Søren Larsen voyage #2

The sail from England to the Canaries had been, for me, a case of holding on tight, trying to learn everything I needed to know as second mate in a short space of time, hoping it would be enough if anything went wrong.

As we set out across the Atlantic, the frantic pace of learning seemeed to slow down a little, and I had time to get a handle on the ship, my duties, and the crew, who were already beginning to feel like friends for life.

In four days alongside in Tenerife, we had changed over several of the sails, stowing the newer canvas below decks and bending on older sails that would bear the more benign winds (but harsher ultraviolet) that we would experience as we approached the tropics. This work had given me a much better knowledge of the rig, knowledge that I would be thankful of when once more at sea, on watch, and trying to visualise every force, chafe point and potential weak spot.

Some sort of routine became possible now as we motored south trying to pick up the Trade WInds - the steady easterlies that have brought ships from Europe and West Africa for hundreds of years.

I was growing to love the 12-4 watch, traditional domain of the second mate. Waking at 1000 was something I found very palatable; with decks already scrubbed, and breakfast cleared away, there were two hours to work on maintenance jobs. With the weather improving, this often involved painting or varnishing or - the job the crew all clamoured for - working in the rig with the Bosun.

Then, after some lunch, four hours of watch. Navigation under motor was something I was very familiar with; and I was becoming much more comfortable with being in charge of up to 650 square metres of sail. This was the time of day when most of the other watchkeepers went below for their afternoon rest, which lent a wonderful feeling of autonomy. With two of the deck crew, and eight of our voyage crew guests, we kept lookout for other ships; rotated everyone through half-hour stints on the wheel, giving guidance on steering a 300-tonne ship where necessary; made hourly rounds throughout the ship; and tended the steadying sails, all the while looking out for that favourable breeze that would signal that we'd found the trade winds.

After watch there would be another hour or two of maintenance work; then, after dinner, we would go below for a rest; we would be woken shortly before midnight for watch once more and, on a good night, our watch of eleven would have the decks to ourselves again, exchanging stories, taking turns on the wheel and lookout, and watching our track creep across the chart. The approach of 4am - and blessed bedtime - would be heralded by the smell of fresh bread that two of our watch would bake every night for the cooks to serve the following day.

Four days of calms were followed by twenty days of trade winds; we tended our sails, kept watch, ate bread at 4am, got used to being barefoot 24 hours a day, played cards, gave lectures on navigation and meteorology, sang shanties and, a few days before Christmas, raised the Grenadines, dropping anchor in Admiralty Bay, Bequia.

This proximity to an island seemed wonderfully exotic after three weeks in our own self-contained world.  I sat on the hatch with Terri, our purser, an experienced sailor and our de facto shantyman, as she pointed out several landmarks on shore that she knew well.  “That’s the Frangipani Bar over there,” she said.  “It only truly sinks in that you’ve arrived in the Caribbean when you drink your first rum in the Frangipani”.  I looked forward to the Frangipani and an evening ashore, but for now a glass of rum with my shipmates on the deck of Søren Larsen seemed like an arrival in itself.