22/06/2010 - Tacking, stretching and approaching the equator!

Since we have settled back into our standard routine, the morning watch passed without incident; as normal the first few hours were spent in darkness, I have decided to try and stretch at about 5am so that when the sun comes up I am ready to start heaving and running up and down rigging.  I have learnt that I have lost a lot of suppleness, especially in my legs, Bob has promised she’ll help,.. although I think that is because she enjoys seeing me in pain! Then we have deck wash as soon as it gets light, either followed by, or while a small group holy stones, then to finish off the watch we fresh water sujey (which still seems to me to be one of the more pointless tasks on board!).

This morning was bloody cold,.. strange since we are just off the equator, but a shirt and fouly jacket were both required and I was still a bit chilly,.. didn’t help that it was drizzling!

I have decided that I am sleeping too much, I normally get about 6.5 hours at night between 9 and 3.30am, but I then find after the first shift I am exhausted (depending on how much sail handling happens) and need an hour or so’s sleep before I can function again, however, this short nap often ends up lasting till lunch, then after lunch I normally have another quick nap… now these naps aren’t what you’d call deep sleep as I am continuously woken by things happening around me, but I do feel that I only really need a maximum of 8 hours, so my morning nap should definitely be sufficient,.. am going to try and force myself to sleep only in the mornings from now on!

A previous crewmember from one of the first world voyages (Todd Jarrell) said: "You sleep twice a day, so it's like having two days in one day. It's like having two opportunities to make the best of each day.": (Published August 23, 2002 Herald Citizen Newspaper).  He has a point, when you wake up, it is like a new day, you go through the same routine, brush teeth, go to the loo etc and you do really feel like you have 2 days in one!

I realised today that I have been wearing the same pair of pants (underwear for the yanks) since Panama,.. now for someone who has always changed them religiously every day this gave me a bit of a shock,.. it’s been 6 days!!!

The light winds continued today and we are therefore sailing pretty much due west when you take the drift into consideration…. People are getting bored of just sailing along the equator but not actually getting anywhere near it!!

The captain tried to tack the ship round today which was fun, we had almost the entire crew up and actively getting involved, but we lost momentum and she ground to a halt before the bow came round into the wind so the captain had to bear off and we ended up wearing ship i.e. gybeing,… but later in the day once the wind had come up a bit we managed it easily with the only spanner in the works being Siri’s near disappearance over the edge when her lanyard got caught in the brace she was easing!!

This afternoon the sun began to show and we had a wonderful rainbow just off the stern, it was the first time I had ever seen a rainbow where I could see both ends in the same area… very pretty!!

As the sun set I was helming and saw a small silhouette pass the chart house, jump up onto a rail and nimbly disappear into the monomoy hanging from the davits,… I didn’t think Chibley came up on the quarterdeck now she was older, let alone jump up in the monomoy!  Apparently she had done this the day before too,..  however there were people on hand and she was coaxed down with soft voices and at the last minute a brusque grab of her pelt… she didn’t look very happy!

They say animals can sense disaster,.. hope this isn’t the case and she just wanted somewhere to get away from all the smelly pollywogs!

Yet another day of sailing west, but not quite enough south to cross the equator, we are presently 00º 08 minutes  off the equator i.e. 8 nautical miles from crossing on a bearing of west by south

We really expect the crossing to be tomorrow,..  I am getting bored of all the pollywog/shellback bollocks!  I just want to get it over with now!

This evening it seems like we have finally cleared the itcz,.. skies cleared completely just as we finished watch and all the stars were visible for the first time since we left panama,.. strange to see how they rotate,… the plough has inverted completely since I last saw it…  also saw the space station zooming past the moon, that was quite surreal to see,.. imagine astronauts up there watching us!!  Looking forward to good weather tomorrow though!

Oh, and Neptune’s revenge!!!

Had another splicing workshop, George wore a bin bag in anticipation of the crossing event,.. but never happened,. Captain took the piss out of her!

 

21/06/2010 - random panamanian fishermen

This morning’s watch was interesting, the fishing boats we had seen on the previous watch were back in force and we received a message over the radio referencing our latitude and longitude.  I was called to communicate with the mother ship who was surprisingly courteous and had a clear and intelligible voice without much of an accent who wanted to know our course as he couldn’t see our nav lights (strange as we had just passed him), when we confirmed he let us know that his fleet was fishing with long lines and to pass to the north if possible, but if we were under sail, then no problem.  I confirmed and we closed our conversation with a “Buenas noches”,..  It’s nice to feel useful! J

Paul almost went over in the exact spot I did the day before on the quarterdeck and I also learnt that Sophie took 3 tumbles the day before and one nasty one in particular exactly where I had gone down, so we decided to wash the quarterdeck down with soapy water,.. nice to know I’m not the only clumsy bastard!

Juan Pedro the Booby has disappeared,… hope Donald hasn’t put him in a stew!!

On lookout today I decided that flying fish fly in a swarm, not a flock! (see 28/05/2010).  Shawn disagrees as he considers this too “insecty”,.. but that’s exactly what they look like

We discovered that we are making almost no headway and are heading almost exactly west, so all sails were taken in and we motored for a large part of the day, however this afternoon we set all sails and our course was “full and bye” once again,… who knows when we are actually going to arrive in Galapagos,.. I’m guessing Thursday…

So yet again Neptune’s revenge on the pollywogs has been delayed… George is also trying to figure out ways to get the shellbacks back… not sure she’s going to get anything though!  Maybe we’ll cross tomorrow,.. but at the current heading, I doubt it!

 

20/06/2010 - Getting Nervous,.. 0º is getting close!

I was woken this morning to find “He knows where you sleep” written on the mirror in the bathroom,… Neptune fever has gripped the ship as random and sinister messages from King Neptune have been found in a number of different areas on board,.. even in Georgie’s bunk, “snip, snip” (in relation to her hair, which she is terrified of losing) was written across the top… either the pro-crew have way too much time on their hands or King Neptune really is very determined and has the combined forced entry abilities of Father Christmas, the tooth fairy’s ability to get really close to you while you sleep and Freddie Krueger’s Malhumour and evil tendencies!

We should have reached the equator today and had the “crossing the line” ceremony, but as it happens, the wind didn’t turn as we expected and instead of being able to maintain a steady south westerly course we were forced to head west as we were sailing instead of motoring.

Early this afternoon we picked up an unlikely hitchhiker, Juan Pedro (or Bobby for short) the Booby,.. he seems very at home perched mere centimetres from people and unlike our other hitchhikers, actually seems quite healthy,.. he has been seen fishing and flying so hopefully he is just catching a lift to the galapagos, and will not go the way of Barry the Bat, Dave the bird and the other bird who disappeared before we had a chance to name him!.. Juan Pedro does have red feet though, so probably not a blue-footed booby!  Booby jokes have abounded today!

