Sea Cloud 2: Swells and Sails

Posted January 21st, 2014

“The engine drives the boat through the water,” Peter Warwick, the naval specialist on the cruise said. “With the sails up, she moves with the water.”

The feeling, the difference, was evident even to a landlubber like me. Last night as we sailed toward St. Barts, a squall blew up. I discovered this only because I wanted to return the hot-water carafe we borrowed to the kitchen—and I so wanted another few minutes up on deck. The rain was warm, driven by the wind. My errand done I came to bed and felt the dip and roll, a motion rather like ball spinning across shifting terrain. By six I was feeling unsettled and thought a shower and a walk on deck would take care of things. By six-thirty, and after a few ounces of apple juice, I was feeling distinctly unwell, and went back to our room to lie down and maybe find that motion-sickness patch I had decline to apply behind my ear the day before. By six-thirty-five I regurgitated the apple juice and suspected it was going to be a long day.

A brisk stroll and amusing chat with Paddy Bowe our garden expert improved my steadiness and outlook considerably. A cup of peppermint tea sat pretty well on the tummy, and at the recommendation of the good ship doctor’s girlfriend, I asked for a cup of ginger tea. (Brewed from fresh ginger, so peppery, so delicious, so gastrointestinally calming!) Things were definitely looking up and my Dear One and I prepared to take the nine o’clock tender into the spending mecca that is Gustavia, St Barthélemy.

a tender from the Sea Cloud

a tender from the Sea Cloud

Being the first to get on was a mistake. We sat and sat and sweated in that enclosed space, a vessel rather like the one appropriated by the Somali pirates in the film Captain Phillips. The swells seemed enormous as we traveled into the harbor. Once ashore I sipped on some water and sat on a bench until my inner self slowed her surging; then we began our stroll.

Rue du Bord de Mer

Rue du Bord de Mer

We needed hats. I was determined that my Dear One should have a fine Panama and I had left my own hat sitting on the kitchen table as we left for the airport. But the prices! Oh my heavens! The only hat I would pay one hundred seventy-five euros for would be a hat to wear in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot—and maybe not then. Our choices came in at about third that—but bargains they were not. We look handsome in them, my Dear One even dashing. My new chapeau, however, is not Aunt Helen’s straw hat bought for ten cents in Panama City in 1934.

foremast and outer jib

foremast and outer jib

After a light lunch—mercy the food is good—I staked out a piece of railing at the back the lido deck to watch the “setting of the sails.” I couldn’t wait. After all, we were on this cruise on a historic four-masted barque to sail and not to motor. Chief Officer Gregorz provided commentary. Young men and quite a few young women skittered up the ladders and ranged themselves across the yardarms, releasing a few of the sails from the ties that kept them neatly bundled away. The process was relatively slow, each task done in a certain order and with care. The wind was steady and nearly at our backs and when the mighty jib at the bow was raised, the Sea Cloud steadied, seemed lighter and more secure. Frigate birds and gulls soared around us, perhaps gleeful that this great white bird had finally spread its wings and taken to the air.

But it was only for a few hours.

crew, yardarms, sails, ties

crew, yardarms, sails, ties

As the sunbeams gilded piles of clouds in its descent to the horizon, the crew released the sails, slipped back up into the rigging and bound acres of canvas back to the yardarms. The grumble of diesel engines resumed, and so did the dip and roll that spoiled appetites and dislodged balance.

But the Captain promises us the sails will be set again tomorrow.

second sunset

second sunset



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