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Tying The Knot

On Knot Tying, Practical and Fancywork, and Sailing Through Stormy Seas

sunny 75 °F

The captain sugarcoated the weather report as sweetly as he could: “Well, It’s going to be shitty, and the next day is going to be worse.” The captain has a way with words all his own. The report called for sustained winds of forty knots out of the north/north east, the direction we were heading directly into.

We knew it was coming, we knew we HAD to go through it (there was no protection to hide in), and we knew it was going to be rough. We prepared for war, lashing and tying down everything we could, so we wouldn’t lose anything. I really enjoy this part of my job. As a deckhand, it’s my duty to secure everything and make sure we don’t lose anything overboard in heavy seas. It’s a great opportunity to practice the ancient and practical seafarer’s skill of tying knots.

Tying knots is a great skill to have, and a sailor’s dependence on that ability is probably greater than any other occupation. This was probably truer in the days of clipper ships, and three mast schooners, but is still applicable today. The practice of tying knots is a language and an art form all its own. While I’ve always had an interest in knots, I didn’t really start tying good knots until I became a deckhand.
Clove Hitch, Daisey Chain and Modified True Lover's Knot -Tied By the Author
In truth, there are really only about seven knots I use on a daily basis. On my breaks, I’ve been perusing through the “knot bible”, that is, The Ashley Book of Knots by Clifford Ashley, to try to learn more. I’ve found I really enjoy thumbing through Ashley’s book until I find a knot that looks interesting. I’ll grab my line, and attempt to follow the diagrams to tie it. Ashley’s book is filled with diagrams and sketches for thousands of knots. He gives a brief description of the knot, what it’s used for, and where it originated, if it’s known. It’s a very interesting book. If I ever have a home again, this book will be on my shelf.
Fancy Work - Monkey's Fist, Plaited Sennit -Knots by Sheryl Bale

To be sure, the diagrams aren’t that easy to follow, and the text font is in clearly from the 1940’s but that‘s its charm; it‘s old fashioned. Knot tying isn’t easy, and it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Following the diagrams in this book can be very frustrating, like following a single line of spaghetti on full plate of pasta. Tying knots is akin to any learned skill. For the common man, it takes patience and practice. The results of your hard work can be beautifully decorative knots in sequence, or simply the satisfaction of tying the correct knot for the job you are working on. It’s funny to say, but tying a good knot makes me feel proud, and definitely more manly. You might see me beat my chest like an upland gorilla, roaring with pleasure after tying a good knot.
Check out www.animated-knots.com this is a good online source for learning knots.

The storm was all it was predicted to be, and a little bit more. We left San Jose del Cabo at about noon, and started the trip north. The wind had picked up, and the seas were building. The odd part of storms down here was that the sun was shining bright, and the sky was deep blue. It was beautiful. When I picture heading into a storm, I think of big brooding clouds and lashing rain or what have you. It was strange to see blue skies and sun.
We watched a pod of humpback whales frolic in the water for about an hour before we turned into the brunt of it and started the long slog north. It was kind of exciting, like the beginning of a road trip into the unknown. The crew came together for our evening meal, bantering and friendly as the big dysfunctional family we are. We watched the waves sweep by the windows, and wondered what the night would hold. My friend Ame and I stepped out on the aft portion of our boat to watch a glorious sunset over the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range. It was the last light of peace we were to have for 12 hours.
In adversity, you find out a lot about yourself. I learned something that I had suspected: I don’t suffer from seasickness. To be sure, the ship was pitching bow to stern; this is an easier motion to handle than a swaying motion (a side to side motion) of a ship. I felt fortunate, as a lot of our guests and crew suffered through a very long night. I was sitting in the crew lounge, chewing the fat with the chief engineer when my deck partner walked in and noticed streaks of vomit on the window behind me. That was kind of the theme of the night.

I have a twisted point of view on seasickness. I find it hilarious. When everyone around you is puking, it always makes me laugh. We all vomit in our own special way. Some people sound like sea lions, some hack and strain only to produce a tiny ball of bile, others make a long drawn out gurgling sound. I like the people who try to vomit with dignity. Ha! It’s like trying to quiet down a freight train. I wasn’t there to see it, but up in the pilothouse the watch officer and two of the on duty deckhands all started puking at the same time. In between bouts, they realized how funny the situation was, and started laughing their asses off. Had I been there, I’d have done the same.

Working in this storm, was also the most fun I’ve ever had as a deckhand. The captain tasked us with making some final securing measures up on the bow, and lido deck (the lido deck is where we store our zodiac inflatable boats, kayaks, and crane). He told us to put on clothes that can get soaked, and to work in pairs. We geared up, and headed out to the bow. The boat was pitching steeply as we pounded our way up and down the big swells. Our momentum caused us to jog a little along the decks as we made our way up to the bow.

