Riding the Dragon

July 5/6th, 2013

Crew: Asta Mail, Eric Loss, Shanley McEntee, Mitch McLean, Kate Gardella, Margaret Pietrak

Blog Written by Asta Mail

Well.. the sampling today did not go exactly as I had planned.

After writing last night, I curled up in bed and waited for my 4-8 am watch to begin, which turned out to be incredibly beautiful. Shanley and I watched the sun slowly emerge from out of the clouds, streaking the sky pink and turning the gentle surface of the ocean into a metallic maze of patterns radiating from the horizon. I was lost in its beauty, and so was the wind. It died rapidly around 530 am, and by the time the sun was up, it had pretty much disappeared completely. We turned on the motor, and headed northwest towards the entrance to the St. Lawrence River. Though it is slower when we motor towards our destination, it meant that I could easily spend the afternoon collecting water samples, and trying out our YSI meter. I was excited to get some sleep and then start satisfying my curiosity about the St. Lawrence Estuary.

By the end of each of my shifts, I always feel as if I’m in a complete daze.  I don’t know what happens to my brain over those four-hour periods, but by the time we have woken the next crew to take over and finished up with our shift, it’s all I can do just to keep the boat on course. Poor Shanley is so patient and kind to me as I learn my way around the boat, but I must seem like a half brained zombie by the time we return to our berths below deck. This time was especially bad because I felt the aura of an optical migraine coming on, rippling the air around me, and making everything look like a TV that isn’t quite tuned to the right channel.

I went below, saying good morning to the sun, and preparing for a long morning of pain ahead. Hopping into bed, I breathed slow and long, trying to calm my pulsing brain. This worked for a while, until all of a sudden, the wind returned. It didn’t just float by either. It started gusting at up to 30 knots.

The crew on deck weren’t caught off guard by this, and quickly moved to readjust the sails to take advantage of the wind’s formidable power. They were having a great time, steering Sea Dragon at approximately 9 knots through the water. Those of us below deck, however, were having a lot less fun.

If you’ve ever been on a boat that is keeled in the wind, you will know that it feels like the rule of gravity has changed. Everything must now be done at an angle, and you constantly have to have at least 3 points of contact with objects or holds around you, otherwise you’re bound to go flying.

Returning from my migraine induced fog, I decided that a blast of warm water from our on board showers would help soothe my aching head, and make me feel more like a decent human being. Holding on to everything around me like a monkey on a jungle gym, I swung my way to the head, hoping that I would make it to the shower without breaking any toes on the floor holds along the way.

I made it into the head, the door slamming closed behind me as the boat took and even sharper angle. When you’re sailing, its often better to shower sitting down, as this way you can hold on to a handle bar with one hand, and use the other to direct the shower head.

I won’t get into the details of what happened next, but let’s just say I left the head with a broken seat, and left me with five new bruises. Word to the wise, friends: shower when the seas are calm, and learn to love your own stink.

The whole rest of the afternoon was spent keeled over, with the wind never leaving us with less than 20 knots to work with. Eric, our skipper, absolutely loved it, singing about squirrels at the top of his lungs, and generally causing a ruckus.

When I returned to the deck later that afternoon, my headache had finally begun to clear, and I was asked to take over at the helm for our two-hour dinner shift. After tacking through the wind, I experienced some of the most intense sailing I’d ever done.

The waves looked to be approximately 8-10 feet tall, and were white capped and choppy. We were flying over them at an odd angle, which meant that every so often a wave would break all over the boat, soaking the deck, and me. I gripped the wheel so tightly my fingers began to numb, and put one leg up on the deck, the other firmly planted beneath the wheel. Going over 10 knots at some points, it really did feel like flying on the back of a bucking dragon.

“Riding the Dragon” was an intense experience, and one that was both exciting, and a little nerve wracking. It takes intense concentration to focus on attaining the right wind angle, and keeping the boat positioned so that it doesn’t get overpowered.

Needless to say, today’s conditions were not ideal for sampling. To get a water sample, you must slow the boat down to 1 or 2 knots, and dip a plastic 1 liter container down below the surface of the water about 0.5 meters. This was essentially impossible given the conditions today, which was disappointing, but also understandable. I am not deterred from my quest of learning about the estuary though, because I know we can do some sampling of this area on our return expedition from Quebec City to Halifax.

Today we will near the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and begin our final part of this expedition towards Quebec City. Though I will miss the ocean for its beauty, its incredible creatures, and its bioluminescence, at this point I am looking forward to some slightly calmer waters ahead.

The crew is in great spirits, and is looking forward to the poutine feast we will gather when we arrive in Quebec!