It’s been years since Sea Cloud has been at sea during gale force winds, and I was one of the lucky ones to witness it first-hand. The day started out as most days do…moderate winds from the south, with gusts of five to ten knots. The forecast predicted the winds would pick up in the afternoon to fifteen knots max -- nothing to get excited about. After breakfast, the captain gave the order to set sails and all sixty five deck crew strapped up to climb the rigging and prepare the sails for a calm day at sea. From start to finish, it takes over an hour to prepare the ship for setting sail. This is because Sea Cloud is one of the last hand-sailed square riggers in the world, which means each and every sail on her four masts have to be lashed down and untied by hand – which requires the crew to climb over 1,000 cumulative vertical feet (taking into account the four masts) before the sails can be unfurled and set into place. It’s an amazing display of dexterity and agility as the men and women climb around the rigging, through ropes, lines, jibs, masts, sails and everything else that becomes an obstacle during the process.
Once we were finally under way, we enjoyed a great morning of excellent sailing weather. After lunch, however, an easterly front changed course and began heading our direction. The winds began picking up… 15 knots, 20 knots, 25 knots… nothing the ship couldn’t handle, but nevertheless strong enough that the captain had to consider taking down the sails should the wind continue to build. By the time he gave the order to take the sails down, the winds were a blustery 35 knots. Any line that was not tied down was flapping violently in the wind, and hauling the yard lines (usually a four man job) now required twelve men to secure to the deck. One of the deck lines that wasn’t secured cracked like a whip in a gust of wind and nicked the back of a crew members leg, slicing through his pants with ease, leaving a large gash behind.
Once all the sails had been furled, it was time for the most dangerous and terrifying job of all… climbing the 250 foot masts (without clipping in by the way – there are no safety lines for the crew to clip in to as they climb) We all watched in astonishment as the sixty five men and women braced themselves for a climb they would not forget. At this point, winds were picking up to 40 knots and the boat was beginning to keel in all directions, succumbing to the forces of both water and wind.
It was an incredible operation as the crew climbed the rigging and secured the sails that were now flapping violently in the wind, and a relief that there were no injuries along the way. For the rest of the evening we hunkered down as winds continued to pick up, reaching speeds up to 65 knots, and waves crashed down on us from every direction. The Sea Cloud is an incredibly stable ship; without a doubt more sturdy than any other ship I’d ever been on, but even then it’s stability was no match for the massive swells that would send anything that wasn’t lashed down flying in the air.
More incredible than the storm though, was the sunset that followed. As we continued to ride out the rough seas and relentless wind, the sky began to clear just as the sun began to go down. Minutes before the last light of day, the sun dipped below the massive storm clouds and lit up the sky in every direction, revealing an incredible rainbow behind the stern of the ship. Because of the intensity of the sun at that moment and the storm that had just passed, it was without a doubt the brightest and most intense rainbow I’d ever seen, an absolutely incredible sight. For several minutes, the sun continued to drop over the horizon, and with each passing minute the sky became more and more vibrant with explosive reds, oranges, and yellows reflecting off the clouds and also the water below. It was an unbelievable day at sea, one that I surely will cherish forever….
While calm days on the water are beautiful and relaxing, its days like these that I live for…