The autumn rains have finally reached the Lord Nelson. This became clear when the crew woke to a rain sodden deck, soaking ropes and water still pouring from the skies. By eight o'clock the rain had eased off, but those without coats still found themselves taking a cold and unwelcome shower. Oil skins (huge leather coats and trousers) began to appear for the first time in two voyages along with heavy wellington boots. For the new hands it was a less than gentle warning of what weather at sea can be like at any time of year. While to the old hands including the ones who had traveled to Rouen from Southampton, it was a rude reminder that a calm and gentle outgoing voyage, didn't mean a peaceful and gentle return home.
With the Lord Nelson still in port a little confusion rained as the ongoing watch came on deck at eight o'clock. They had come to an early breakfast, but the newcomers weren't too sure if they should be on watch or not, having heard conflicting opinions on the topic from older members of the crew. Eventually however they were stood down a blessed fact, as it gave some the chance to catch up on a little sleep before being called into the lower mess for the first briefing from the captain. After a introductory talk in which the plan of the day were explained, smoko was served. But while the first cups of tea were being downed, the evacuation alarm was sounded. People yelled, tea went flying but people still rushed up on deck and donned life jackets in fairly good time. The rain had eased off even more by now, but the deck was as wet as ever, particularly for people with leaks in their boots.
Smoko resumed in the lower mess after this, a very special smoko, as it was Martina's birthday. (Martina is watch leader with a great deal of experience, and a wonderful personality to match.) A cream cake had been baked and was soon gone which was important as the next task of the day began. This was the opportunity of all those who were not seriously disabled to go aloft.
Most of the crew had a go, old and newer hands alike. Unlike this writer's previous experiences with mast climbing. All climbers were in oil skins. Also, it was a blind climbers had the chance to ascend the yardarm. This is the producing arm from the mast from which the sails hang. To reach it a climber must scale a narrow rope ladder, transfer his feet to a thin rope, and lean forwards over the sail to hold onto a metal strut. This is a daunting prospect for many, including old hands. However most who scaled the mast gave it a go.
Hands returned from their climb with a hot lunch of macaroni cheese. It was then announced that the crew could step ashore for two hours. Two hours therefore, to experience the delights of Rouen, including its hot drinks and cakes.
At four the Lord Nelson's return journey finally began. With a pilot onboard goodbyes said and the River Seine beckoning the ship cast off. Even the weather seemed cheered as the sun came out or be it only slightly. Onboard, the newer members of the crew were given lessons in bracing the yards, (that is turning the yards in the direction of the wind.) Some sails were also released.
To set the sails, gave some of the hands another opportunity to go aloft. For the writer of this blog, it also meant an experience he had never been through in all his five voyages. He had the chance to climb onto the yardarm, and help release a sail. This experience is similar to the one described above, but with a vital difference.
When leaning on the yardarm, a man clings on to a strut in front of the bound up sail. To release it he must let go with one hand and use this to untie the gaskets (little roves that bind the sail to the yard.) He must then let go of the strut and grab another strut behind it. This can be a heart-stopping moment for anyone, especially if they cannot see. Then on the count of three, he must push the sail forward, so the wind can fill it. And a blind the while the wind howls through the sailor's hair, and the yard moves as people on deck push it. The thought of doing this with no harness and in a storm or hurricane is positively terrifying. But for a blind person, the most frightening thing is letting go with one hand to move a rope or clip onto something. Being used to using both hands on everything, it is very tempting to let go of the yard completely to do your tasks.
The rain started again, soon before super arrived. Tonight it was curry, rice and poppadoms, followed by fruit salad and ice cream. Now on the bridge where I sit composing this blog, the wind roars across the bridge. It is however still reasonably warm. The Lord Nelson is still speeding down the River Seine, and the pilot gives instructions to the helmsman. If all goes well, there will be no change until midnight, at which time we shall be allowed to finally go to our bunks.
David Fwd Stbd watch