Reindeer Below Deck
What It Was Like Below
Reindeer's 1976 Transatlantic Voyage
Blog Entry #9
Imagine enduring nine full days of constant soaking rain and wetness, seemingly endless mountainous roller coaster waves, bone-jarring hull-shakings, knuckle-numbing / teeth-chattering temps, a 45 degree heeling vessel, a revving locomotive engine sound of rushing waves beating against a hull and an inability to sit anywhere including the toilet without holding on with an iron grip, and then the stench of seasickness, sweat, body odor, and damp sleeping bags.
With a crew of six in calm waters, Reindeer was most likely a comfortable Sparkman and Stephens 43' sloop, but a crew of eight sailing in extreme conditions was a different story.
In many ways the conditions below deck were far worse than above. Newbold had described conditions below as "comfortable". My experience was quite the opposite.
"Comfortable?" Maybe for a lottery ball in a spinning cage. A kernel of Jiffy popcorn on a hot burner. A fresh strawberry in smoothie blender. Maybe a navy seal on training exercises.
Imagine a crew member's greatest pleasure going on deck in the middle of almost hurricane conditions to escape the foul odors from below. Yes, getting off watch to get warm, eat and sleep below was slightly more desirable than being doused with salt water torture for four hours. Having those 8 hours off-watch always seemed just enough time for each of us to restore our energy, resolve and willingness to perform adequately on deck. There were times, like every time, I could use another six days of rest and dream about waking up in a dry stationary bed. However, on a number of occasions I found myself yearning to return to deck duty before my watch time. The lesser of two evils!
While I was never seasick on the voyage, I felt queasy a few times when I went below. With the storms raging outside, all the hatches were always kept sealed and watertight so the air was stagnant at best. The boat motion in rough weather and the limited ventilation below contributed to everyone's discomfort, but the real culprits had nothing to do with Reindeer's design or layout; they had to do with the dampness, the bunk sharing body sweat and mostly the unbearable putrid smell of sick crew members. Many of the younger crew had been sick, but Toby's wife, Paula Garfield, was constantly "under the weather" and rarely left her bunk in 9 days. It took the taste and smell of a hot meal or well-covered nostrils and the hope for a quick onset of sleep to dodge this awful odor. Thankfully we did not use the coal stove again so that smell and smoke weren't now factors. (I described in an earlier blog entry how the coal stove had not worked and smoked the whole crew out of the cabin.)
Of course, Newbold was the owner, captain and navigator so he deservedly had the most comfortable bunk aft of the Navigator's table and station. Orlin was the cook, 1st mate and oldest member of the crew so he had the other aft bunk. So lowly crew members were relegated to the bunks amidships. But with Paula always ensconced in the upper starboard bunk, that left three bunks for the other 5 crew members. And both Newbold and Orlin weren't sharing their bunks with 2-3 crew members.
Because of the conditions outside, no one was going to sleep very well. Unless the ocean's motion lulled you to sleep or you were totally exhausted, you slept with one eye open. If you caught some shut-eye, you were lucky. Adding to more discomfort depended on the available bunks at the end of a watch. Of course, any available bunk that had just been occupied was definitely warm, but most assuredly damp and sweaty. For most of the voyage we found ourselves on port tack . This meant, the port side bunk upper bunk and the starboard side lower bunk (leeward side) were usually unoccupied. The upper bunk had some interesting advantages and disadvantages - it was warmer because it was on the high side of the boat as Reindeer heeled and further away from sick Paula. But each person had to be tied into this bunk, and many times this bunk was uncomfortable when one's head rolled back and forth against the line with each wave ...and the real thrill came when you wanted to go to the head (bathroom - another experience altogether!) or get ready for your watch. You would usually end up falling out onto to someone below you. The lower bunk was usually more damp, but more stable and there was less rolling out. But the big disadvantage - it was close to sick Paula.
While conditions below were far warmer and dryer than on deck, we felt the same jolts and wave crashes as they did above. One of the disadvantages below was we could only guess when the next wave would hit. Crew above deck had the advantage of being able to anticipate the next wave or gust. Below we were blind to these forces, but we felt them just the same. And there was a certain predictability to a jackhammer waterfall - beating to weather each wave was a good 5-10 seconds away from crashing into our port side hull.
Another blog coming about managing the head and eating meals. I rarely went to the bathroom for 10 days despite the fact that we had delicious, warming meals and I ate like a ravenous horse!