Voyage Log: Port Macquarie – Newcastle Day 5

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Noon position Lat 33°35.4’S Long 151°36.6’E
Day’s run 96nm

At 1230 there is an interesting cloud formation on the radar, not dissimilar to the appearance of land. The captain, Ross, wonders whether we’re in for a squadron of moths. Tegan, the mizzenmast topman, doesn’t know about the manifestation on the radar, but comments on the cloud formation, pretty and interesting, unique. With everyone on their sea legs they can now appreciate and glory in some of their battle damage, proud that they have wounds that make a fine sight but hadn’t yet noticed: “no wonder my shins are hurting!”

While lunch finishes up (featuring perfect, succulent chicken prepared by Abi and Darbey, the catering officer and cook’s mate), the captain chats with the sailing master and navigator, Ant and Dirk, about an afternoon plan. Set the topgallants perhaps? Jib? Might be the only opportunity for the “TGs” – which require lighter winds. Or is it time for an emergency drill? They have some discussion, interrupted by a call for mainmast watch to report to deck for sail handling, and the captain goes to check the conditions and make a final decision. The sound of wind instruments filter down to the galley, playing a pleasant tune, the last diners point their ears up and speculate its origin, must be coming from the 18th-century deck immediately above. No where to be found. Continuing up and there they are, two mizzen watch voyage crew, sitting by the main hatch in the waist of the ship, one playing a “penny whistle” – a low D tin whistle, and the other playing a fife. In fact it’s the two crew members who shared a birthday on the first day, born to the same musical persuasion.

There is an abundance of sail handling, 1340 sees the jib set, followed closely by the mizzen topmast staysail, the fore topgallant and the main topgallant. At 1430 the navigator sits on the gentleman’s mess skylight and polishes the sextant – the timeless (metaphorically speaking, as time is a crucial aspect of it’s calculations) device for taking readings of celestial bodies to fix the ship’s position, polishing the object a pleasure rather than a chore. Ross gives a talk about weather patterns and square-rig sailing, referring to the 4-day synoptic chart. 1500 hours sees the few extra sails handed back in, first the jib, then the fore and main TGs, and the mizzen topmast staysail. During the operation Abi the catering officer brings a mysterious basket up to the deck, those furling the main topgallant are teased with glimpses of chocolate therein. With most of the sail handling done, Ben, the second mate, announces over the PA: “I have been instructed that if you would like a chocolate bar, then you must attend the rest of the captain’s talk…” Suddenly there are several professional crew – who don’t usually attend – sitting front row centre.

Sitting up at the bridge relaxing, a few voyage crew befriend Davey – the ship’s budgie – trying to get some conversation out of him without getting bitten. After some time he obliges, chattering softly; they worry about his feathers, many shed in the strong winds of the last day or so. There is talk of sods opera night coming up, performance possibilities. And at smoko time it’s treat after treat, from chocolate to corn chips and guacamole, yum! At 1710 the captain looks excited, dashing to his sea chest in the great cabin and pulling out the reference books for shooting stars, he, the navigator, and the mates are going to take readings with the sextants and try to fix our position. A few minutes later and the skipper and navigator are sitting over their books by the aft companion way, preparing for the moment after sunset when stars will appear. Endeavour is sailing into the sunset, bearing towards Sydney, still somewhat south of our destination. A cool evening breeze is felt during the twilight, but the chill aspect does not last long, turning to a warm breeze and a mild night.

1800 hours sees the spritsail clewed up, and at the same time down below, while slinging their hammock, a voyage crew member calls: “would suck if you were short doing this!” She’s obviously not vertically challenged herself. After a delicious stew for dinner there is banana split with chocolate sauce, cream, ice cream, nuts and freckles, making Abi and Darbey very popular – as usual. At 1830 Dirk and Ben are on the quarterdeck trying to get a good sighting, but unfortunately they only get one star – as it has become quite overcast – enough for a line only and not a position. Before the sextants are put away all hands are called on deck for a change of course, we are to tack ship! The conditions are favourable and the crew of Endeavour accomplish a fine tacking manoeuvre. An hour later, 2000 hours, and she’s sailing full and by on gentle seas.

At 2230 there is some lightning and squall activity, the southerly change hits, and the topsails are clewed. The main topmast staysail and the mizzen staysail are handed. During the change of watch there is much sail handling, the idlers called up to help. It is an “interesting” night, says the captain, thunder and lightning, wind and no wind and wind again. At 0100 the fore and main topsails are set again, and at 0250 we hand the main course, only to re-set it at 0345. The seas are slight and the wind veering. At 0500 we set the mizzen staysail, the wind variable but mainly blowing a westerly. And at 0620 we drop the mizzen staysail again, as the winds start filling in from the south. At 0720 the yards are braced around, similar to wearing ship but in this case there is no change in course – only a change in the wind.

Over breakfast a voyage crew member of foremast watch speaks of their gruelling 6 hour shift the night before (4 hours plus some cross over), “sails up, then down, then up, then down. They don’t let you lie down on this ship! Believe me I’ve tried!” They try to finish off some breakfast while their topman calls them on deck to report for watch duty again. At 0810 mainmast watch is massed at the top of the galley companionway with baited breath, waiting for their sitting of breakfast to be called. At 0835 the winds are 13-15 knots south-south-east, and we are bearing north to anchor in Broken Bay – for some respite and leisure time for the hard-working crew, and for sods opera night.

1000 hours and we wear ship, 1045 sees a south-westerly change, and Dirk comes over the PA: “We are sailing again! Come and see before the rain.” The southerly means sailing, and also means rain. Mainmast watch escapes from the oncoming rain and practices their sods opera routine with their supernumerary in the great cabin – little do they know they are about to be rudely interrupted. At 1110, as if the previous 24 hours hadn’t seen enough action, Matt the boatswain’s mate comes running out the chippy’s store calling: “Fire! Fire! This is an exercise! There’s a fire in the chippy’s store!” Time for a fire drill. The entire ship’s complement muster on deck, checked off by Ben, the second mate. Ally the foremast topman and Ant the sailing master don their fire fighting gear and head down below. The watches work in teams to respond to different tasks, hosing the deck above the source of the fire, and moving the stand-alone fire pump (not dependent on the ship’s generators for power). At 1120 we brace the main sails aback and heave-to, to get the fire pump working. A yacht passes by on the starboard side, unnoticed by the busy crew of Bark Endeavour. The drill is completed and we get back underway under sail. During the debriefing a few questions are asked, “what happens to Davey if it comes to abandoning ship?” The captain  replies: “Davey is emergency rations”!

At 1157 lunch is called, and a big call goes out from main and mizzenmast watches who are in the first sitting: “YES!!”

All is well.

Contributed by ship’s steward Mischa Chaleyer-Kynaston