akashiver: (avatar)
(Yoinked fro [livejournal.com profile] n6tqs )

Sunk: The Incredible Truth about a Ship that Never Should Have Sailed makes for some terrifying reading (at least for me, and I gather, via conversation, most people who have sailed). The author's a UD grad student, apparently, and she seems to have done a bang-up job of outlining and analyzing the Bounty's sinking. Her description of the rigging going into the water just horrifies me.

But what also horrifies me -- and tends to terrify me about survival stories in general -- is the way that social dynamics can force people into situations they are clearly realize are risky, even if the height of the stakes isn't clear. It's all very well to say, on shore and with hindsight, "I wouldn't have set sail."  But clearly even crewmembers who weren't entirely comfortable with the decision to sail didn't break ranks and leave. I don't know if it genuinely occurred to them to do so, or whether staying in port was financially or practically feasible for them. Given that any departing individuals would have been shorting the ship on crew, I also don't know if it was *socially* feasible. The urge to help out your community is pretty strong.

Anyway. If you have time, it's a worthwhile read.
akashiver: (Default)
Further thoughts on tall ships: on a recent day sail we have a group of seniors on board, and I was introduced anew to the Problems with Tall Ships. Monitoring kids on board is one thing - they're always trying to squirm through cannon ports or fall over the rail. But monitoring bird-boned seniors as they falter their way around a deck covered with ropes and pointy things, while crew frantically tries to haul sail -- that's a new kind of difficult.

Anyway. We briefly got caught on a mud bank - the river tide was very low - but we freed ourselves. And I got more sail-handling in than I've done on previous sails. It was fun.

Research-wise, the sailing came in handy in revising my book chapter on tall ships. There were a couple points where I was strongly tempted to add a footnote using my training as a source, but I'll hold off on that unless it's absolutely necessary.

That's it for now. I might get to do some ocean sailing in August. We'll see.
akashiver: (Default)
I don't recall posting this, so for the record: I passed. I am now officially CREW. 

What does this mean? In practical terms, it means that on two concurrent days I have been required -- required, please note -- to dress up like a pirate and say "ARR!" very loudly while setting sails. Also, I have been ordered to swab decks, which I have then swabbed. 

Childhood dream #117: accomplished.
akashiver: (Default)
So, my tall ship training course is now over and I PASSED MY FINAL! Which means I get to call myself "crew." It's a long way from being an "able-bodied seaman," but it's something.

The ship, alas, is still in dock, so I'm planning to get my volunteer hours up such that I can actually go sailing. When I do, I'll fill you in.

Yesterday had other milestones too. I took and passed my upper-climb test, which allows me now to venture into the tippy-top of the ship. And I crossed the cat-harpings for the first time - twice! - which is something I've been nerving myself up to do for a while.

(Note: tried to find an image of cat harpings. Do you know how many illustrations of kittens playing musical instruments there are on the web? This is not that.)

(Also, I forgot I had the cheap-ass version of lj. Never mind. If you're on my facebook list you can see an image of the mast here https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151386662565131&set=a.10151386661460131.824894.503960130&type=1&theater. The woman in the red shirt standing in the "crucified" position is crossing the cat harpings.)

The cat harpings are two thick ropes that act as a bridge between the starboard and port (right and left) sides of the lower yard. To cross from the left part of the mast "t" to the right side you swing your feet onto these two thick ropes, stand on them, and leeean sideways until your hand catches a shroud on the right side. This is a the "crucified" position. Then you swing yourself onto the shrouds of the right side. When crossing the cat harpings, you are standing on two ropes that separate you from a long fall, and you are not clipped in. This and the climb into the fighting top are arguably the two scariest climbing positions on the ship.

But climbing these in good weather wasn't actually that bad.  The cat harpings were surprisingly solid to stand on, and I'm learning, yet again, that my body knows more about climbing than I think it does. I even managed to do part of the upside-down climb into the fighting-top without difficulty, so... we'll see. Upper climbing has terrors of its own.