A small pod of very large pilot whales passed our stern today, their short stubby noses and curved dorsal fins were instantly recognizable and reminded me of my time with Proyecto Ambiental Tenerife when I was studying their behaviour and building a photo library to identify the different individuals… these Pacific guys were significantly larger than the ones I used to study though!

A brief workshop on sail theory taught us about how square rigged sail ships could head up to wind, close haul and the closest that they can sail is “Full and By”,.. i.e. making sure the sails are full of wind and by the wind and heading up just before they luff.

Fell over again this morning,.. wasn’t even hurrying,.. my feet just slid out from under me…. God knows why!!!  I think Neptune is just playing with me.

Fingers crossed we will reach the equator tomorrow,.. hard to believe that we are this close to the equator and it is relatively chilly, had to wear a shirt today for the first time sailing since before panama!  If we reach the equator then we will have the “crossing the line” ceremony for sure,.. I really just want to get it over with now,.. getting bored of all the hype!!

People are rebelling against the shellbacks, this afternoon, they all came out with protective masks on,… in an attempt to make them look silly, I then found the stash and painted amusing faces on them,.. let’s see if we can get them to wear them!

Jehlie wants to start a rebel movement,.. and there was a bro-meeting to evaluate the proposition,.. Bro-words invented so far: (any of the vaguely homosexual-esque words are made immediately manly and hetero by the mere addition of “bro” anywhere in the word.

Brobation: When you are on probation to become either a Bro or an honorary Bro ej. Jehle is still on Brobation

Brocabulary: Verbiage used by and in relation to “Bros”.

Broment: A moment of intimacy between two or more bro’s. Ej. Dan and Liam shared a broment over a beer

Brotograph: A photo of bros

Bro-date: Often comes before a broment, normally in a bar or pub

Brodeo: A bro-meeting normally organized in advance

Bromance: When 2 bros get close

Bromittee meeting: A meeting of Bro’s normally in the bro-cave

Brodacious: When something is awesome

19/06/2010 - Ridiculous facial hair

Good nights sleep,.. not raining as I woke up!

Holy stoning,.. Leonard wondered if the way you holy stoned in any way reflected the way you had sex, both Leonard and I were slow and methodical covering a larger area, whereas Fred used very quick short strokes… honestly, I hope I never find out!!

Since we figure we’re going to get shaved tomorrow anyway, some of the guys decided to have a “ridiculous beard” contest,.. I had only not shaved for a couple of days, so mine wasn’t nearly as impressive as the others, but you can judge for yourself by the photos!

Everyone sick with “panama flu”,.. George was apparently the first to get it (we assume off some dodgy Panamanian fella!) and it is now doing the rounds, the ship is a virus’ heaven, lots of hot, sweaty, damp, moist people within spitting distance of each other 24 hours a day…  fingers crossed I avoid this particular sinus bug!

Donald’s birthday today, so he was given the day off,.. the girls on galley came through and created a great lunch, dinner and baked enough birthday cake for Donald to sate 52 appetites,.. go bat girls!

We took what could be potentially the last foto of all the bro’s with hair,.. new word: brotograph!

During captain’s workshop on long splicing (which we all got wrong!) there was a shout of FISH ON!! I legged it to the aloha deck where Mate Mike had just got to the rod before me… get the Gaff he shouted, I grabbed the hook and waited to see the enormous fish that the bent rod indicated was thrashing about on the other end!... from the distance it was hard to tell what sort of fish it was, it didn’t seem to give much of a fight and actually seemed to skip along the surface,.. it was yellow and seemed to be already dead… get Shawn to bring it in, they yelled,.. Shawn reeled in the strange animal and as it got closer, it was easy to tell that it wasn’t actually an animal, but a canvas bag!  It appears Neptune has sent us a message!!  Shawn reeled it in and opened the sand filled bag.. (input message).  We are 1º 45’ from the equator, it appears that Neptune has something horrible planned for us pollywogs…. Tomorrow we’ll discover our fate!!

The trainees are all gossiping about what will happen tomorrow… some of the girls are terrified, others indifferent, the guys are mostly resolved to accept whatever fate King Neptune bestows upon us!

 

18/06/2010 - Healthy living and a note from Neptune

I Didn’t sleep as well last night and so wakeup this morning was a little less welcome.  As with the previous day the first few hours of our watch were pretty quiet, but then we started sailhandling… Nadja explained that this really is the sail handling watch as if we are going to set or furl sail we are liable to do it before it gets dark – so it will be our watch to do it, and as soon as it gets light sails are often set again so that’s us as well… looking forward to learning more about sail handling.

Dr. Gary was checking out another crewmember’s blood pressure and while he had the monitor out I asked if I could check mine too, especially since the doctor in Spain had told me to keep an eye on it, amazingly my heart rate was 116 over 67 with a bpm of 53,.. this was quite a change from my previous average of 140 over 87!  Just shows you what a couple of months of sea air and (relatively) healthy living can do for you!!! I was pretty surprised!

I heard a shout of “acrobatic dolphins off the starboard beam” and ran on deck to see some very dark dolphins with a very narrow caudal peduncle jumping just a few boat lengths from the ship, they were really going for it and looked like they were having a lot of fun!

We also received a letter from Neptune today printed and posted on the scuttle door (apparently King Neptune has email!). It shows his disdain for “Pollywogs” i.e. people who haven’t yet crossed the equator, and his respect for “shellbacks”.  We are presently at 4º North, as each degree is 60 miles, we therefore have approximately 240 miles before we cross the equator, at 140 miles a day we should arrive somewhere around Sunday.  Now the details are purposefully hazy, but as I understand it, Neptune comes aboard and judges each pollywog who then has to undergo an initiation,.. in the past this has been anything from being covered in slops, to having their heads shaved, to going aloft naked….  Who knows what they will come up with this time,… all the girls are terrified of having their hair cut off and there are some who really won’t enter into the spirit of it… I am expecting at the very least to have my head shaved, quite looking forward to seeing what my scar looks like after all these years! (I had a pretty serious SCUBA accident when I was younger and took a chunk out of my skull leaving a pretty impressive scar under the hairline) And if I have to get covered in slops, well I’ll just shower afterwards and if I have to go up naked,… well, I’ve got nothing to hide or be ashamed of!!  I’ll let you know what happens on Sunday, or probably Monday as it is also rumoured that everyone gets shitfaced too!  Quite looking forward to it… hope it doesn’t rain!

The weather slowly worsened as the afternoon wore on and manropes were put out in case it got any worse, at a guess I think the winds reached 25mph with a swell of about 12ft, so not much in the big scheme of things!  I was on lookout and the bow was being inundated as she buried herself in the big swells, apparently one of the pro-crew had her porthole open and got soaked!  Fred and I were ordered out to the headrig to lash down the outer jib,.. we got some fantastic footage, albeit a bit dark, but it was great fun watching the ship plunge in and out of the waves from way out in front of her!

