear the screams of delight and occasional instruction being barked by some lucky bastard at the back of the boat and deck light on.
The bow pitches violently and you are hooked on for safety. Waves are breaking frequently over you and boat and you are being knocked around as you struggle for balance. Several waves hit you face on and you swallow sea water causing you to wretch on an empty now sore stomach.
After much shouting and an exertion you did not believe you were capable of one sail is down and another up and you literally crawl along the deck to the relative comfort of the cockpit.
The wind is blowing hard over the deck and you take the easy option for the sail flake and sit on the side of the deck with a sail bag over your legs as the no2 is flaked to go below.
Daylight is 2 hours away and the start of your 6 hour break is just 3 hours away and I hear you mumble “I am paying £500 a day for this” How much would you pay to get off right now?
But you have signed up for a challenge and this will be a challenge. Interestingly the tougher the challenge the more the crew come together and the greater the sense of achievement having reached your destination.
Some crew are physically strong, some better resistant to sea sickness and some good sailors or great cooks. You will know best how you can make the best contribution to the team, but whatever your contribution, it will be all the greater the better you are mentally and physically prepared.
Being hopeless in the kitchen, I am hugely grateful to Hegs, Visi and others for helping me struggle through my first mother duty. Hopefully, I repaid some of that help with my on deck efforts.
It is because of and not despite the hardships and challenges that the Southern Ocean crossing has been such a fantastic adventure and a privilege to have been able to do it.
I can only wish that those of you yet to come are left with the same sense of achievement. You can be sure that I will be watching from the comfort of my arm chair willing you to make that extra effort to go that little bit faster!”
… and in the kitchen 🙂
x The photos were made by the crew of ‘Jamaica Get all Right’