Fun fact of the day: because so much of the ship is made from tropical hardwood, if we get a splinter, we are supposed to immediately report it. Tropical hardwoods excrete nasty insecticidal chemicals that can exacerbate a simple splinter wound and turn it into something Very Unpleasant.  
akashiver: (Default)

This week they started training us to actually handle the whipstaff: the tall, glossy wooden pole that served as the 17C equivalent of a steering wheel.  We practiced dodging pirates and icebergs (the usual  perils of Delaware rivers) by putting the stationary ship through its imagined paces. 

This involved putting the whipstaff “in the hole” (pushing it to the side and sliding it down into the cavernous depths beneath the helmsman’s feet, which turns the ship in a hard, hard right or left, depending on why direction you pushed it in). We also practiced checking the compass (the GPS, which tracks a boat’s real direction, would actually throw us off). We learned that to turn the ship a couple of degrees, the helmsman will hold up two fingers to the mast and try to plant the nose of the boat on the edge of that second finger.

We were told, also, to beware the whipstaff. Through the miracle of physics, the whipstaff grants the person touching it a 40:1 mechanical advantage, allowing even a small person like myself to shift the 3200 lb rudder in calmish seas. (In rough seas, two people would handle it.)

But the whipstaff is called the whip -staff for a reason. It can redirect its force quite ferociously. One of my fellow trainees has a friend training on another ship who was sent flying by a rebellious whipstaff. She broke a rib and ankle. For this reason the whipstaff is kept in check by a loop of rope suspended from the quarterdeck ceiling when not in use.  And it isn’t used when the engines are powering the boat in or out of dock.

I enjoyed repeating the helm commands etc. It felt almost official.


Mar. 11th, 2012 11:22 am
akashiver: (Default)

“Do you know why they put the martlets here?”

I was at that point lying with my belly across the yard and my feet on a very wobbly piece of rope. No I did not know.

“What I heard,” the experienced climber said, “was that in the old days, sailors were terrified of falling to the sea. They couldn’t swim and they had no life boats. So they rigged the martlets here so that if you fell, you would fall onto the deck. Sure, your body would be broken, but you at least had a chance of living.”

“I—” (Oof) “Would prefer—“ (oof) “The Sea.” 

“Looks like you’re caught on that knot. You need to stand up a bit and move your clips so that you can slide over it.”


“That should do it. Yeah,” he said, looking down. “The sea. I dunno. It’s pretty cold today.”

It was cold. Or at least the wind was cold. My hands were neon pink and numb. I occasionally trapped the ropes with my elbows so that I could rub my hands together to warm them. I’d  been worried that numb hands could lead to a weak grip, but they continued to obey me all the way up and down.  Their numbness was a sulky, teenage kind of numbness, I suspect. They couldn’t quite believe I was making them work in the cold.

Back on deck I noticed that the backs of my hands and fingers were now covered with a cross-cross of faint scratches and scabs of blood from where I’d wedged them against ropes. I hadn’t felt a thing.

In short, the climbing continues to get easier.  

akashiver: (Default)

Climbing went much better this week. For one thing, I had better footwear. For another, the tarp had been taken down, so the swing onto the shrouds was easier to make. Also, my body had gotten time to adjust to the whole “ropes will move” idea.

Best advice given to me: “Never look up or down when climbing. Just watch your hands.”

Most interesting /least-reassuring advice: “Try to climb with a foot on either side of a shroud [i.e. with the vertical pole of a rope ladder between your legs]. That way if a ratlin snaps, you’ll still have one foot on a rope.”

Climbing )

While up at the yard I talked to another trainee, a woman in her 60s, who told me that she’d applied to be a tall ship climber when she was young, but had been turned down because women weren’t allowed to climb. “This is one of my life’s dreams, and I’m finally in a position to do it,” she said. Then she noted the number of women training for climbers.  Times have changed.

akashiver: (Default)

I am now a genuine tar. I’ve rolled so much oakum that my exercise clothes reek of pine tar. I noticed it when I went to belly dancing. It’s not an unpleasant smell, but it’s weird, like a Christmas tree  soaked in petroleum. My palms feel like I’ve just rubbed them with body butter.  And I keep finding tiny white hairs from ropes scattered over my clothing, as though I have a pet cat made of rope fiber waiting for me at home.  I increasingly suspect that there Is No Unmarked Tall-Ship Sailor, to borrow Tannen’s phrase. Writers take note.