Big swell, man ropes up and me n Fred out on the bowsprit… got a good video!

 

15/06/2010 - Calamari .vs Chicken

Today was really hot, and I ended up being on galley, we spent the morning preparing the food for lunch as Donald was away on a purchasing trip.  Tammy and I decided on Chicken Curry which should have been easy to make, especially since I had found a freezer bag full of what seemed to be pre-prepared chicken strips.  There was something slightly not right about the chicken and so I asked at least 4 people what they thought,.. .all seemed convinced that it was chicken, so I set it to defrost in a large pail of water in the galley.

Every time I checked it, I tried to ascertain that it was chicken, but until some parts of it were totally defrosted it was impossible.  An hour before lunch was meant to be served a section was sufficiently defrosted for me to check it,.. yep, you guessed it, we had an hour to prepare the chicken curry and I had successfully defrosted a huge bag of calamari!! Unsure as to whether calamari would go with the veggies we had prepared I frantically began ransacking the freezers for pieces of chicken, however I was only able to find quartered chickens, which, as luck would have it, hadn’t defrosted yet so I set about stripping them of any meat I could find and Tammy began braising like never before.. we were 20mins late n the end, which as it happens was fine as another truckload of provisions had arrived and no-one was ready to eat!

It was sweltering on board and the frustration of being able to see the pub from the ship, but being unable to go there was tangible to everyone, so we were consoled with a power shower on deck just before dinner… the evening was topped off with a screening of The Usual Suspects, and another night was spent on the hatch dreaming of my soft hotel bed and cool air conditioning.  Chibley stepped on my face once or twice, but you get used to that after a while!

 

17/06/2010 - First day on the four to eight!

My first 4am wakeup,.. not too bad as I slept really well last night.  The sea temp has cooled down and with it the temperature of the salon has dropped.
The first couple of hours of the 4-8 watch are pretty quiet as it is pitch black,.. sunrise was at 05.58 this morning and luckily I was sent aloft to loose the t’gallant, quite an experience watching the sun come up over the horizon from a vantage point of 30 metres up, dammit,.. forgot the camera on deck!  Once on deck again I encountered Brad who despite looking pretty chirpy informed me that he had yet again vomited, and this time he didn’t even make it to the side, but upchucked on deck!  Days since Brad has vomited: 0 the countdown begins yet again!
I find that the first couple of days I feel a bit queasy in the evenings so take a tablet just until I get my legs back, but he didn’t seem to want to..
Once the sun comes up we have a number of different responsibilities on this watch, the most important one seems to be a full deckwash with salt water and a rinse down with fresh water (aka Sujeing), however another element is the “Holy Stoning”. Now Holy Stoning is basically the precursor to sandpaper and consists of throwing sand down on deck, covering the area with water, kneeling down and scraping a 2by4 covered in canvas across the deck.  The previous 4-8 watch managed 1m2 in a month,.. Hopefully we’ll do better! I have to be honest, we could be so much more effective with a scraper and some real sandpaper, or god forbid an electric sander, but on the plus side this is a fantastic way of getting my oblique’s and triceps trained up for surfing in Bali… positive mental attitude is mandatory on board, especially when manpower is so abundant and cash so scarce!
We went through man overboard procedures, abandon ship and fire drills with our new mate and professional crew and there weren’t many differences so that was good .
I was put on wakeups this morning, and was surprised to find that mate Mike needs at least 2 if not 3 wakeups at regular intervals,.. although I guess it’s easier for us to wake up given that there are others getting up all around us!
The new watch seems to be a good mix, there are always those who are more adept than others, but everyone appears to want to take part and jump in,.. so I think we’re good!
The Afternoon watch could be summed up by the word “Huge”, we discovered a huge moth in the scullery, a huge fish grabbed one of the lines, zig-zagged in the wake of the ship and then broke the hook and we had a huge squally bit (apparently I am the one who they follow as now the old 8-12 watch hasn’t had any!).  Now this was a squally bit to end all squally bits and the torrential downpour was associated with some pretty high winds.  We were worried the terrapins on the galley roof were going to drown, but luckily someone had put some canvas down over them.  Nadja suddenly ran past me and yelled to collect the rainwater,.. now since Chris the engineer had stated that we were using too much freshwater, this did not seem strange to me!  However when I was told it was purely for the 2 wooden barrels, I was a bit put out.  We had brought 2 wooden barrels from Lunenberg, but didn’t realise they had to be kept moist and so needed liquid in them otherwise the wood would begin to become permeable.  However, there was rain enough to fill the barrels and keep every other container on the ship full with water and could be used for washing, sujeing and showering if need be!
Even with the squall, we still had a significant amount of sail handling and it is clear that by the end of my time at this watch I’ll be a lot happier with my lines and a more competent crewmember.

16/06/2010 - Leaving Panama

Today we are leaving Panama, I can’t say I am disappointed to say goodbye, I am sure I would have enjoyed Panama more if I had had a chance to escape the city and tour around a little.  It is a shame I never got to see the rainforests and the surf beaches, but who knows, maybe I’ll be back one day!  I certainly won’t miss the big city though, although the Casco Viejo will be the place to visit in about 10 years. 
Can’t wait till the Galapagos, but I have to manage my expectations carefully. The image I have in my mind of the Galapagos islands is of a tropical unspoilt biological paradise where flightless birds and iguanas stroll about nonchalantly in the lack of direct predators and where I can picture Darwin developing his theories and suppositions.  I know it isn’t going to be like that now, but I don’t want to be disappointed so I am trying to convince myself that it is going to be a built up metropolis,… hopefully it will be somewhere in between.
This morning was a lot of “hurry up and wait”, we had to wait for immigration to clear us out, wood to be delivered, more food and various other bits and pieces.  I honestly can’t believe how much this ship can fit, we have loaded up with 52 people, food for a small army for 6 weeks, and a huge amount of supplies for Pitcairn.  The hold is filled to the brim, and the breezeways are now little more than minute shafts due to the amount of wood stored there, but somehow there is always room for more! 
Our watches have been changed and I am now on the 4-8 watch.  Looks like a good mixture of people and I have a few from the old 8-12 watch to keep me company.  I think we are going to managed in a different way from how Sophie and Katelinn managed us, but it’ll be interesting to see how we develop as sail handlers as this watch is allegedly THE sail handling watch and I desperately need the practise.
Sophie told me she almost cried when Jo asked her if she could still come and see her for a motivational morning speech even though she isn’t on her watch anymore… aaah.  Although I’ll miss those little speeches and associated arm swings too!
We finally moved away from the dock at about 3pm and the captain called a general muster to explain the situation; we were now in an area that is known for its light changeable breezes so we would be motoring for the next few days, especially since the prevailing wind is from the south, which is where we want to go.   We should hit the doldrums (also known as the inter-tropical convergence zone) in a day or two and the Island we would be visiting in the Galapagos is San Cristobal.  The Islands are approximately 850 miles away and we have to make a slightly curved trajectory so we should reach them in about 8-10 days.  Before then however we will be crossing the equator so by the time we arrive we will have been converted from “pollywogs” to “shellbacks”.
He informed us that over the last 2 days we had taken on 20 tonnes of food and 10 tonnes of fuel, this had caused us to drop in the water by about 2 inches!
Looking at our aloha deck it could well be true, it looks like a jungle, with bunches of bananas, pineapple and mangos hanging from every beam!
There was absolutely no wind as we left port and schools of bait fish could be clearly seen on the surface of the glassy water, Paul was getting excited as we passed between schools and rightly so, in the space of an hour we caught 3 fish, 2 tuna, and one Spanish mackerel, unfortunately we only discovered it was a mackerel after trawling through his fish book and so it had already been thrown back as it was too small, one of the tunas was deemed too small as well, can’t believe I was on helm again and so couldn’t see any of this!
As with most first days back at sea I began to feel a little seasick as the swell increased and I took a pill just to be sure.  I am still surprised that after sailing my whole life and never being seasick I still feel nauseas, bit irritating really as it really does affect how you behave on board if you are not feeling 100%.  Everyone was absolutely exhausted and despite the excitement on leaving Panama and heading for the Galapagos the atmosphere on board was muted and became more so as the evening matured.
After first watch I was in bed by 20.15 and was out for the count until my wakeup at 03.30.

