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Skyelark of London - 6. A day in the life of an ancient mariner

2.50 am. alarm goes off.

Who in their right minds would choose a month's holiday where every morning
the alarm goes off for a midnight, 3am or 6am watch (depending on which
watch you are on) to ensure you get out of bed, climb into probably
yesterday's clothes and then spend three hours in the cold and dark with
someone you have just met?

And the word bed is a bit of an over statement - mine is a shelf in the
saloon above the seating area. It is six feet long, two feet wide and only
two feet high. To get in, as there is a metal pillar in the way, I have to
hunch up my legs and roll. Once in, apart from being in very public view, it
is so narrow if I want to turn over I have to wake up and adjust my
position. Hermann, my current watch dancing partner, is well over six feet
tall and broad with it - he has learnt to sleep on his back as once in his
bunk movement is impossible. Sjaak sometimes sleeps with his head down where
his feet should be so he can look out of the tunnel. And Sharon shares her
room with the 'birthday kite' - so big, like Demis Roussos in a colourful
body bag, it takes up the whole top bunk. Sharon's bunk, very neat and
tidy, looks like the entrance to a rather large rabbit hole with a Roussos
oak above! Though no-one would dare call Sharon a bunny girl! Strangely, we
usually all sleep well though that night for me had been all noises and
bangs as Skyelark rolled about in good winds and moderate seas; I could not
find the right sleeping position. !

And when you get up it is not to a stable world - oh no, there is no regular
rhythm to the roll of the boat; as the swell is traversed by cross waves,
you have no idea which way to lean. This morning Herman and I are getting
dressed in the dark, putting legs in the strong trouser holes and trying to
be quiet so as not to disturb sleepers, falling over and banging into
things - we all have bruises; it is a true waltz of the Zombies.
And I won't talk about the necessary trip to the 'heads' on a boat on the
ocean but suffice to say that if we still used cut throat raisers, I would
be a dead'un. Now I know why the navy allows beards - they might lose too
much stock!

And then you go on deck, having donned life jacket and safety strap, and
everything is so amazing that you realise that none of the other stuff
matters and at this moment there is nowhere on earth you would rather be.
There is no moon but the stars are so bright that they light up the
nocturnal world. You cannot resist stretching out your hand and trying to
touch them. They say many astronauts come back in an altered mental state as
they cannot come to terms with the wonders they have seen; it is one of
those moments. In the night watches, when it is clear, there is no need to
speak. Hermann and I grunt the odd friendly grunt and when not watching the
dials - wind speed, direction, course and checking the radar for any other
traffic- none - we look to the heavens. (On cloudy nights when on watch with
Sjaak we listened to talking books - Wilbur Smith can be very graphic.) I am
not confidant helming down wind at night - with the wind behind us - in case
of gibe, so let the auto pilot take the strain. Skyelark, making around 8
knots in 20 knot winds, is rolling gently with the luminescence of the
plankton lighting up our wake and bow wave. The odd flying fish comes aboard
and has to be repatriated - one hit Em in the face the other day, probably
not a good experience for either of them! Sometimes we have to clear the
deck of flying fish when the dawn lights up the fore deck. And one morning a
squid was in the cockpit, a trail of ink across the seating. No birds, no
large waves and squid do not fly - a mystery! We sail on merrily until 6am
when we are relieved by Em and tumble into our tousled berths.

That night I sleep like a log - cannot now say 'like a baby' as grand son
Rufus thought it meant I had wet the bed! During the night I was aware of a
managed gibe and a slightly different roll but nothing else until 10 am.

I am awoken by a clunk from the galley - in my room - and Dan making
porridge. -Would you like some? Yes please. Delicious. Then quickly on deck
to join Sharon and Sjaak who are on watch. . The sea has calmed Dan decides
we should take out a reef. Steering into the wind, pulling on furling lines
and jib sheets we move the foresail. Dan goes up to the mast, releasing the
reef line and hoisting up the mainsail. Make teas/coffees for everyone.
Read ( A Little Life - bit tear jerking!) and relax, before going back on
watch at noon.

It is a perfect day. The odd squall which drenches us and confuses the wind
but otherwise blue skies and an increasingly fierce sun as we get deeper
into the tropics. Hats and sun cream essential - and also lots of water to
drink. A cheese and ham toastie arrives for lunch, courtesy of Dan, as the
sea turns that deepest of blue that you only get in the great oceans, with
the sea bed 12,000 ft below. Big , blue white, crested swells come from
behind and lift the 20 tonne Skyelark, like a leaf on a padding pool, gently
up, letting us briefly surf down the slope, before settling again back into
the trough and then repeating the uplifting experience.
The wind gets up again and it is decided to put in a reef. Standing at the
mast in my shorts - have not worn any shoes since St Helena - and pulling on
the reefing line there is a good view of the ocean. Nothing. No birds,
whales, other vessels. If green is the colour of Wales, blue is the ocean's
dominant feature; so many different hues and intensities. My reverie was
slightly shattered by Sharon kindly complimenting me on my 'nice builder's
crack'. At my age you take any compliments you can!

And the day went on. Dan made scones for tea - yummy. Hermann and I were on
cooking duty for the 6pm meal. With Dan's help, a rather dashing sweet
potato and spinach curry was served with rice and a roast chicken breast
each for the non vegans. I am not the tidiest of cookers, as with a grin
Sjaak, on washing up duty with Sharon, pointed out - 'a delicious meal but
you are not very efficient in the kitchen' He was right. The hob was a
disgrace . Having used too small a pan it was over flowing so I decided to
transfer to a larger pan - then the wave came ...... Poor Sjaak!

At 7pm there is a role call with other ships in the fleet. We are now well
spaced so radio signals are weak. All is well. The quiz followed with the
Russian Arabela hosting. Only two of us could hear, so to beat Solo a German
husband and wife team when we had a cast of many colours was a bit of a
pyrrhic victory. It will be last quiz as communications are difficult.

A quick sleep, before going on watch at 9 - and then a whole night's sleep
from midnight until 6 am, by which time Skyelark will have passed the half
way point and have only 900 miles to go to enjoy the delights of Brazil.
Who could want more. .

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