I felt exhilarated, and got a little bump of adrenaline as big walls of white spray flew over the bow and soaked us in salt water. It felt great, and I was drenched in water, except for my underwear, which I was somewhat proud of. We worked in tandem, and secured the last of our loose items. We were all whooping, and hollering as the big waves washed us down again and again. It was awesome! I love being out in the elements, especially potentially dangerous ones. It makes me feel jubilant, at one with the world, and damn glad to be alive.

The night became one task after another. I waltzed a 94-year-old woman down from her cabin to the dining room for dinner. She was a real trooper that one. I helped the engineer close all the vent covers outside on the upper deck. I made my engine rounds. I eventually ended my shift, and hung out for a while in the crew lounge. I contemplated if I wanted to have a cold beer after such a day, but decided against it.

At about 9 pm, I went to bed, and didn’t sleep that well. I was comfortable in my bunk, but there are many things that go bump in the night on a heaving ship. The seas got even bigger around 3:30 am, and I felt my stomach drop out as we went straight down a massive wave. I sleep in the aft of the ship, towards the back. Usually this is the most stable part of the boat, and to feel your stomach drop out from back there, there must have been some good waves. So I had a fitful night lost somewhere between awake and sleep.

At 6 am, we at last reached our destination, Ensenada Grande on the west side of Isla Partida. We were happy to set the anchor in the relatively calm water, finally out of the punishing swells. When I started my shift at seven, I took stock of the whole ship, and decided we faired very well. Nobody was hurt, and only a couple of minor items had been forgotten in our securing tasks.

The whole ship seemed like it was in a hangover. Everyone was quiet and subdued. We were all tired, fatigued from our personal battles of the night, and mostly due to lack of sleep. Even my deck partner Paully, who is usually a bundle of hilarious, manic energy, was quiet and laid back. Everyone compared their stories of the night, and I really didn’t have much to say or to complain about. I was fine, though a little tired. It was nothing a good double shot Americano couldn’t fix.

We spent the whole day in that cove, relishing the beautiful views and calm seas once again with a newfound appreciation for peace.

Posted by Rhombus 11:12 Archived in Mexico Tagged whales deserts sunsets oceans ships photography storms knots Comments (5)

Positioning: Crusing From Portland to San Francisco

Crossing the Bar, Life at Sea, Entering San Francisco by Water, Troubled Waters

semi-overcast 59 °F

We crossed over the Columbia River Bar at about 2 am Saturday morning. I got up for the crossing, as I was very interested in being a part of crossing one of the more dangerous stretches of water in the Pacific ocean. The Columbia River Bar is known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” There have been over a hundred documented shipwrecks in the area, and countless undocumented losses. The reason why this place is so dangerous, is because the 1200 (give or take) mile long Columbia River empties into the roiling North Pacific Ocean. Added to this mix are the strong winter storms that surge across the pacific in a continual salvo of oceanic and meteorological energy. The combined wind and current often brew up the wind into a gale of over 60 knots, and build the seas to over 40 feet. This is no place for the timid.

Our passage was uneventful. We rocked and rolled in the 9 foot swell, but by all accounts, it was one of the smoothest crossings that our veteran crew members could remember. There really wasn’t much to see, but the boat was definitely pitching back and forth in the moderate seas. I stayed awake watching our crossing on our GPS, but soon grew tired and returned to my bunk. Thus began our three day voyage to San Francisco.

Day One:
I awoke to the heaving swells of the open ocean. It was cloudy out, gray and misting. We were traveling south about 14 miles off the coast of Oregon. While I have driven this section of coastline several times, this would mark my first time sailing of the coast. Not that there was much to see. The heavy mists and fog made for a gray world with limited visibility. Inside the crew lounge, it was eternally dusk. The day before we left, we spent a lot of time “battening down the hatches”- securing everything on the boat for potential rough conditions. This included putting aluminum window plates on all of our main deck windows. It took away all outside light, and left us in a state of semi-darkness while we hung out in the main dining room.

We didn’t have many chores to do. Most of my time on duty was spent reading, writing, socializing, eating, and making the rounds to see all was secure. When my shift was over, we played games, Boggle mostly, watched movies, socialized, and enjoyed our downtime.

Walking around on a tilting ship is not easy, and it seemed everyone had there own technique for crossing the open areas of the dining area. Some would take baby steps, making short choppy steps to keep balance. Others would walk normally, and then make quick steps to curb the momentum that was sending them away from their destination. I liked to make long slow arcs, walking with the tilt to starboard, then using the tipping point and momentum back to portside to get me where I wanted to be. All of us looked silly, but that’s part of the fun of being onboard. I vacuumed the rug, and it was the most fun I’ve ever had vacuuming. I tried to do straight lines, but it was impossible, and the rug looked like a drunkard had haphazardly cleaned the rug.

We were in a continual state of swaying. I thought that reggae music should have been played over our sound system, to make all our swaying make more sense. It was pointless to do my usual stretching routine that I like to do, as the tilting of the boats axis put way more strain on the muscles compared to normal.