14/06/2010 - The Ruins

Went for breakfast in my hotel and looked over the balcony, for a second I thought I was back in Barcelona, the view looked just like Tibidabo from my flat there.

I was back at the ship for about 9am as there were murmurings about going surfing and I really had the urge to get out of Panama and a surf trip was the perfect excuse.

I bumped into a group heading off for breakfast and internet and jumped on the bandwagon, we found a bar on the dock not far from the ship and sat there internetting (yes I think it is now a verb!) and chatting about plans for the day.  I understood that Rebecca was leading a surf trip at so at 11pm so at 12 I was back at the ship and ready to go, only to be told by Rebecca on her return that they were going tomorrow instead,.. damn, damn, damn!!

So instead I hooked up with Niko (accident waiting to happen) and Fred (Mike) and we decided that we wanted to go to the ruins of Old Panama, which was the old Panama city ransacked and destroyed by pirates in (can’t remember when exactly!).  We managed to get a cab there for 4 dollars only to find the place was closed on Mondays,.. typical!  However, there were people wandering around inside and we were advised by a random worker there to ask the security guard and see if he could let us in.  On asking him, the guy explained that he was just kicking some people who came in over the fence on the other side, with a wry smile I told him that we could have come in over that side and he could kick us out in 40mins if that would be ok.  He agreed for 10 dollars for the 3 of us!  Result!  So we dashed him the cash in a surreptitious handshake and were swiftly ushered through the gate in the understanding that he never let us in!

The ruins were fascinating, but they were just that; ruins, and there wasn’t too much information available outside.  There is a museum there too, but I think it would have been considerably more complicated to bribe our way in there than the outside ruins!  If anything it gave us the opportunity to feel like we had left the city as it really was a very lush area and as long as you ignored the skyscraper landscape towering above the treeline, you could almost feel like you were on the outskirts of a rainforest!

We managed to hail a cab from outside the ruins and discovered we were passengers in the cab of a policeman who moonlighted as a taxi driver.  Now this guy was the epitome of everything a policeman shouldn’t be, we asked him if he could recommend a bar where we could get something cold to drink and he immediately tried to convince us to go to a bar he knew where you could get girls to do anything for you, at a price…  he even decided to pick up a girl who looked like she was heading into the centre and herd her into the cab with us, so that we could have some female company, she was about 14!

We managed to discourage him from taking us to a whorehouse and he dropped us at a bar not 5 mins walk from Fred’s hotel which was perfect, a typical Panamanian bar, football and booze everywhere, and we sat and enjoyed a couple of bottles of beer before Niko and I decided we should get back to the ship to find out what the plan was for dinner.

On returning to the ship there were a group interested in going to the Casco Viejo for a final meal and we headed out en masse to find a place to eat.  In the Plaza Mayor we discovered a nice restaurant with a large outside table and installed ourselves.. the food was good and reasonably priced, but the tasty jugs of sangria jacked the price up unbelievably as 10 jugs at 20 dollars a pop really make a difference!

I don’t know why, but people were exhausted again and most people were pooped enough at 10.30 to want to head back to the ship and bed!

 

13/06/2010 - Casco Viejo

Watch was mustered at 8 to be dismissed and we turned up to shouts of happy Birthday from the oncoming watch,.. it was Logan’s birthday and apparently he had promised to wear whatever he was given for his birthday,..appropriately he was presented with a pair of boxer shorts signed by everyone in the watch, a hat and a bowtie… he looked quite smart, and not a little silly!!!

Dan, Josh and myself decided to go and see the Casco Viejo in the daytime,..  it was quite different than traipsing through it at night and I was finally able to check out a map and realised how close everything was,.. on more than one occasion we were warned not to go down certain streets, it was nice that people seemed concerned about our safety, but a little disconcerting that so many areas were deemed “peligroso”.  The Casco Viejo is a fascinating environment and reminds me of Barcelona’s old town, about 20 years ago.  They are renovating all the buildings one by one and some are absolutely beautiful, whereas others are just façades or merely 4 walls! It will be quite the place to be in about 10 years assuming things are renovated rapidly, if not, the undergrowth could overtake all the infrastructure and destroy it completely, there were trees at least a few metres tall growing out of the side of some buildings!  However, we are talking about an administration that owes millions to the company that makes the car licence plates (the reason that so many cars in Panama have no licence plates!) so whether they have money to redevelop this area is doubtful!

That afternoon (after another brief visit to the mall) I decided to rent a hotel room, I was surprised at myself for this, but I had decided that after sleeping on the hatch for the last few nights I deserved to be able to sleep in an air conditioned comfy bed, shower myself clean and enjoy uninterrupted internet without having to hack into someone else’s network.  I booked myself into the Bahia Suites hotel in town under the recommendation of our incredibly friendly taxi driver from the first day,¡ Jaime.  A fairly basic room for 69$, but there was a shower and reliable, albeit slow, internet, as I turned on the telly to have a brief kip before finding out the plans for the evening I was surprised to find the majority of the films on the channels to be in English and Master & Commander in full flow on one of them,.. perfect!  I had been wanting to watch it again, now that I understand a little more what being on a tall ship is like!  I settled in for a relaxing evening before heading out for dinner with the waitress from the previous night.

I was woken from my daze a little while later by a huge noise from outside and was greeted with a procession outside my room window, with full brass band,.. I was later informed that this was practising for the Independence day parade… wish we could have been here for that, looked like it was going to be a huge celebration!

