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LIFE ON BOARD
This is perhaps as good a time as any to attempt to give a general impression of life on board the yacht. In the first place it should be realised that no hardship was involved, and that the sense of safety, so far from being less, soon became infinitely greater than on a larger ship. Not only does a small boat ride ov6r the waves like a cork, but there is the assurance that in case of accident everyone will know what to do, and orders will be received without delay; there is plenty of room in the boats, and the lowering away is known to be a comparatively easy matter. On first going on board a big liner after being accustomed to Mana, it felt an alarmingly dangerous means of transit.
Existence on any ship has drawbacks in bad weather or extreme heat, but on the yacht the arrangement by which the saloon and cabins were connected with the deck-house made the circulation of air particularly good. A sailing ship is also without the universal and unpleasant draughts which are omnipresent in a steamer. In regard to the pleasure of movement there is of course no comparison between the two.
As to the food there cannot be the same variety where no refrigerators are possible, and preserved and salt meats are apt to become monotonous, but we always left port with as large a supply of fresh meat as possible, and a few hens and sometimes a sheep. Preserved vegetables are good, and potatoes could be carried throughout a voyage, also eggs, and some fruit such as bananas. With but few exceptions, in very bad weather, we had bread every day in the cabin and twice a week in the forecastle. The crew much preferred tinned milk and declined fresh even when it was available, and for the saloon the unsweetened variety was quite pleasant. In all other respects the meals were such as would obtain in any simple household at home.
The routine of ship's life turns on the watches, the alternate four hours on and four hours off of the crew. Only in case of urgency is it permissible to call the watch below, and hence any deck work, such as altering or shortening sails, when it is not immediately imperative, waits for the changes of the watch at 8, 12, and at 4, when all the crew are available; those also are meal hours for the forecastle, with which those of the cabin must not clash. The afternoon or dog watches are of two hours only, from 4 to 6 and 6 to 8, in order to secure that the same hours are not kept on two consecutive days by the same members of the crew. It is a strange life from the point of view of the landsman, especially in its bearing on the hours of sleep: eight hours on and eight hours off duty would have seemed preferable, but it is the general rule throughout the merchant service, and the men are accustomed to it.
My own daily round began with ordinary domestic duties, which were seldom accomplished before 11 o'clock. On Saturday the work took even longer, as, in addition to the usual business of life, the weekly stores were given out to the forecastle, and fresh boxes of provisions were fetched up from below and decanted into tins for shelves; if weather permitted the main hold was opened. Not only do a marvellous number of small things need attention on a boat, but every action takes much longer, owing to the constant movement of the vessel; each article, for example, has to be put down so that it cannot be overthrown by a sudden lurch. To my friends who were anxious as to what we did for exercise, I replied that to give out stores in a rolling boat, in imminent danger of having the whole contents of a shelf thrown at one's head, was an acrobatic performance which involved sufficient activity to last the twenty-four hours. The same is also true in degree of every muscular movement, so that the need was rarely felt for such artificial exercise as deck promenades. This was as well, for as both the lifeboat and cutter were carried in the waist of the ship when we were at sea, the space available for "constitutionals" was prescribed.
On certain passages when such a precaution seemed desirable, as for instance in crossing the Doldrums, the supply of water was rationed; a gallon per man per day is the allowance, of which the cook took the morning quota, or half of the whole amount; in the afternoon everyone produced a quart tin to be filled (about a fair-sized hot-water can), and this was the private reserve for washing and drinking. It is wonderful what can be done with it, and to use a full basin of water for the washing of hands and then throw it away seems even to-day wicked waste; the Stewardess was given a double supply, and found it more than necessary. A new form of philanthropy came into play, when one member might be overheard saying to another, "Can I let you have some of my savings, I am really quite well off," the savings being aqua pura. When rain came every available utensil was utilised to catch it, and we all suddenly became millionaires. It must be borne in mind that for many things, such as bathing and scrubbing down, there was an unlimited supply of salt water, and a "salt-water soap" proved a great success.
When the household duties were over for the time being, the favourite resort, if the weather was bad or very hot, was in the deck-house, otherwise it was the after end or poop of the ship. This space, which was that above the chart-room, and of course the place of the helm, was raised as in old-fashioned ships, so that it was almost always dry even if the waist of the ship was slightly awash. There was no need, nor indeed space, for chairs; cushions on the deck made satisfactory seats with the steering-gear casing for a back, or in stormy weather on the top of the box, with a rope to cling to if necessary. The position had to be changed of course from time to time if the vessel went over on the other tack.
