9 am Eastern Time, Central Gulf of Mexico, Bearing south for the Dry Tortugas
From the point of view of sailing on a ship, everything at sea seems to be integrated into one experience; the sea and the weather as one, the crew and the ship. I could be wrong, but that’s what it seems.
The Weather and the Sea
The weather is clearing but still partly cloudy, giving the sea an unqualified, but pleasing, purple color. Swells are rising from 4-6 feet and north northeasterly winds at 20-27 knots are continuing to roll the Liberty Star from port to starboard rather unpleasantly for land lubbers — but certainly not dangerously. Some rolls to starboard are up to slightly over 20 degrees; these you really notice, throwing you off your feet, if not prepared. Winds are expected to continue unabated throughout the voyage.
Pegasus’ bow plunges majestically a few feet, throwing white sea spray onto and over its bow. Reports from Pegasus say ET-134 is doing fine, its black beak occasionally lifting skyward, as if doing its part; lunging forward to reach Kennedy Space Center.
A few rain squalls are passing on all sides of Liberty Star, but don’t pose any problems. Hundreds of white caps top the sea’s surface.
In other words the weather is fine, posing no problems for Liberty Star or crew, except anticipating that side-to-side roll, which is absolutely relentless and perfectly normal.
The ten-person, well-trained and highly-experienced crew of Liberty Star is in constant movement throughout the ship. Captain Mike Nicholas roams the vessel keeping his own schedule, checking the tow, the engines, the sea and weather, and questioning the status of operations.
The cook, Dragan Jurkovic, is in constant motion in the galley preparing meals as he is hurtled from starboard to port, saved by grabbing on to galley furniture and other fixtures. Dragan sustains the crew with wonderful full comfort meals of pork chops grilled to perfection with browned potatoes, peeled by the blogger public affairs officer — well, it’s what he does at home for his wife! — tasty stewed vegetables, crisp baked fish, savory chicken marsala, grilled New York strip steaks, cups of piping hot café latte, spreads of luncheon meat and six kinds of bread, chicken salad wraps and this afternoon…BBQ pork ribs…and tonight, filet mignon and sea scallops.
In the main deck engineers Trish Hershock and Danny Dugan share tough six hour shifts monitoring the status of the two Electric Motor Division (EMD) engines and drive shafts, generators, status of fuel and all other machinery necessary to push the ship forward. In addition to keeping up with Liberty Star’s current operations, the engineers are also planning for future operations: Trish ordering fuel for the sailing the next Monday for support of the Ares 1-X launch and booster recovery operations, and Danny, who normally serves as Maritime Operations Port Engineer, also making plans for future operations and upgrades for port facilities.
The rest of the crew performs their primary functions as well as the vital function of standing watch on the bridge. A two-person team is always on watch: Cody Gordon and Al Grivina stand the watch together; John Jacobs and Clint Small another watch; and finally, John Bensen and Todd Rose stand watch. Each team stands watch four hours and is off duty, roughly speaking, eight hours.
Oddly, when moving around the ship in the middle of the day, one encounters few members of the crew, as many crew are resting for the next shift. At night, the bridge watch stands vigilant in near total darkness preferring to use radar imagery and personal vision conditioned for darkness rather than spotlights to view the ocean ahead.
The crew knows what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Orders don’t seem to be issued per say; just quiet conversations, heads nodding agreement, crew moving off to work on some tasks.
It reminds me of a passage in one of the Patrick O’Brien books in the Master and Commander series. HMS Surprise under Jack Aubrey is under full sail heading south with the trade winds toward Brazil for his own rendezvous with destiny. The ship plows on, steadily, easily over one hundred miles a day, the watch changes with little fanfare, the cook serves up meals in the galley three times a day, the crew lounges on deck, rigging is adjusted with hardly an order; sailing on in this routine day after day for weeks on end; like sailors for thousands of years; like spacefarers in the centuries ahead, beautiful.
Liberty Star yaws and pitches, rolls starboard to port and back to starboard; engines humming continuously; vibration is constant. Frothy seas follow Liberty Star and 1,800 feet to our aft, the Pegasus as well.
Constantly rotating radars in the masts high above the living and working decks of the ship point out crossing vessels to the watch as the sea sloshes by and occasionally sprays the upper weather decks.
The American flag stands straight out in the 27 knot wind, as Liberty Star sails on with little fanfare. Freighters pass in the distance; identified well in advance.
During the day, you don’t notice the creaks and bangs you will notice later during the night in your bunk; as cabinets and minor loose storage in your stateroom rolls around the floor. In the staterooms of the second deck living quarters are stuffed with personal possessions, clothing and carrying bags. The RV-like-equipped staterooms are more than sufficient for these relatively short voyages and at night you have little problem hearing the sea rush pass the bow and sides of the ship.
The ship bends like the crew; to the routine of sea and weather; all seemingly working together; rolling, pitching, sleeping, standing watch, cooking, eating, quietly passing each other in the ship.
Liberty Star and Pegasus are under way over the sea; weather and sea; crew; ship; timeless; relentless; beautiful.