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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
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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
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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.
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Check out www.animated-knots.com this is a good online source for learning knots.

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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.
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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.
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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)

A Winter in Baja Begins

First Takes on Baja, Some Expectations, My First Swim In The Ocean

sunny 78 °F

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My first views of the Baja California peninsula was from about 14 miles out at sea. From there, it looked like a jagged, desert like environment, full of smallish coastal mountains leading down to the water. Along the shoreline, I could see occasional bands of sand with pale mounds piling into dunes. What dominated most of my views, was the extremely bright shimmer of the glaring sun. It was constant, overpowering golden-white, and impossible to ignore. I’m going to have to get used to being in the sun.
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I’m from the north, from a place where the sun rarely shines in the winter. A place where on the sunniest days in the winter, if you ran around outside naked all day, you still wouldn’t get your necessary dose of Vitamin D. In contrast, I think I’ll be getting all the Vitamin D I need, and way more, in a single morning here in Baja. I proved that today. I woke up at 7 am, and got dressed, opting for shorts and a tee shirt. By 4 pm, I was tan on all exposed flesh. I was a little bit sunburned on the back of my neck, where I didn’t apply sun block in time, but over all tanned. It was a record for me, a one-day suntan.

We are positioning from San Francisco, California to La Paz, Baja California in Mexico. It’s our fifth day of travel, and we expect to land in La Paz, sometime tomorrow evening. I’m very excited to get back to land again. Mostly, because it will be in a brand new environment, I’ve never seen before. Baja is where the desert meets the ocean, and several people have described it to me as “the most beautiful place, they’ve ever seen.” Time will tell, and I’ll make my own judgment on the matter.
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The trip so far has been very good; we were blessed with good weather, and calm seas. It’s been sunny every day, and quite balmy. High temperatures are in the upper seventies, and quite comfortable to work in shorts and sandals all day. We’ve been busy getting the final projects completed after the hectic shipyard session we recently completed in Alameda, Ca. It’s been a lot of hard work, and ten-hour days, but it’s enjoyable to work along side of like-minded people. On this boat, we are all travellers, and we enjoy comparing stories, and destinations. Most of us don’t have homes. Instead, we talk of where we store our stuff.
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One of the great benefits of this job is being able to drop whatever it is you are doing at any time and head out to the deck to watch wildlife as we pass it by. Every couple of hours, the call will come over the radio that dolphins, whales, or sunsets have been spotted. Everyone filters out to the decks to watch the beautiful sea creatures play around in the water. Today, about 12 of us, sat up in the sunshine watching dolphins jump through the deep blue water, while the majestic Frigate birds soared just overhead. Life is pretty damn good at times.

I’m excited about this journey for many reasons, but I’ll try to highlight a few:

The wildlife. I’m going to see a diverse amount of wildlife I’ve never seen before. Several different types of whales, some of which I might be fortunate enough to touch.I’m also looking forward to learning more about the varieties of birds, fish, and sea life that call this peninsula home.

I can’t wait to start exploring the cities and villages we’ll be stopping at. My Spanish is terrible. I plan to communicate by exaggerated animated gestures, and what little Spanish I know. What fun! Completely out of my element, and dropped into foreign territory. This is what I live for.

I’m from the Midwest. My superiors have told me that I will be expected to swim a lot. “If I have to…” This is cool by me, as I want to become a better swimmer, and I want to go snorkeling. Where I’m from, the lake is only warm enough to swim 2 months of the year, so I haven’t spent much time snorkeling.

I let out the big anchor for the first time tonight. We arrived at Bonanza Beach just after sunset, and a peanut gallery of crew showed up to document, and tease me while I went about learning the process of setting the hook. I did all right for the first time, and all went smoothly. The captain let us go swimming until dark, to let us blow off some steam, and relax and have fun after our long voyage from San Francisco.

We were like kids in school on the last day of class before Christmas break, buzzing and hyper waiting impatiently while the Bo’ sun and other deckhand got the swim ladder into position. Then we got the go ahead to jump in.

Picture the following scene: The sky is the dark indigo of early night. To the west, a first quarter waxing crescent moon is rising slowly above the distant black hills still visible behind the last glow of the sunset. Stars are starting to twinkle far above us. The wind is warm and blowing steadily across the upper deck of our ship. Our floodlights light up the aqua blue-green water, and 15 of us are ready to jump. We all go off in a line, like the penguins of Antarctica, jumping one after another of our “iceberg.” The difference is, everyone chooses his or her favorite thing to yell out, and launch style. Some choose a shriek, and a dive. Others do flips, and straight jumps. I do what I do best. I bellow out, “Viva Baja Mexico!“ and cannon ball from 15 feet off of the water. “KER-SPLASH” and I’m in the dark water of an ocean for the first time.

My first reaction is being aware of the dull underwater sounds of rushing bubbles. I taste the salt on my lips, and in my nasal cavity, and it’s not altogether pleasant, but I don’t care. These moments are what I live for. I surface, and make four more trips up the swim ladder to the upper deck, bantering away with my friends and fellow crewmembers. A strong ocean current rips by, and though I try to swim, it’s hard to make any headway. As I tire, we hang onto the ladder and enjoy the water. It’s not cold, not at all, at least by my standards. It was the equivalent of swimming in Lake Superior in July, and it was beautiful.

This was the first time I’ve ever swam in the ocean. For a first experience, I don’t think you can do much better than that.
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So begins my latest journey. I’ll be spending five more months in a warm desert marine environment working, playing, and living to the best of my ability. I can only take things one day at a time, and try to make the best of them. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m betting my odds are good for an enjoyable winter.

Posted by Rhombus 08:52 Archived in Mexico Tagged sky boats desert sunrise sunsets oceans life baja photography Comments (1)

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