A certain amount of writing and reading was accomplished, but not so much as had been expected, for any considerable roll made them a strain on the eyesight; a monumental piece of embroidery, which was to have commemorated the voyage, was brought back practically untouched. Even when no fixed occupation was possible the hours evaporated marvellously, and for the first time on a voyage it was a pleasure to see the hands of the clock put back. There was usually something to observe going on on deck, and the speed at which the vessel was travelling was a perennial source of interest: four miles an hour was fair, six was good, and anything over eight was exciting. The speed was checked every watch by means of the patent log, a mechanical screw which trailed behind the vessel and whose evolutions registered its rapidity; its reckoning, however, became more than once somewhat surprising, owing to the sharks which mistook it for something good to eat, and its bright copper surface was accordingly painted black. We once nearly secured a baby shark, which could be seen clearly in the green water following the salt meat which was being soaked by being towed overboard; the usual little pilot-fish was in attendance. It took a bait, but got away with the hook just as it was being hauled over the rail. This was almost the nearest we came to success in fishing from the deck, in which we were uniformly unfortunate, in spite of the fact that all on board were fishermen and the crew were professionals. Passing bird and marine life were frequently of interest. Above all the ever-changing ocean was an immediate neighbour, always claiming attention, whether it bore a calm blue surface, on which was traced the white line of the vessel's course, or resolved itself into a grey mass of tumbling billows, ever trying to break and again falling back, leaving little white crests to mark their vain attempt. It is presumably from this lazy frame of mind on the old sailing vessels that the idea arose of a voyage as a cure for overwrought nerves; the present mail steamer, with its hurly-burly of strangers, noisy children, deck sports, and sweeps on the log may or may not be a place of entertainment — it can hardly be considered one of rest.
When the ship's bell sounded eight bells, or noon, all the hands which could be spared went below to their dinner, a wonderful stillness reigned, and the deck was devoted to the solemn ceremonies of navigation. Three figures, those of the Navigating Lieutenant, the Sailing-master, and frequently that of S., might be seen balanced in various attitudes, sextant in hand, endeavouring to shoot the sun. The most exciting moment of the twenty-four hours was when the paper was handed in which stated the exact position of the vessel, and the amount she had done on her course in the last twenty-four hours. It was naturally preluded by guesses as to what the result would be, those who had kept themselves informed of the records of the patent log having an undue advantage.
The hours between luncheon and tea time were largely devoted to slumber, and the ship was kept as quiet as possible in order not to disturb the men who had kept the middle watch the preceding night; their rest was apparently much more affected by noise than is generally presumed to be the case with non-brain workers. The same sound varies in its effect on different persons; when it was necessary to use the engine the Sailing-master complained that he could never sleep with that "unnatural noise" going on. He altogether refused to allow that its regular beat might be considered less distracting than the spasmodic jibing of the ship, with its inevitable accompaniment of shouting of orders, stamping, and hauling of ropes; those he maintained were absolutely "natural" sounds. This recalls the attitude of the cook to cabbage day, which, though beloved of the men, is, under certain conditions of the elements, the reverse of pleasant to others on a small vessel, so much so that on many yachts its recurrence is restricted by the ship's articles; Mana's cook was of the opinion that the smell was "rather nice"; he evidently considered it a "natural" odour, which perhaps on the whole was fortunate.
The most pleasant time of all on deck was after tea; it was then cool, with the almost daily spectacle of a magnificent sunset. Sometimes the sinking globe went down amid a glory of clouds, which turned the sea into a blaze of red and gold; at others its descent could be traced inch by inch as the ball of fire sank below the horizon on its road to other lands, leaving behind it a track of light across the still waters. One evening in the Pacific the whole sky, east as well as west, was covered with pink clouds, which found their counterpart in the water below. It is at times such as sunset, when sky and sea form a joint panorama, that the dweller on the water truly comes into his own. In ordinary circumstances, contrary to what might be expected, the ocean appeals less to the imagination when seen from shipboard than when viewed from the land; without foreground or counterbalancing element its restless infinity seems bewildering to the comprehension. But when at sea the sky takes up the tale; then the waters below and the firmament above each find in the other their perfect complement and expression.
As soon as twilight reigned the gazer was recalled to the work-a-day world; the navigator came up from the chart-room to take the ship's position by the evening star, the junior member of the watch clambered up the fore-rigging to hang out the ship's lights, and so night fell.
One of the charms of a ship is that she never sleeps. In the hours of darkness the ordinary habitation relapses to a state of coma, and to the mental condition of the primitive jelly-fish; a vessel is always alive, always intelligent. The larger the craft, the more the vital functions are withdrawn from the common gaze; in a small yacht they are ever visible as an inseparable part of the whole. In wakeful nights and from hot cabins, it is only necessary to stumble up the companion to find the cool freshness of deck and waking companionship. Silhouetted against the sky, is the dark figure of the man at the wheel, somewhere in the gloom is the officer in charge, and for'ard, though invisible, is the watch on the look-out. The latest news of wind and progress are to be had for the asking; it is full of mystery and yet reassuringly practical.
The night Mana crossed the Equator is unforgettable; the yacht, borne along by the newly caught trade wind, raced through the water with the very poetry of motion. The full moon made a silver pathway over the sea and lit up not only the foam from the vessel's bows, but also her white sails, which were faintly reflected in the dark sea; the masts and rigging stood out black against the deep blue sky, while over all was the Southern Cross. What has been said of sunset from shipboard is still more true of moonlight and starlight nights. Then ocean and sky become a whole of marvellous beauty, and of majesty beyond human ken; always suggesting questions, always refusing the answer.