As it is, I’m not really designed for engine rooms, or the lazzarete. I’m of average height, five foot eleven inches tall. So far, I’ve managed to crack my head on the metal of the boat every day that I’ve been aboard. My head is beginning to resemble a golf ball with all the new divots it has acquired. My shins have faired no better, as I’ve raked them over the metal doorways countless times. I’ve gotten better about it, but I can’t wait until I finally learn to protect my head.
We began to see more wildlife. I saw albatross once again (a sign of good luck). I saw two different varieties and as many as five of them at once. They were sailing the winds, making long snake like arcs across the ocean, tacking their way southward. Their long wings were extended to full extent to catch as much wind as possible. I like the albatross, especially their size and for how close they fly to the water. Their wingtips seem to touch the swells as they bank and turn into the wind.
Day Two:
The second day of sailing brought better seas, and blue skies. We could see the shoreline once again, and the temperature was warm. We were somewhere off of the coast of California, and I like to think it was somewhere off of the “lost coast.” The lost coast is a hard to reach area, which remains one of the prettiest in California. I’ve never seen it myself, but it’s on my list of places to explore in California, should I be so fortunate.

The bow of our ship was the place to be on this day. Inside the ship, it was hot and oppressive, but outside it was beautiful. The warm sun was shining, and the seas were pleasant. A long fog bank could be seen off to the west, but staying away from us. To the east, the California coast was rugged, the coast mountains were glowing a golden green. A lot of the staff came outside to enjoy the sun, and we were all really digging our lives at that particular moment. To think we were getting paid for this was a pleasant thought. They could have paid me in sand, and I still would have come to work. I had some good conversations with some of my new friends, and it was nice to spend time getting to know them.
That evening, the dolphins came. Dolphins have been known to swim and play in the wake of ships for as long as men sailed the seas. I’d never seen dolphins before, and I was quite excited to see them. I’m guessing there was a group of eight or more that would skim just underneath the water, then course right into our wake wave, do a barrel roll, and then jump out of the water as the swell caught up with us. It was amazing! The light was fantastic from the warm luminescence of the setting sun. The dolphins were playing, very much in their element, and I was in mine. Many staff members came out, and we were all excited to take photos, videos, and just enjoy the amazing agility and playfulness of the dolphins. They were Pacific White Sided Dolphins, and we enjoyed them very much.
Day Three:
Our last day dawned warm and clear. We were steadily heading east, into the rising sun and directly towards the coppery orange span of the Golden Gate Bridge. Most of the staff came out for the moment. It marked the end of our first positioning, and an entrance to the San Francisco area, our temporary home for two weeks. As the sun rose, the air warmed nicely, and we were bathed in sunlight. It was glorious. It was the best entrance I’ve ever made into San Francisco. In years past, I’ve driven south over the bridge, pissed off, and tense, hating the intense flow of city traffic and writing off the city as a hell hole. It wasn’t a fair evaluation, and I regret my impatience and stubborn behavior. In comparison, the fastest speed we travel on our ship is around 10 knots (just over 10 miles an hour). It’s very relaxed, and stress free. It gives you time to take it all in, and since I wasn’t driving, I could take my time in composing some photos, and really, really enjoy the morning. A friend gave me half of her grape fruit, and its fresh citrus was a perfect compliment to the morning.
We passed under the impressive span, and I couldn’t help but remember the stories of the men who built this bridge. Specifically, the “Halfway to Hell” club, a group of guys who fell off of the span during construction- only to be saved by the safety nets that were installed underneath, designed for that purpose. The Golden Gate construction was the first that made mandatory use of hard hats and safety nets for bridge workers.
We cheered and posed for a group picture, and soon everyone drifted off to the dining area for breakfast. I was more interested in seeing the city-scape, Alcatraz, the bay bridge, and the downtown area. There were great views in every direction, and I took pleasure in the beginning of my day.
That was the last peaceful moment I’ve had. After we docked, we got busy getting the ship back in order. It was a long day of hard work in the hot sun. Later that evening, I finally checked my phone messages and learned of family emergency and terrible news from home. My mom had a major stroke, and it wasn’t looking good. It was if the floor fell right out from underneath me, and I had to get home. Everything else seemed completely pointless, and so I got the next flight I could to make it back home.

In this world, you can be flying high one minute, only to have your wings fall off the next and sent into a spiraling freefall. That’s life. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. It’s easy to enjoy life when times are good. In my experience, bad times are usually horrible to go through, but can give you valuable perspective into what’s truly important. I often learn more about myself, and others when times are bad, then when they are good. I wouldn‘t be who I am today, if I hadn‘t experienced the darker side of life. I’m hanging in there, often lost in my thoughts and contemplating how to face the unknown. It’s not pleasant, but I’m buoyed by my friends and family who have and will be by my side.

Posted by Rhombus 14:10 Archived in USA Tagged ocean wildlife ships photography pacific cruising coasts philosophy Comments (4)

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