At 8pm I headed out to a 24 hour restaurant with Lucimar and we had a lovely mixed fish grill and talked continuously for a good few hours before she had to go to work, I walked her home and got a cab back to my hotel,.. showered again!  Hot water and an air conditioned room,… absolute luxury!

12/06/2010 - A quiet night in!

Watch started with me a little on the quiet side as I waited for the hangover to dissipate, which was surprisingly mild, and spent the morning hanging on the headrig painting the non-white bits white and the red bits red..

The waitress Lucimar turned up mid afternoon with 2 friends for the tour we had agreed and I have never seen 3 people more excited about seeing the ship, between the three of them they must have taken 100 photos and were fascinated by all the different elements of the ship, unfortunately we had just oiled the quarterdeck so they weren’t able to go up to the wheel, I promised them they could come back a few days later.

Our watch had agreed that there was to be absolutely no drinking on duty (personally I was surprised we were able to drink at all on watch) and so the evening was spent quietly watching Happy Gilmore on the hatch.  Thank God!

 

11/06/2010 - Panama City and the Casco Viejo

Nicksa, Donald, Dan, Jimmy, Fred and myself were up early to ensure we could catch the first game of the World Cup; South Africa vs. Mexico,… both teams played horribly and it was all Nicksa (Nick from South Africa) could do to keep from crying at certain points.. the second half was a different game completely and it could have been anyone’s match,.. a 1-1 draw was an acceptable score!

We decided that we needed to go shopping to buy things for the ship that we were missing as well as presents for our hosts on Pitcairn.  Apparently what happens on Pitcairn is that we go ashore for 2 days and nights and the islanders put up a crewmember each, in return we bring them gifts.  We were advised previously that “useful” gifts are the most common way to earn good favour!

We asked the taxi driver to drop us off at the mall,.. now we had been joking that since everyone had been talking about buying things in Panama the country must be one long strip mall, however when we saw the Albrook mall we were forced to eat our words, none of us had seen anything like it, it was quite simply the most enormous shopping centre I had ever seen.  To give an idea of size it would probably take you 45 minutes to walk from one end to the other, a good few km long!!

Dan & I opted for the hardware store type of useful and like kids in a candy store we bought every useful piece of kit we could afford!  So for the remainder of the afternoon we walked around armed with at least 4 machetes each, a range of screwdrivers, knives and (in my case) a load of industrial Velcro, if we’d have thrown in a Swiss army knife it would have made Macgyver’s day!  But I did feel that we could walk through any area of the Casco Viejo without fear with our shopping!

This evening I was having a drink with Joanie and Sophie on the dock when Nicksa turned up and advised me that he was going to head into town to meet up with people, not having a plan of attack for this evening I sprang back to the ship, spruced up and was back at the gate within 10 minutes.  We met the pro crew at a bar called Mojitos sin Mojitos in the Casco Viejo owned by an American called Eric who had moved down here a few years ago and showed no signs of returning.  Their burgers were fantastic and sangria was more than acceptable so we hung around until close on midnight at which point everyone seemed to want a change of atmosphere and we headed down to La Casona again… It was much busier than the previous night and was absolutely packed with locals with some funky dance music.

There was a large sheet draped over the only wall and people were drawing on it,.. strangely enough the central image was a ship’s wheel, I discovered Logan, Mike and Rebecca were not only talented seamen, but also talented artists as various images of the Picton Castle began to appear on the canvas! We later discovered that it was to raise money for a local kid who had come off his skateboard, was in a coma and needed money to get him to a good hospital,.. we all donated generously.

The Picton Castle crew are a reggae-mad bunch and despite requesting reggae, nothing was forthcoming so it was decided en masse to find a new venue,..  So we commandeered a couple of cabs and headed into the centre of town and “41 street” which is apparently where all the bars are found,.. we found a couple, but nothing had really got moving and it was widely agreed to head back to El Casco Viejo…. As we entered the area we passed Mojitos sin Mojitos where we came across the remainder of the trainees… Niko was passed out on a chair and Meredith was announcing loudly that she was the best at getting people into places!

I was told that there may be a couple girls on board who had crushes on me, which is a real self confidence boost, but relationships on board have already been shown to be tricky and fickle and we have only been at sea a month.  We have had one breakup, as far as I can tell, 3 (possibly 4) couples that are “together” and the odd surprise hookup.  Rumours abound on the ship and it is impossible to keep everything gossip free, the key here is “see everything, say nothing” and the 3 rules of ship relationships (apparently) are:

·         Keep it below deck (i.e. absolutely no relationship except for the professional on deck).

·         Keep your head (Breakups do happen and the other person will probably hook up with another crewmember).

·         Ensure you maintain other friendships apart from the romantic one.

But I have no intention of shitting on my own doorstep, at least not until the final section of the voyage,… we’ll have to see what happens!

Things begin to get a bit hazy at this point, but apparently we didn’t stay long and headed back to the ship,… I am not sure exactly where I woke up, but I remember having a pancake thrust in my face and pictures surfaced later on in the day that show me asleep on one of the salon tables,… I still reckon they were photoshopped!!!

10/06/2010 - The Panama Canal

So as ordered I was up at 3 with Dan to make more coffee than you could point a stick at,.. we made 2 carafes, 2 pots and a big saucepan,.. no mean feat when it takes about 15 mins to boil a kettle.  However, we received compliments, so the effort was obviously worth it!

Even with that amount of coffee, it still ran out after 10 mins and more had to be made,.. 50+ tired crew means a lot of liquid!

At about 04.30 the pilot came aboard and we motored towards the canal, within a few minutes a boat pulled up alongside and the 6 boat crew clambered on board, these guys were really nice and as Mate Mike discovered I could speak Spanish I was put on “communication detail” in case anything needed to be explained to the boat crew… for the first time in over 2 months I felt useful!!!  As with most central/south Americans the main theme was football and I quickly discovered that there were a lot of Real Madrid supporters in the crew,.. but the big surprise was that the Football World Cup starts tomorrow!!!  I had completely forgotten and so had all the football savvy guys on the crew!  It is incredible to think that we are now so disconnected that we can forget about the biggest sporting event held!!  Long discussions were held on the topic of Messi, who would win the world cup etc and I chatted with them over coffee, tea biscuits and “Cocoa/Cacao” which they drank copious amounts of.

From time to time they actually had to do some work and the lines came aboard to be attached to the bits so we could be dragged through the canal and be positioned centrally by the “electric mules” or “locomotora”.  Everyone was banned from the breezeways as they recounted horrifying stories of colleagues who lost both legs when a towing wire parted, flicked out and severed them both in a second!  Then another where a co-worker lost 3 fingers…

Despite telling them my name on numerous occasions, I was monikered “Español” or “Catalan”, which was obviously easier to say than “Liam”,.. didn’t mind though,.. have I mentioned I felt useful!!

