I’ve had quite a journey so far. Perhaps not in distance travelled, but certainly in experiences had. If you follow my Twitter
, you know bits and pieces of what I’ve been up to. But it’s about time for some elaboration in the form of a blog post. Or something more than 140 characters, anyway.
The last big event for me at the Maritime Museum before moving on to Tole Mour was Star of India's 150th anniversary sail. While I was assigned to Californian for the Saturday and Sunday of the big Veteran’s Day weekend event (though that offered prime opportunities to take photos of the gorgeous lady), I—for the first time—sailed aboard Star on Monday, the 11th of November 2013. Three days before the 150th anniversary of her launching from the Gibson, McDonald & Arnold shipyard in Ramsey, Isle of Man. I was lucky, for Monday saw the best wind of the three days we’d been out. It wasn’t a lot of wind, but it was enough to get Star moving and see her through a few manoeuvres. It was truly spectacular to be sailing a ship that was launched in 1863, when VIctoria was queen and Lincoln was president. For a ship to survive that long with her original hull intact and still be able to sail under her own power is almost unbelievable.
I spent my day aboard Star chatting with shipmates and working the ship. I felt her come alive in the steady, low roll of the sea, such a different and foreign sensation to her usual small pitches against her moorings on the Embarcadero. The event was made more memorable by our lovely Manx visitors, very much enthralled by Star and her history, who gifted the crew a special case of Star of India Pale Ale which is brewed on the Isle of Man and only available there. After cleaning up from the long weekend, we all shared a taste of the beer (delicious, by the way) and milled about on the upper deck of Berkeley talking about the weekend’s memorable moments.
Before I knew it, I was packed up and in Long Beach aboard Tole Mour for my first boat job outside of the Maritime Museum. After the Museum’s odd part-time hours and weekend sails, Tole's eight-hour days, five-days-a-week maintenance schedule took a bit of getting used to at first, but after a week I quickly fell into the routine. Conveniently, the Queen Mary across the bay sounds a bellowing horn at our appropriate break times: 1000, 1200, and 1500. We start working at 0800, finish at 1700, and have an hour off for lunch. It’s a pretty cushy boat to live on, compared to what I’ve been used to. The hull being steel, leaks are few and far between (and often are caused not by the weather or sea, but by our own plumbing). There are heads around every corner (though they were tragically taken from us after only a week when cleaning of the blackwater tank commenced), and two showers. We each have a spacious (well, spacious for a boat anyway) cabin with a roommate. The cabins all have two bunks each, a sink, a desk, and a cabinet. I have a porthole next to my upper bunk, from which I can see the hue of the sky change as the sun rises every morning. And! There’s wifi in the mess. Truly the most luxurious of tall ships.
It’s not just the simple comforts that make Tole a great ship to work on, though. She’s an incredibly efficient ship for what she does. There are berthing areas for the students they take on board all throughout the forward portion of the ship. Farther aft are the crew’s quarters, and the wardroom which has a TV and DVD player. On deck are deckhouses for the galley and mess, nav. station (called the “nav shack”), and a lab. Each deckhouse has a combing about two feet high to keep out any seas that may wash the deck. There are large scuppers and waterways for efficient drainage of that water. And there are hydraulic capstans for the anchor and small boat stern falls. All of the necessary tools and equipment for maintenance work can be found forward below decks in a small locker called marine stores. Across from marine stores is a paint locker, and adjacent to that is the abrasives cabinet where one can find sandpaper, wire wheels, and electric sanders. From what I’ve seen so far, Tole is an extremely efficient and capable sail training vessel, run admirably by Captain Mark “Snark” Waddington and Chief Mate Rob Mizer.
Our first maintenance project for the season was reefing out and re-caulking the starboard side of the main deck. This was no small task. For each seam of the Teakdecking Systems deck we had to pass a razor blade along each side (usually twice), reef out the old caulking with a special Teakdecking reefing hook (or a bent screwdriver, depending on who got to the tools first), deepen and widen the seam with a router, sand it, vacuum it, put painters tape down, wipe the seam with denatured alcohol, caulk it with Teakdecking Systems caulking, pull up the tape, and—finally—sand down the seams. Each step was eventually completed for the entire starboard side of the deck after three weeks of working. That wasn’t all we did in that time, though. We also did a few small rigging projects (I replaced the fore peak halyard and some thimbles and shackles, and made a new gasket basket) and refinished a lot of the cap rail.
After those three weeks we paused work and were given two weeks off for the holidays. I went back to San Diego where I spent time with my family and friends and went sailing on Californian for my birthday! Though there wasn’t any wind for the Holiday Bowl Parade on the 30th of December, it felt good to be back aboard Californian and setting sail. I had missed my Museum shipmates even though I’ve made some great new ones on Tole.
The fortnight went by quickly (I was supposed to be writing this then) and soon I was back up to Long Beach and Tole Mour. Starting afresh in the New Year, we motored over to Catalina and anchored to scrape the hull. Those who were dive certified donned SCUBA gear and the rest of us snorkelled around the waterline, scraping off all of the barnacles and algae we could reach. Once the sun had set, (most of) the hull had been scraped clean. We stood an anchor watch that evening and at 0300 the next morning we got underway for my homeport of San Diego! Well, we were headed for Chula Vista and Marine Group’s shipyard to haul out, but it’s almost nearby my homeport of San Diego.
During the transit we had a spectacular view of dolphins and two grey whales. All of which I watched from the headrig. Dolphins lept beside me as I found a comfortable spot in the martingale stays, and I had a perfect view of the greys as they surfaced not 20 yards off our starboard bow.
Homecoming on a different boat that isn’t going precisely to where your idea of home is is quite a strange feeling. Tole is on the hard now, and what was originally going to be a two-week stay has grown to the usual yard-time of “indefinate”, though right now the expectation is to splash and head back to Long Beach in the first week of February.
I’m enjoying my stay aboard Tole and my first live-aboard experience. I wish I could stay for her sailing season, but they already have the crew lined up for that. I will get to stay on for their training week at the end of February, though, so that should be good fun. During the break I started realising how soon February really was, and I took a look at job openings on Tall Ships America’s billet bank. I began applying to every deckhand position that was available, and one got back to me the very next day: Denis Sullivan. I soon had a phone interview with her captain and was offered and accepted the job for Sullivan's sailing season through the summer. It all happened rather quickly, but I think I am in the thick of the tall ship career I had always hoped to have—and I'm loving it.