We arrived in England yesterday evening, Tuesday, July 8, from Wicklow, nonstop. We laid up in Torqay, a very touristy area on the Devon coast, which is beautiful to see from sea. We'll be here for all day today, probably setting out for Portsmouth tomorrow morning.
This last passage was the most intensive sailing experience I've ever had, two days at sea without cover from the elements, and two very different days would be hard to imagine.
We set out of Wicklow in a calm midday start on Monday, searching for the strong southbound current that would take us toward Lands End. We rowed for about two hours, taking half-hour stints at the oars. When the breeze finally came up, we raised full sail, a great relief from rowing. The breeze began to build, and by late afternoon it had reached a consistent 20 knots and came with rain. We put in two reefs, and before long a third, as the wind reached a consistent 30 knots with heavy, confused, and breaking seas. We were sailing fairly close hauled, with seas nearly parallel to our course. I don't know what the wave height was; probably on the order of 15'. At 5 p.m., we were all ordered to put on our survival suits, and we kept them on as a precaution until 9 a.m. the next morning.
Sailing HAVHINGSTEN is a combination of heavy work followed by long stretches of trying to stay warm and dry as possible. When reefing, the entire midship watch, 16 people, take care of reefing the sail. One person watches the midsheet, two on the "priors" which pull the center of the sail to the mast, and the rest lay out on the sail to make off heavy reefing lines at the corners and three locations along the foot of the sail, and then make up all the small reefing lines. By the time it's over, you're hot and tired. Then you go back to try to find a comfortable place, take the weather, and wait for the next command.
We were making probably 10 knots in these heavy wind and sea conditions, the ship just driving, driving through the seas, pounding into the waves forward despite the sharpness of her hull. The rain came hard, which was bad enough, but the worst was that just as you started to feel your eyes close and sleep come on, a boarding sea would come over the rail and leave you miserably wet, with a cold slap in the face. I took, I don't know, eight or ten of these myself, maybe more. After a while, you just don't care anymore, and it doesn't come as a surprise anymore, either. After a while, you just learn how to turn your back to it, and never let your hood come down. An Irish girl next to me took a wave right down her survival suit neck, soaking her head to toe. Her boyfriend got her changed, but it wasn't enough. The watch decided to send her over to the following ship, CABLE ONE, to warm up. She was running a fever by then, but this morning she was back on HAVHINGSTEN, fit and chipper. They are a tough group, these sailors. She was one of three (or maybe four; I've heard different numbers) who were sent over to the following ship for severe seasickness or hyperthermia. About half the crew were very sick; I'm afraid I was one of these, but I could still function well enough to keep myself together.
We took a lot of water onboard. With four hand-lever pumps, taking one-half liter per stroke, going pretty much constantly while we were sailing. As one statistic, the guy who is in charge of keeping track of the pumped water told me that we pumped 7.5 tons of water overboard between midnight and 4 a.m. That's more than the ballast weighs. When one fellow, Tajs, opened the bilge pump "room," he looked at me and told me he had never seen that much water in the boat before. It was like looking down at a riverbed, with water sloshing about in a current over the rock in the bilges. Tons of water, just on one watch, and Jens the pump watcher showed me page after page of similar records from the night.
I had a chance to ask my watch commander, Preben Rather Sorensen, about this water, and he felt that the ship was handling the conditions very well, and we had enough fit people working the pumps to stay ahead of it. By comparison, he said, the shipbuilders in Roskilde ran tests on her stability before sea trials, in which they pumped 17.5 tons of water into her, enough to float her floorboards off. Then they had 50 men run from side to side, and she showed remarkable reserve stability even then. So he was very condifent in the status of the ship, which just kept running, and running, unbelievable in how fast she goes, how cleanly she handles these waves, flexing and fighting and always coming back for more. I may have felt wet, cold, tired, and seasick, but I never felt unsafe.
I understand from Preben that the Danish press has made quite a story out of this incident, somewhat sensationalistically stating that several sailors were "evacuated" and so on. It miffs the leadership a bit, since they think it is not fully understood by the press, and after all that is one reason why the chase boat CABLE ONE is there in the first place. All of the sailors wanted to come back, and will.