The Breath of the Pacific. & I’ve Never Known a Night Like it

So out of the South China Sea and bimmbling along the western extremity of the Pacific Ocean as we mooch towards the East China Sea.
It is almost as though we are on tiptoe as we skirt the edge of Pacific with nothing between us and the western coast of the usa except for 6500 miles of ocean.
You can feel the ocean breathe. Like a sleeping dragon.
The low ocean swell giving us a lazy 2 degree roll, yet invisible to the eye when you scan the surface for a sign of it.
A mighty beast indeed, and for the next 5 days or so I hope we don’t wake it up because we would be well and truly in the shite with nowhere to hide.

23* N 122* E Course 045 Speed 8 KNots Wind NE 6 knots Temp 24*C Water depth 4900 meters

Two charts tonight As for the fist one I apologise for this not being a very nautical chart but its the best I can lift from the net for now and gives an idea of where we are.
The second chart gives you an idea of just how fucking the ocean is and why I am perhaps feeling a little bit isolated on this leg of the voyage.


Big World

I have never known a night like it!!

As a seafarer you just accept rough weather as a hazard of the job. You batten down the hatches, lash everything down and, depending on the size and ferocity of the storm forecast, get ready for a few days of uncomfortable living. You have no choice but to just trust in the vessels ability to ride the storm.
People often wonder why we don’t just run for cover and shelter in the lee of a land mass, but ships are designed to cope with foul weather and in the middle of the ocean there is no where to run.

The days of vessels being routinely over-laden in order to squeeze a few more quid profit for the owner are thankfully long gone, although it is still the case with some smaller vessels in the less well regulated parts of the world, where the compliance with safety regulations is directly related to the amount of money to be found in the brown envelopes handed to the surveyor and port officials.
Many ships sank trough overloading before the Plimsolle line was adopted.

It was not the loss of seafarers that instigated the introduction but the loss of cargo, however ship owners continued to oppose the introduction for years.

All seafarers prefer it when it is calm (who wouldn’t) but there is something awesome and extravagantly dramatic about being at sea in a big storm. It makes you realise that this has been going on long before man set about trashing the planet and will continue long after we have completed the task and are long gone.
In a full blown hurricane or typhoon one can only marvel at the energy produced, and how, if we could work out how to harness even a fraction of it, our energy needs would be solved.

You only have to survive one freak wave, also known as rouge or pyramid waves, to realise just how puny mans engineering achievements are in the face of the natural forces of the planet.

The first and probably the largest “freak wave” I ever encountered come out of the dark in a storm force 12 conditions (Huge waves. Sea is completely white with foam and spray. Air is filled with driving spray, greatly reducing visibility.)
It hit us just aft of the accommodation break and ripped the port lifeboat and one of the davits clean off the deck.
The lifeboat was a 40 man boat about 8 meters long and was situated 15 meters above the water line.
If you take the average two storey house has having a roof ridge of about 7.5 meters and work up form there to about 20 or more meters, that will give you some idea of the size this wave had to be to have enough grunt to overwhelm us like that.
If you can see them coming they look like this

Once the weather starts to deteriorate you find that each hour, when on watch, is just a little longer than normal. Much of that will be due to interrupted sleep pattern as it is difficult to sleep on a moving platform. This is why you will find on proper working ships that all bunks face fore and aft and never thwart ships.
When fore and aft you can wedge some clothing or something under one side of the mattress and it will wedge you in against the bulkhead so you are not flopping about or rolling out of your bunk.
If you are athwartships you will be sliding feet first down the bed one second and then head first back up it the next.
(It is a useful tip for you landlubbers that feel a bit queazy on a ferry to book a cabin that has the bunks bow to stern if you can.)

When on watch on the bridge, depending on the violence of the storm, you will attempt to wedge yourself in were you have a good view of the radar and the horizon ahead of you, although in bad conditions you cant see much and only the largest of vessels show up on the radar.

Luckily most offshore vessels will have a decent conning chair from were you can see all around and have access to the engine, rudder controls and radars.
With a modern integrated bridge using electronic charts I can superimpose the charts over the radar display in order to monitor where I am in relation to navigational hazards at all times which saves me having to risk moving about too much in bad weather.

To get around you develop this wide legged, bent kneed, stance for walking about with your arms flexed out a little at your sides to prevent you from smashing into to objects, or to enable you to be able to grab quickly onto a hand rail to prevent you from being thrown around. I have been in some weather where we have been rolling over 30 degrees at a time and to walk along an alleyway you would have one foot on the bulkhead (wall ) and one on the deck and scuttle along until she rolled back the other way and you would change feet at bulkheads. After a particularly nasty storm your arms and legs will normally be bruised up.

After a 6 or 12 hour watch you will be exhausted and even in those conditions sleep comes easily albeit fitful.
The sheer volume and violence of a ship repeatedly running into large waves and the associated crashing, banging, rolling, pitching and corkscrewing all take their toll, both physically and after prolonged time mentally.
You just feel dog tired once the novelty has worn off like being trapped on some manic fairground ride that no-one can turn off.
The cooks have the worst job as they still have to try and produce something to provide us with nutrition.
You should try and imagine what it would be like in your own kitchen if it was roiling from side to side by just few degrees, yet alone 20 or 30 degrees at a time, and an occasional, no warning, shuddering smash enough to nearly knock you from your feet as another big one crashes in.

Good ships cooks are the unsung heroes of rough weather, and if from a safety point of view we are not down to sandwiches, they will normally knock up something that can be eaten with just a fork or spoon as you need the other hand to hold on to the table with or stop your plate from sliding away.

Bizarrely I have sailed with people (professional seafarers I mean) who get sea sick every time there is rough weather and having seen how miserable people get when in the grips of “mal de mer” I cannot understand why they would continue to go to sea.
It would like being a butcher if you were allergic to meat, you would have to finds something else to do.
That said as reasonable weather 85% of the time, if not more, I can see that the benefits outweigh the cons of the life on the ocean wave even for those with a delicate constitution.

Love and peace


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