This week the fore course was finally up, so we got to practice our rope-hauling and belaying in more realistic conditions. Also, I climbed up to the yard and practiced getting my hands on the top of that sail. I’ll write about that in a separate post.

Things I learned this week: 

1) The bow-watch (the person scanning the ocean to make sure the ship doesn’t crash into anything) has to know how to deliver the “ship/log/person/Cthulhu dead ahead!” warnings in sign-language as well as verbally. Sometimes a ship is a noisy place, and damnit, the captain needs to know if there’s a reef off the beam. I’m looking forward to learning some of these.

2) Boat-check. Boat check is conducted every 30 minutes, usually by the person coming off bow-watch. The boat-checker goes through the ship looking for hazards (fires, bilge levels, pirates etc.). It’s pretty efficient. A single night watch person seems to do 4 checks on his or her shift. They’re increasing the night watch patrol in response to attempted burglaries though. Apparently, junkies look at a tall ship, think sailors=alcohol, and try to break in.


Feb. 26th, 2012 10:11 am
akashiver: (Default)
I'm finally de-poisoned and de-crankified enough to write an update. Hurray!

First #1:

I finally caved and joined SFWA. Since then I've been reading a lot of excellent fiction, some of which has made the Nebula ballot. Congrats to all the nominees!

But before I start raving about some of the nominated fiction (a future post), I  wanted to mention some short stories that I  thought were wonderful but which didn't make the Nebula list. Vylar Kaftan's Hero-Mother (the costs of an alien culture's attempt to control reproduction), James Allen Gardner's clever nightmare Three Damanations, and Genevieve Valentine's evocative fantasy The Sandal-Bride are all terrific and worth a read.

First #2:

I passed the strength test and climbed into the tall ship rigging for the first time. This is the sort of stupid thing writers do. I'm afraid of heights and climbing up some giant dangerous swinging ropey thing holds little appeal in and of itself. But damnit, I can't work on a tall ship and not know what it feels like to go into the rigging.

So up I went. And for the record, it feels like UTTER TERROR. Which I'm hoping wears off with practice and better footwear, because a climber needs to be able to do more than cling, huddle, and meep. 
climbing rigging )

Eh. That's it for now. More adventures of a cowardly climber at some future point.
akashiver: (Default)
First of all, here's the web site for the ship in question, a replica of the 17C Dutch Pinnace that settled Delaware for the Swedes.

It's a bigger boat than the Mayflower - 317 tons - with seven square sails and a lateen mizzen to serve as a wind rudder. It hails from a pre-steering wheel era and so is steered by what is, in essence, a giant lever attached to the tiller. The helmsman can't see directly ahead and so has to reply on the commands of the officer in control of the ship.

I'm 3 classes into the training. We've been working on knots, belaying, line handling and safety procedures.

Writerly thoughts:

1) Language really is important. A lot of what we're learning right now is vocabulary, because you can't obey an order to "man the halyard" without knowing what a halyard is and what "manning" means.

It's interesting to me how quickly words like "Avast" go from being colorful bits of nautical parlance to words that actually mean something specific, and that you start to respond to automatically. For example, "avast" doesn't mean "stop" -- which is what I vaguely thought it meant before doing this. It's actual meaning is "stop but maintain tension!"

As in, you're hauling up a sail and an officer spots that a passenger has stepped into a coil of rope, risking imminent death. To shout "stop" might prompt some sailors to drop the rope, leading to a sail crashing down and possibly more imminent death. So instead the officer yells "Avast!" The sailors stop hauling but do not let go of the rope. The passenger is rescued. Everyone's happy.

So the phrase "Avast there you land-lubbers!" no longer makes sense to me. What are the land-lubbers supposed to be doing, that they should halt the activity but not abandon it completely? If they were talking when you saw them, should they now just make rhubarb-rhubarb noises?

2) Safety: A tall ship is a giant working machine, and you are standing in the middle of it. That means rings, long hair, necklaces, hoodie ties etc. are dangerous, because they can lead you to be dragged along with a rope or mashed into a belaying pin. All sailors on the KN must have their hair tied back, necklaces and ties tucked away, rings removed etc. And while real 17C sailors were far less safety conscious, I'm now scratching my head over the number of nautical adventure covers that show women and men standing on top of rigging with their hair flying in the wind. Um... no.


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