Day 8 Going from La Palma to Gran Canaria
Neptune has my hat!
After breakfast on deck beside the beetling cliffs of La Palma, we had time for a brief stroll through the historic town of Santa Cruz de la Palma. The town was quiet and placid on Christmas Day with only a few families and dog walkers in sight. This was a place to relax and take a break before the last leg of our voyage because little did we know a rough sail lay ahead.
Rested from shore leave, we all returned for lunch on board. Out on deck, we breathed in the fresh air and enjoyed sandwiches oblivious to what lay ahead. We waved goodbye to La Palma as the pilot led us efficiently out of harbour and out to sea. With a call of ‘Feliz Navidad’, he was gone, returning to the safety of his harbour.
We started out on engines as the Captain, Darren, and Bosun Stu watched the winds intently for any sign of favourable sailing weather. At the first hint, the Bosun called hands to the foremast to set the sails, the Outer Jib, Inner Jib and Lower Topsail. The Bosun had delivered a detailed and informative talk about sail-setting, and I answered his questions from memory as well as I could. As my reward, the Bosun tasked me with giving the orders to the crew to set the Lower Topsail. In my most commanding voice, I shouted “Haul on the Sheet……..Ease away on the clewlines and buntlines”. Hiding my nerves and inexperience as best I could, I repeated these commands until all crew members had completed these tasks. The Bosun took over to finish, ordering “Well” and “Come Up”. At this moment, the wind blew in a gust which sent my new Panama hat purchased in Gran Canaria flying off my head, off the deck and into the Atlantic Ocean beneath the ship. Neptune the Ancient Greek God of the Sea had taken an offering, my smart hat. But perhaps he was displeased because the weather took a sharp turn for the worse.
Returning to watch, I saw dark clouds gathering on the horizon taking away the clear blue sky of the past few days. The swell grew and the Tenacious began to roll and heave on the waves. Crew members began to feel dizzy, clammy and nauseated – the unmistakeable symptoms of Mal de Mer or Seasickness. As the afternoon progressed, the clouds continued to gather, occluding the azure sky. We pitched and we rolled, we rolled and we pitched. I sat on deck with my shipmates, drinking ginger and lemon tea which Bosun’s Mate Shell had made, eating ginger biscuits and staring at the horizon. It was all we could do to stave off nausea. Watch-leader John kindly brought me my coat to keep we warm. Thus I remained until the seasickness subsided, even postponing the Christmas Quiz until more clement weather prevailed.
As the sky darkened towards evening, in the Lower Mess plates and cups rolled off the tables as the ship tossed in the wind. I ate delicious Spaghetti Bolognese and Apricot and Apple Crumble which Chef Micah had prepared, careful to avoid looking through the portholes which washed by the waves and sea-spray now resembled washing machines doors.
Dinner finished, I rushed to my bunk to lie down and recover from seasickness. The ship continued to roll and pitch and I fell into a deep sleep. Awoken at Midnight for watch, I pulled on my clothes and rushed to the main mast where my watch gathered. Unfortunately, the weather had worsened still further and the previous watch were all dressed in wet-weather gear including oilskins against the driving wind and sea-spray. I took over on watch and sat down hard on the starboard look-out seat, pushed over by the sudden rolling of the ship. All I could see in the inky blackness of the night were the twinkling lights of the houses on Tenerife and the reassuring flashing of the Angara Lighthouse. And I thought about the residents all tucked-up in warm beds safe from the storm. I stumbled about as I checked the sea state, visibility and temperature for the Voyage Crew Log Book. My time at the helm was tricky as the ship struggled to maintain its bearing. But I remained focussed and maintained the bearing as diligently as I could. The wind continued to blow a gale nearly forcing my pink sequined hat off my head. I stowed it in my pocket and put my coat hood up against the wind and the gale. Afterward I took up watch on the Port Side, where the gale was blowing. I struggled to keep my eyes open and look up out to sea such was the force of the wind and rain. I hunched my shoulders and pulled my hood down over my forehead to protect my face, looking up at the sea when the wind abated momentarily. Relieved by a fellow crew member, I took shelter in the Upper Mess and kept myself awake with Gingernut biscuits. After a respite, I returned to the chart room and the helm for my final spell on watch. I took shelter on the Starboard side in the lee of the wind for the last part of my watch. The wind blew and I could hardly hear my thoughts let alone the words of my shipmates who could only communicate by shouting or moving close to my ears. Finally relieved by the on-coming watch, I stumbled wearily to my bunk and slept very soundly indeed after a tiring and stormy day and night. The permanent crew, voyage crew and I worked hard through challenging conditions and prevailed against the storm. Neptune still has my hat.