WT was sat on the Aloha deck with me and at one point he looked concerned and pointed to one of the bits that was being used by the “electric mules” to pull us along, it was actually parting from the deck!!  We told the boat crew who told me to tell the mate, who would tell their crew boss, who would tell the pilot who would tell the driver of the electric mule…. However when I pointed out the large crack appearing below the bit they started shouting, yelling and waving at the driver of the mule and he let off the line immediately,… so much for the protocol!!  WT and I decided that we would just yell at the driver of the mule as soon as we saw it happening again!!

This crew was only with us until we reached the large man-made lake in the middle of the canal so we bid them farewell and gave them some Picton Castle caps as a goodbye present which they seemed very happy with!

The lake in the middle of the canal was beautiful, lush rainforests bordered it and apparently it was common to see monkeys on the shoreline although I don’t think anyone saw any!

We made the most of the freshwater and carried out a deckwash, and an on deck power shower,.. desperately needed as everyone had been up since 3.45 and was tired, sweaty and dirty.

As we neared the southern side of the canal to go through the “esclosas” or “locks” we were approached by another crew carrying boat,.. now these guys were entrepreneurs in the most extreme sense of the word, as soon as they were on board they started to introduce themselves to all the female crew,.. 2 kisses were mandatory, they immediately started to hard sell key rings, caps and silver dollars (all out of view of the pilot) until they were ordered aft to start preparing the lines… as soon as they came across me they tried to sell me the same sort of things,.. with the addition of a small cube of something that looked like hash,.. perplexed I read the paper that came with this odd looking little brown cube “do not use whilst engaging in oral sex” it declared, and on reading further it became obvious that it was some kind of “delaying” herb,.. I laughed at the guy and told him to put it away.  Realizing they weren’t going to make any sales whilst on board they decided to make the most of the ship and one by one each boat crew member came up to me and requested caps, sweaters etc,.. by the end of the 2 and a half hours they were with us I had had enough of their sleazy ways and simply told them that the captain controlled all that and I would ask, but couldn’t promise anything… when we finally said goodbye to them, they received a Picton Castle Cap each and one of the boat crew approached me and said “is this all?”…  whilst chatting previously to one of them he told me that they thought we were all Americans and that is why they came aboard to try and sell us stuff!  If this was to be our first Panama City experience, it was going to be an interesting few days!

So we were in the Pacific, we passed under the Panama bridge and as we turned the corner into the bay where our marina was we got the first view of Panama City,..  to me it looked like “The City” in London, skyscrapers, most of the tallest still under construction littered the skyline, dark ominous clouds stained the sky above the city (the rest of the sky was clear), to me it looked like something out of a horror film where some horrible claw is about to descend from the heavens!

I don’t know if it is due to having spent the last 2 months in a tiny coastal town in Canada and a month on a ship or just that it is not a nice looking city, but I decided that I really don’t like big cities.  And this is from someone who lived in central London for most of his life!  Maybe I’ll move to some small pacific or Caribbean Island after this trip!

The crossing of the canal had only taken us 8 hours,.. we had expected 13 or 14!!  So our mooring was occupied by a fishing trawler with engine problems and so to ensure they knew we had arrived and try and intimidate them into giving up their spot we moved into the small marina and dropped the anchor,.. everything was fine until the wind changed direction and wee were suddenly in danger of taking out a  section of the marina,… we upped anchor and using the rescue boat to push the bow round we headed out to sea again.  Murphy’s law was in full effect as the fishing trawler suddenly took the opportunity to escape from the marina and we motored back in towards our mooring and dry land… I can’t believe it has only been a few days since we were in Bonaire, everyone is desperate to clean their clothes, get a hotel room, a cold beer etc.. god help us on the pacific crossing when we are 6 weeks without landfall!!

The captain managed the ship perfectly and we moved onto our mooring with the ease and elegance that the ship deserves.  A small crowd had assembled to watch us come in and they happily clicked away as we organized the lines on deck and fixed on chafe gear (canvas, rubber and assorted material that we wrap around the dock lines so that they don’t wear through as the ship moves with the swell whilst moored).  I was sent up to the bowsprit to furl the sails and together with Brad and Dave we managed to furl them incorrectly 3 times… I learnt a lot though!

All hands muster was called and the Captain gave us a briefing on what to expect from Panama and the watch schedule.  Post was also given out and I finally received my Irish Passport and a loving and lengthy letter from my dear parents “love your blog.  Love mum and dad” was all it said… I understand it was sent very hurriedly though.  Sophie received a letter from someone who wrote entirely in non-water resistant ink, the letter had obviously received a good soaking from the inundations over Panama city we had seen as we arrived and about 30% was legible… it’s the thought that counts though, isn’t it?  Hope she could figure out who it was from!

Yet another power shower was required by most people and after a freshwater power shower thanks to the dock’s water supply we headed into town to find somewhere that could quench our thirst and provide us with a cold beer.  After paying a cab driver an extortionate 20 dollars to get to the Casco Viejo (old quarter) we found a lovely little jazz bar called La Platea and I played translator while people ordered drinks and food.  Despite cold beers and cute waitresses, (one whose number I got and invited to see the ship) people wanted to find somewhere to wake us up and we went and got lost in the Casco Viejo (Old neighbourhood) of Panama city.

Found an interesting bar called La Casona,.. Essentially just a ground floor of a dilapidated building on the shore.. they had put 4 tables, some music and a bar,.. very cool.. and before we knew it, it was 1.30am,..  I had been awake for the best part of 24 hours!  Got back to bed!

 

09/06/2010 - Preparing for the Canal

As soon as we were awake, the call “Hand to the windlass” rang out and we moved to an anchorage within spitting distance of the canal entrance. Final preparations for the passage were started as soon as we were mustered and we were met with a damp start to the day as it drizzled non-stop throughout the muster.  The skiff was lifted out of the water and loaded onto the hatch with even more ease than when we moved the Monomoy onto the galley roof, with minimal yelling and the areas that required final monkey shining were repainted or repaired in preparation for the passage the next morning. 

The Captain mustered us to explain the situation which was that the passage would probably take 12 hours, that the pilot would be coming aboard at about 4am, that we should keep out of the line handler’s way and then proceeded to give us some background info on the canal and how it developed over the last 97 years (it was constructed in 1914!).  The stories were pretty horrendous with accounts of how 10000 workers died due to various diseases (mostly mosquito borne), the explanation of the phrase “chinaman’s chance” (when they sent the immigrants down to light the fuse for the dynamite) and various other interesting facts about the canal which I am going to let you google for yourself!

