34 30N 43 07W
I’m going to try and provide a brief example of a routine task which at home requires little thought but which in a boat bobbing about somewhere in mid Atlantic requires a different approach.
There are moments that are totally surreal - like having dinner outside in the warm still evening air, watching the sun going down across the sea – a scene not unfamiliar to many, maybe holidaying in the Mediterranean, the difference being, I’m not in the Mediterranean but mid Atlantic, surrounded by sea, at least a thousand miles from anywhere…… and just a few feet away dolphins are playing, leaping and appear almost to be putting on a show, too many to count maybe fifty or sixty of them.
I am far from normal life.
I’m in the peculiar world of the watch system. You are either ‘on watch’ or ‘off watch’. On watch entails; steering, keeping a look out for shipping, meals or other duties. Off watch you rest (sleep). The length of each watch is 3 hours. Every 3 hours you change and this happens 8 times a day. This is the twilight zone in which we live, each day has no real beginning or end and the maximum sleep time at any one time is 3 hours (this increases to 4 hours at certain times during the day).
Now, let’s put into this world the simple task of cleaning teeth. The first consideration is when? The answer is – when I remember. On remembering, the initial emotion is one of dread. Let’s not consider this task when the boat is gentle bobbing, but when the boat is pitching and yawing at an angle of 45 degrees in a relatively moderate force 4-5 wind. Any more than this and teeth cleaning can wait!
The boat has four distinct areas: -
1. The outside of the boat or deck
2. The saloon where cooking and general duties take place
3. The cabin to sleep
4. The heads (toilet and sink) within the cabin
Now, to clean teeth requires a journey deep into depths of the boat to the heads. This journey takes you from the deck, through the saloon, to the cabin, then finally into the heads. This is quite a journey in a boat this is rocking and full of hard places. It requires a risk assessment – do I really need to clean my teeth?
On deciding to clean teeth it requires preparation both emotionally and physically for the journey. Getting into the boat is the first challenge, down into the hole which separates the world of openness and clear demarcation between sea and sky, to one of enclosed containment with no such identifiers. Then a staggered, lunging like crawl, holding on to any fixed surface for support, like the first steps of a toddler – towards the cabin. Being unable to assist and not wishing to witness this personal struggle, other crew members kindly look away – their turn will come. Once in the cabin there is a twisted turn, almost a controlled fall into the heads. The heads are deep within the boat where the rolling motion is amplified and the mind has no reference point. The heads have a smell all of their own. It’s not a good place to be. But the destination is reached.
The teeth cleaning itself requires the skills of an escapologist, acrobat and gymnast all in one. With the left hand gripping a convenient handle, right foot wedged in the corner between wall and floor and with the head lent against the mirror the body is formed into a perfect triangle. For an instant the gripping hand lets go to allow the tap to be turned then straight back to the handle and brushing commences. After a few moments brushing is complete and I feel transformed. The journey back to base camp begins. The whole mini- adventure takes about 15 minutes, that’s 15 minutes away from my rest time leaving me only 2 hours 45 min before my next watch. I throw myself onto my bunk without a thought of undressing and fall immediately into the strange world of sleep.
A moments thought before sleep… is it all worth it ?…… and I remember the dolphins, the beautiful sunset, the perfect night sky and brilliant moon…… yes for sure it’s worth it, every bit of it!
Hello Lyn, Jack and George – hope all going ok and wish you were here with me (maybe next time J). Missing you millions and can’t wait to see you all again. Jack, hope finals went ok.
Not long now till the Azores, hope to see some whales before then – the sea has still not got me J
Love Ben XXXX