Storm is taste of sea life

ABOARD THE CHRISTIAN RADICH, ATLANTIC OCEAN — The stormy nights of Sept. 30-Oct. 2 will remain etched in memory of those aboard the Christian Radich, nights that forever linked the Sea Trek 2001 passengers with their immigrant forebears.

Winds began during a testimony meeting on Sunday, and by Monday night, became worse with higher winds in the afternoon and began whipping waves over the forecastle, or front upper deck, and the leeward side, both of which the crew roped off as unsafe.

By midnight, when our watch began, the Radich was listing 20 degrees in gale-force winds. Twenty degree listing is steeper than most staircases, and the ship had previously listed up to 30 degrees. Our watch leader called us together and explained that the ship was safe to 45 degrees, but "there is no way we will let her go that far." At least half of the watch remained below deck seasick, including many of those who had come from Portsmouth, England.

Our first task was trimming the bunting, ropes that run across the belly of the lower topsails on the fore and mizzenmasts, or front and rear masts. Then as the listing grew worse, and at 1 a.m., those willing were ordered above. I followed Camille Olsen from Logan, Utah. Neither of us had ever done sails before, though we had been trained in climbing. She never hesitated and worked like an old salt.

About half a dozen of us climbed the windward rigging and felt the gale pressing us. The upper topsail, about 60 feet high, was down and billowing; it was our task, once we snapped our safety lines, to stand on a cable and make a packet of the sail's bottom few inches and pack the rest of the sail inside, then roll it up on the mast and secure it with ropes called filters. The way down to the deck was more difficult, climbing into the wind over the yard holding to a chain, and swinging around to the windward side of the rigging.

They were making up a crew to run the main deck capstan, which winds up heavy rope as people turn it with poles. The crew started us out as we marched round and round by singing a work song, "What Shall We Do with the Drunken Sailor," but our group changed to handcart songs and finished with "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel."

It seemed that the crew gained a deeper kinship with us because of our good work songs.

The gale grew stronger but after our two sails were lowered, the ship didn't list as much. The three masts that had started the storm at 4-4-4 sails were down to 2-3-3.

We were then ordered to the quarter or rear deck for safety where we watched the ship take on the storm. The ship's bow plowed incessantly into the 15-foot waves. The Radich reared and fell like a rocking horse. She lifted her bow 20 or 30 feet high and then plunged down and down until the water flowed over her forecastle. She splashed a frothing, v-shaped wake that the gale whipped into spray and lifted to sprinkle us like passing showers. On the windward side the moon was out and illuminated a wide path of tossing peaks and valleys, water black in the texture of sandstone but highlighted with disordered rows and rows of whitecaps.

The ship continued to rise and fall in a spectacle few people have ever seen. Sodden and weary, we huddled in silent, inert lumps of humanity wondering if relief would ever come.

We were relieved by a crew with an energy that seemed strange under the circumstances. But for two days we saw a storm from a 19th century perspective and had one small look at the view our immigrant ancestors couldn't escape.

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