Having washed myself the previous evening at the yacht club I was disappointed on being told to go down into the chain locker and heave up all the lines for the moorings so that everything would be ready for the dock on the pacific side.  As far as I am concerned, the chain locker is even worse than the hold for humidity and I immediately become drenched with sweat in the hold so you can imagine the state I come out of the chain locker in,.. after 10 minutes heaving the mooring lines around and sending them up to the deck Second Mate Paul popped down to confirm the lines he wanted next and on entering exclaimed “Geez, you guys stink!”,.. to be fair to us I think he was confusing the smell of the oil on the chain with our own manly odours.  Regardless, both Shawn and I decided we probably needed a shower,.. 2 showers in 2 days!!!!???? My skin’s going to start to disappear!!

As I took off my harness I glanced down at my trousers and noticed the sweat had completely soaked the top of my trousers,.. they were going to need a wash!!  I combined them with my other work trousers, borrowed some of Niko’s washing liquid and went to work,.. even after the 3rd rinse, the water was still black,.. which brought home just how filthy they were,.. and they were clean only 4 days beforehand!!

The 8-12’s were on night watch and I was to be on watch with “Mike 5” (or “Jelly” as it had been rumoured that he could be called – later discovered it is spelt Jehle) at 23h,.. I was looking forward to showing him how to do the ship check, check the anchor, fill out the log correctly etc, but within a few minutes Mate Mike had decided that my coffee making skills were more useful than my instructional skills and put me on the 3am watch with Dan with a clear “LOTS OF COFFEE TO BE MADE” note next to the amendment.

After yet another power shower, I was sat in the salon enjoying a small glass of wine with Vía, Leonard, Jimmy, and Tiina.  Whilst discussing peoples strengths and weaknesses, in her normal straightforward, no messing way Tiina piped up with a phrase that I think summed up how most of us feel about our co-trainees “I thought all my friends at home were interesting and incredible people, but since I’ve been on board, they all just seem really normal!  You guys are all incredible!” I couldn’t agree more, it was completely true, complimentary to all us and an indication of the varied and interesting type of people we have on board, I think we are all going to learn as much from each other and about ourselves through that as we will from the pro-crew about the ship!

 

08/06/2010 - The Yacht Club

Another day of monkey shining greeted us this morning and never has a monkey looked so shiny!  I spent the morning painting rusty bits of the quarterdeck yellow and was given a ladder to clean up and put grip tape on as apparently the Panamanian crew require certain criteria to be reached before they will set foot on a ladder.  Paula read the requirements and there are something like 17 pages of ladder requirements to be met!  I felt quite honoured to be given such an important task and I stuck the grippy tape on that ladder like my life depended on it!

As soon as I had lashed that ladder in place WT immediately gave me another to do,… the curse of a job well done on the ship is that you tend to get given the same job over and over if you do it well!!

Another prerequisite of the canal traverse is that all the boats had to be placed inboard (normally they sit on davits hanging off the side of the ship) and I was very interested to see how we were going to manage this.  It wasn’t without the odd panicked shout, but between 3 tackles and 50 crewmembers it went surprisingly smoothly and  the was fairly straightforward to lift the boat out of the water and place on top of the galley house and shouting was kept to a minimum as everyone followed their orders,..

We were moored off the XXXX yacht club and having been on duty all day, our watch was free to go ashore and make the most of the showers, pool, restaurant, and more importantly, bar that the yacht club had to offer.

As we walked into the bar the cold air conditioned hit us in the face like a cold wet fish, refreshing, cooling, yet at the same time a little disconcerting and initially uncomfortable,.. it was so cold it actually hurt our throats as we inhaled!  It didn’t take long to get used to the cool air though and the ice cold beers slipped down our necks like the drips of condensation on the bottles.

I stepped outside to see some of the crew who had gone for a swim and as the sweat erupted instantly on my skin I decided a swim was definitely in order,..  the water was great and I spent a good 15 minutes pleasantly soaking and chatting neck deep in it (although mostly because if I stood up I would just start sweating again!).  Swimming was one thing, but I felt like a freshwater shower would really wake me up and make me feel a 100 times better and found a small shower just by the pool, only the cold water worked, which was fine, the door didn’t close (which was also fine except someone walked in and went to the loo whilst I was showering!).  I shaved, washed and saw myself in a mirror for the first time in about a month,.. holy crap, I really have lost weight,.. damn love handles are still there, but I am generally looking a lot thinner.  Donald’s food is not the healthiest and the carb content  is up there with a big mac meal, but we are obviously burning it all up… interested to know how much I actually weigh now,.. I was 74 kg or 165 pounds when we left Lunenburg,.. will try and weigh myself in Panama.

After the shower and recognition of weight loss I immediately decided I would try and reverse it by having the chicken wing special and yet more beers.  Since we were moving off early the next morning and the bar shut at 9 we all assembled outside on the dock to await Nadja and the 21.30 skiff run.  Myself, Joanie, Michael, Niko and Katie were sat waiting on a small balcony with the security guards office just behind us.  At one point I noticed the TV was on and glanced in, looked away and had a comedic second take, I needed verification;  “Michael”, I asked “Is that hardcore porn they are watching in there?”. “Yep”, he said succinctly after glancing over my shoulder…  Once we had got over the initial shock we found it quite amusing and we were making enough noise about it that the guards obviously overheard, and instead of turning it off, they just knocked on the window, I assume to get us to be quiet, maybe they were having difficulty following the plot!!! 

 

07/06/2010 - Panama a la vista

The engine was running as I came up to deck for breakfast this morning, (an hour after I woke up as I was still on the previous day’s time) and a land mass was already visible in the distance off the port bow, Panama was already in view,.. unless the engine gives up the ghost within the next few hours, then I have definitely lost the ‘time of arrival’ bet

This morning was uneventful, bog standard ship work, but as we approached Panama everyone was commenting on two things; the lushness of the green hills visible on the coast and the quantity of tankers manoeuvring disturbingly close around us.

People were exclaiming how they were going to climb and explore them.

Before long we discovered why there was so much greenery as we could see rainfall in the distance.  The captain was right, it was almost rainy season and we were going to get rain!  It wasn’t until we were all ordered up on deck at about 16.15 that the rain really hit, HARD.. we’ve had storms before, but nothing quite as persistent as this rainfall, it was physically painful to look forward into the oncoming rain and as nothing could happen while it was raining so hard we were all stood around on deck getting soaked for a good half to three quarters of an hour! 

We discovered that after 2 months hard ship work and 45 mins of rain that we could model for “Zombie hands weekly”.  Since we have no moisture left on our hands and the calluses we have formed soften and come away in the wet our hands look like we have aged 50 years in a few minutes!  Fred and Dave were neck and neck, but Fred pulled ahead as the back of his hands really looked like he was 120 years old!

