Alternate destination: CadizBy Michael Huck Jr
It was going to be quite a day The early-morning haze had burned off soon after the sun rose over the rocky coast of Portugal. We had left Lisbon the previous night, carefully making our way down the crowded Tagus River to the Atlantic to continue our trip south. The Tagus, like all industrial waterways, doesn't have a slow period. The barges shooting out of the branches of the river make the trip difficult by day, but the job of maneuvering these two large schooners around the traffic at night had been downright hazardous. Spotters were calling out all over the ship, "Off the port beam, going away; off starboard bow coming across." We had all breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the coast and open water.
I was sailing aboard one of two vessels of the Flint School, a nine-month at-sea academic program for teens. TeQuest was her name, and she was 175 feet of sailing ship. Built as a yacht in 1930, her lines were typical of the large motorsailers of the period. High clipper bows led to a sheer that started in a smooth arc and then leveled to the aft deck. A spacious deckhouse had been added, and it was doing triple duty as galley, dining saloon, and classroom. The main deck had a large hatch and a companionway leading to the forecastle. The foredeck was raised and dominated by the huge anchor winch, which squatted in the center. A 15-foot bowsprit provided a tack for two jibs. TeQuest was a staysail schooner with three masts, three staysails, two fishermen, and a huge bermuda main. Her crew complement was about 45 cadets and eight staff. I was captain of the Delta watch.
The Tagus was far behind us now, and the coastline had gradually changed from slowly rising hills to steep, craggy cliffs. I had the afternoon watch and was looking forward to enjoying the warmer climate. We had started our journey in the Northern European fall and had finally caught up with some reasonable temperatures. It made the chores on watch seem like a small price to pay to be out on the water. I had my people working on hawsers, drilling each other in navigation, washing the decks, and otherwise keeping track of the ship. A steady westerly made easy work of setting the sails, and we were looking forward to Christmas in Spain.The wind foretold by the swells had arrived and added its noise to the sound of the waves As we neared the southern tip of Portugal, the weather began to deteriorate. A low-pressure trough was starting to develop and promised some pretty stiff breezes blowing directly west from Gibraltar. Word soon spread tbrough the ship, and everyone actually got quite excited. The voyage had proceeded smoothly from the start, and we were getting a bit cocky After all, we had passed through the Kiel Canal, we had braved the North Sea, and we had survived crossing the Bay of Biscay We were seasoned sailors and lacked only this bit of rough weather to make us full-fledged salts.
By the end of the day we reached Cabo de Sao Vicente and left the protection of Portugal's shore. The promised wind had not yet arrived, but we headed eastward toward Spain into some great rolling swells. Everyone had come on deck to pay homage to the school of Prince Henry the Navigator at Sagres, just east of the cape, and we all got our first real taste of the power in the Atlantic.
A smaller vessel may have hardly felt the waves go by A smaller sailing yacht did pass us, headed downwind and looking quite comfortable. We were not overly concerned. Our larger ships were digging into the others with a vengeance. Huge sheets of
spray, parted by our clipper bow, marked each wave's passage. After we shortened sail, everyone went forward to take a ride on the "elevator."
The next watch was having dinner, and we were looking forward to relief. The day had been great, but the afternoon watch is long, and responsibilities have to be met regardless of conditions.
Shortly after dinner, I turned in. Darkness had fallen, and our next watch was at 0400.1 had a good idea of what lay ahead, and it would pay to be fresh. I had been asleep only a short time when I was awakened by a member of the on-watch.
I immediately became aware of the new intensity in the weather. I was having considerable trouble getting out of my bunk. The wind foretold by the swells had arrived and added its noise to the considerable sound of spray and waves.
When I reached the deck, I could see why I had been called. The jib, which had been lashed to the bowsprit, was now streaming over the side. The assistant watch captain and I would have to go out and resecure it.
I know that this task wouldn't have bothered even the greenest crew aboard the old grain ships, but standing on a thin, steel cable in these seas, secured only by a piece of nylon webbing, didn't seem like the height of good sense. My head was already nodding in time with the instructions though, and I was off without any further hesitation. Normally TeQuest's bowsprit is about 15 feet off the water; tonight it was alternating between 30 feet and inches! Before we went out, the ship was turned off the wind so the motion would ease. We used the hand rails and got the jib off and belowdecks without any great difficulties. I went back to my bunk wondering when I would be called again.
About 6 hours later I was back on deck. My watch had been called at normal time. I was relieved to see the captain up as I assembled my troops.
We had changed course slightly turning off the wind and altering our destination to Cadiz, where we would ride out the balance of the storm. In addition to the unpleasant ride, we weren't making much headway against the wind, and it was too hectic to perform much sailhandling. We had the staysails up and the engine on, but had changed the watch structure. No one hut the watch captain was to be on deck. The bow watch would ride the deckhouse roof next to the mainmast, and all of the younger cadets would act as messengers between the engine room and the watch captain. The captain then gave a final admonition to call him if anything went wrong and went below.
All things run their course: this storm, this watch. The next section was ready
I hope my instructions to my watch sounded better than I felt at that moment. The scene on deck was really wild. The mast light showed that the water in our faces wasn't falling from above; it was migrating from right to left. The backstay turnbuckles, which on Te Quest were 3 feet long, were falling to the deck and then snapping upright as the mast tops whipped fore and aft. Since we were off the wind, a yawing had been added to our simple pitching, and two-thirds of my watch succumbed to mal de mer. I sent them to bed. The water was running off the foredeck like a river. The scuppers handled it for the most part, but it sometimes ran thigh-deep alongside the deckhouse.
I'll never forget the impact of the first 20 minutes. The simplest tasks required a whole different set of procedures. Moving about the ship needed special planning to hit the handholds as they were needed. The temptation to stay in the chartroom was overcome by the knowledge that things would happen very quickly in this kind of weather and that what we could prevent from happening in the first place couldn't get worse later. I kept traveling about the deck, checking lashings here, seeing that covers were in place there, and generally trying to stay busy. I visited with people on the deckhouse, and we watched the faces of the incoming waves reflect the nav lights. I went down to the engine room and found most of the cadets I had sent to bed sprawled outside the door in agony but ready to help take readings from the generators. I passed through the academic areas and saw that while most of the books had fallen from the shelves, they at least weren't jumping from the floor. When I got back on deck, moving around was no longer much of a problem. Routes seemed to materialize; handholds were right at hand.
After that 20 minutes, it seemed as though it had always been like this. It was blowing Force 7 the waves were tossing us around, but so what? We were making progress. If it wasn't toward our original destination, at least we were going somewhere. We weren't shaking apart, and now that daylight was breaking, we all wanted to go forward and ride the "elevator," because it was really moving now.
All things run their course.: this storm, this watch. The next section was ready to come on deck. We told them the wind was abating, but I don't think our words made much difference; you see, they looked a little timid.
Pages 127 / 128 OCTOBER 1987 SAIL Magazine
Note that the original article had no pictures, so I added my own - P.K. Stevens
teQuest's aft deck heaving as the bow plunges down for another dig into the waves.
The wind was feirce. We would soon round this cape in about 3-4 hours to bear the brunt of the wind and waves.
Afterwards, when we arrived in Cadiz, we had a mess to clean up. The academic office and paint locker. Gallons of paint in the Fo'csle had spilled creating a noxious river of paint and solvents flowing below decks. The bow would fall fast as the swells passed under the ship to rapidly lift the stern. Your feet could leave the bow deck at times.