As luck would have it the rain dissipated as we entered Colón, an incredibly industrial port with tens of tankers milling about the entrance to the canal like bargain hunters waiting for the sales to open.  The rain stopped completely as we dropped anchor and the captain came onto deck to explain the situation.  It looks like we are going to be here ‘till Wednesday, but we would be moving into the canal at 3am.  Tomorrow would be a very busy day as nothing can extend past the hull of the ship as we pass through the canal which means that the port anchor has to be brought onboard, the 2 boats must be brought onboard and the yards have to be cockbilled (hoisted up and angled), I honestly have no idea how we are going to get the boats from their davids onboard,.. going to be an interesting and exhausting day!  All the new crew are arriving today, which means we will have more crew than bunks for a couple of days before Crista (our doctor) and Nicksa (who is leaving us to join the Denmark – another tall ship) depart, which is going to be interesting, Katie has to move back into her leaky bunk, a couple of people have agreed to sleep in hammocks and a couple have agreed to sleep on the salon tables!  It is going to be an interesting few days!  We don’t have customs clearance yet to go ashore so as it stands we are stranded on the ship,.. no big issue, but it is a little frustrating to be so close to shore yet not be able to go ashore!

It is strange having new faces aboard and I cannot imagine how the new trainees feel being thrust into a society already built and constructed around a month of preparation for the voyage and a month at sea, bonding through new shared experiences, pushing ourselves to the limits, enduring new environments, new scenarios and in everyone’s case, new relationships with unknowns, be it people places or situations!

As the evening progressed, the distinction between trainee, AB and mate became more distinct, it’s not easy to define the social norms that are created in an environment like this, but the first mate and the captain seem to be very separate from the rest, then there is the group of ab’s who’s experiences, both together and on other ships give them a bond that is difficult to break and finally there are our trainees, whose bond is formed as we grow into experienced seamen.  I hope the barriers will be broken down as the voyage matures and we get to know our mates and Abs on a more level footing.  We have heard much about their adventures and personalities through rumours, but they always present us with their respectable and responsible façade,.. we shall see!

The trainees hung out either on the hatch or the well deck, whilst the ab’s played extreme dominos in the fo’c’sle head and the captain and first mate stayed in the mess.

Bed beckoned early and after a cigar and a few shots of rum I was in bed by 10.30!

06/06/2010 - Seamanship Derby

At breakfast I decided I really needed a haircut, it had been a good few months since my last one and the heat and sweatiness meant that I constantly felt like I had dirty hair and an even dirtier pillow!  Maggie, the purser of the ship, is learning how to cut hair and after seeing her handiwork on a number of other crew members, decided to go for it.  It took mere minutes and was a very professional job, made even more remarkable given that it was carried out in 10-12ft seas!

Our watch was a very relaxed affair this morning, as it was a Sunday there was no ship work so we busied ourselves practising our lines, our knots, boxing the compass and doing maintenance on our belongings.  For me today’s job was to sew back together my sandals which were beginning to show signs of wear and tear and had begun to resemble roadkill attached to my feet.  I spent a good hour ensuring that all the stitches were more or less straight,.. my sandals now more closely resembled Frankenstein’s monster than roadkill, but at least they would now stay on my feet,.. or at least that’s what I thought.  Within a few minutes one of the stitches had come out as I realised that the synthetic twine I had used was not gripping itself and the knots were coming undone.  As I constantly remind myself, another day, another lesson learned!  Oh well, more to do for next Sunday’s maintenance hour!

It was announced that the seamanship derby was to begin at 15h and so after lunch our watch congregated on the hatch to go over our introductory skit.  Jo had spent a great part of the previous 2 day’s watches creating the “Real Housewife’s of the Picton Castle” which apparently Americans knew all about, but I had no idea.  To sum up, it is a reality version of desperate housewives and given that we are the “domestics watch” we were going to create a Picton castle version.  There were a lot of in-jokes and a little dressing up, but all-in Jo did a fantastic job and after a brief rehearsal and the distribution of sarongs (our uniform apparently!) we were ready.

At 15h a general muster was called and before long the hatch was filled with trainees and crew alike, all dressed up in line with their watch’s skit theme.  The 12-4’s went first with a bizarre “we do it in the dark” rap song which was actually very amusing.  The 4-8’s version of “then I got stoned” needed a little more rehearsal, and to be honest went on a bit,.. but was also very funny.  Our watch carried out the Housewives of Picton Castle skit with aplomb, some of the jokes were well received, but a few were a little too subtle for our audience’s obviously crude taste and were missed but all in all a good performance and we earned enough points with our bribe of home-made marshmallow rice crispy things to earn us an acceptable 2 out of 3 points.  As we discovered our competition had made a real investment in bribes and we stood empty handed and looking a little frustrated as watch after watch handed out cold beers to the judging panel and earning extra points for each one!

The following challenge was a “pin chase”, now we had been led to believe that a line/rope would be called and we would have to run to it (except of course you never run on board, only “walk sharply”).  This was the case in only about 2 of the 20-odd chases! There were bizarre ship parts that even some of the pro-crew had never heard of, the second mate shouted out a fishing line, the captain yelled out some ship parts in Norwegian and general confusion ensued as people misheard lines and ran in the wrong direction, Bob even sat down in a huff and refused to play as she deemed it “a silly game” and was only brought out of her sulk when chocolate cake was promised at dinner.

Some people got overly competitive as this part of the event developed and there were bloodied shins, people slipping over on deck and not a small amount of pushing and shoving on the way up the stairs to the quarterdeck

For the next challenge all the mates uncoiled all the lines on the hatch and welldeck and each watch was timed on how long it took to coil all the lines, the judges then evaluated the quality of the coils,.. we kicked arse on the time, but apparently our quality was a little lacking, and despite bring my speakers on deck in the hope of gaining some style points we were robbed and given a paltry 33 points.  However, we brought it home in the next two events, knot tying and boxing the compass, Bob even got us bonus point for being able to tie a bowline one-handed behind her back!!  A secret talent that no-one knew she had!

The final event was a bucket race, which involved dunking a bucket over the side and filling a tote with water, the first team to fill it wins.  Despite losing a member of our team who injured herself and having a bucket with a hole, we still did sterling work and came in second.

Once the final scores were tallied, we came second overall, but as Sophie pointed out, ours was a moral victory, the other teams had to rely on bribes to ensure their points, yet we didn’t use such underhand tactics and still came a close second… it was mentioned that the watches may rotate and we would soon find ourselves reorganized and allocated to new watches with new watchmates, I have to say I am quite content in the watch as it stands and we all get on well… hope we don’t change soon!

This evening we are “retarding” the hours, despite sounding like a non-pc way of insulting people this actually means that we are reorganizing the watches relative to the new time zone as some watched cannot do their allocated ship’s work as the sun either comes up too late or sets too early.  To this end, each watch will extend their watch by 20 minutes and tomorrow all the clocks on board will go back by an hour.  For someone like me who gets confused just putting the clocks back and forward once a year, this was way too complicated and decided to just do what people told me to when they told me to do it,.. although it was made easier by the fact that my watch had broken and so I never know what the correct time was anyway!!