How I got to live on board of the Spirit of South Carolina started when I placed an ad on the front page of PureBound.com in September of 2007 stating that I was looking for a sailing adventure between November and February if anyone knew of an opportunity that I might be able to assist. Several opportunities became available, but all sails left before I was able to leave work for the season. In mid-October my aunt emailed me telling me about Ocean Classrooms. Unfamiliar with the idea, I started researching and began to email Ocean Classrooms about my availability. I was then forwarded to South Carolina Maritime Heritage Foundation and the Spirit of South Carolina. Over-the-phone interviews with the Captain from the Spirit of South Carolina had me at the ship on the 24th of October not knowing what I was in for.
24.10.07 My first introduction to the Spirit of South Carolina was through the volunteer organization. An organization with over 500 South Carolinians providing time, money, and energy to keep the Spirit of South Carolina afloat. A volunteer held watch that Saturday afternoon as I arrived. As I approached the seemingly vacated brand new ship, I saw pallets holding downed rigged sails covered with tarps, booms and gaffs lay on the deck floor. Other various items of clothing, towels, paint cans, random work equipment lay about instead of what I expected to be a ridiculously tight pristine beautiful ship. Arriving the 2nd week of down-rigging put me in a peculiar position arriving to the Spirit of South Carolina on a weekend where no crew was living on board. I called out several times on the dock for 10-20 minutes; eventually, a volunteer's head popped out from below. Small chit-chat about me and the vessel lead to me puzzled as to how this ship actually functioned. Issues were expressed and doubt of the most recent time table of a two week turn around was pronounced among the two volunteers as the evening shift change occurred. I had no idea the circumstances of the ship's success for the next week or future, nor how I was to provide any help. The plan was to re-rig ALL of the bronze that was originally placed on the ship from the chain plates to the dolphin striker. The story of the bronze is still somewhat vague to me- the original bronze was improperly mixed and had weak points causing buckling/breaking under pressure. During the process of creating the bronze, issues were raised, but never enough to stop the creation of the bronze items. The weakness came apparent as a shroud broke or buckled under sail from the chain plate two weeks before I arrived. The ship had been de-rigged and now I was to assist in re-rigging over the next week.
My chance to meet the crew and Captain did not come until 9-10 that evening when I attended a party at the Captain's apartment. After fetching dinner for the volunteer who was to stay overnight, I headed over to the Captain's apartment. Unfamiliar faces met me through the night as I tried to find some connection with the strangers. Being myself, I spent the night quietly sitting on the couch and pretending to watch the TV displaying baseball's World Series. A late night, and I was asked if I wanted to stay at the apartment along with other crew. My bags where still in the car, as I had not left them on the Spirit of South Carolina for fear of not knowing where to go next. I ended up staying and sleeping on the living room floor.
Sunday came and went, again no one was on board except the volunteer taking duty to keep an eye on the Spirit of South Carolina. I spent my time trying to pass the day, and wondering how I might actually fit in to an extroverted crew who had spent a large amount of their life working on tallships.
Monday came, and my work began...
We started off with a quick muster and I was introduced to "soils and bowls" (cleaning both the head and the floors) in all three cabins below. While cleaning the head in the forecastle, a crew member "seemingly" argued with me about me cleaning more than was needed, taking to much time, and using too many paper towels. This argument of how much I should do in order to get the job done the way they want would continue to be an ongoing struggle for me.
After completing soils and boils, 3 of us split in to two teams to take on the task of painting the entire hull of the ship. I was given the job of sanding the entire starboard side of the ship from the dock for the new coat of paint the ship was to receive. The other two crew members sanded the port side in the ship's dingy (a.k.a the "Red Baron"). A day was spent sanding on the starboard side. I had lots of thoughts about how I was fitting in to a crew who had similar personalities and did this for a living, while feeling like the Karate Kid on his first day of training. The deal I had made with the Captain was that I would volunteer my time without pay during my stay. I look at the Spirit of South Carolina as an adventure; an opportunity to learn, and to teach. I thought the Spirit of South Carolina was creating a worthy cause and I need not to financially benefit from the Spirit of South Carolina. After one of our musters, a one-on-one with the Captain had me asking if I was needed in such an environment where I knew so little. All I asked for was "honesty when dealing with me". To make sure the Captain and I agreed on me being there, we settled with one week of work to see how the crew, work, and I fit together. I asked if a certain personality was desired, as I did not have anything similar to what the crew was offering.
On Tuesday I spent 30 minutes finishing up what little I had left to sand, and then washed, wiped, taped and prepped the hull for the paint. Painting the hull on the starboard side naturally took all of Tuesday. I painted under the transom on both sides, and wherever my other two crew mates painting the port side could not reach. Anywhere I could not reach from the dock, I painted in a slowly sinking aluminum fish boat that had to de dumped every 1-2 hours.
However tedious and meticulous my work effort, my work seemed to make them happy as I did not complain and was working from sunup to sundown on the work they had asked me to accomplish.
I began to do the odd jobs of assisting wherever needed. I had to clean, prime, and paint the large chain that sits off the knee of the bow to the dolphin striker late into the night. I painted where the chain plates had been reinstalled in the forecastle and the main. My presence had me acquire the name of "handy billy", also known on the boat as a "movable block and tackle". I am always around to assist, hence the name given to me by the First Mate. And that became my life onboard the Spirit of South Carolina. From taking out the trash, to being an extra hand wherever needed. The crew up until my arrival had been severely limited with crew members. All other assistance came from volunteers filling in on voyages. Now the crew has me to do the little things, as well as be another instructor and deckhand.
The second week of living aboard was having me assist with the launching, docking, sailing and teaching of the Spirit of South Carolina. I think there are over 50 lines on board. So it took weeks for me to grasp the next step the crew was going to take and how I could assist without being told how to do something. We sail around the Charleston Harbor Monday-Friday, mainly with 5th and 6th graders in the Fall, but we did sail with high schoolers, 2nd, and 8th graders from both private and public schools. The Spirit of South Carolina also sails after school trips and weekends for donor sails and private functions. The ship is also a backdrop for many of Charleston's elite and government functions. The Spirit of South Carolina gets boarded during these functions with suit and tie events. On our educational sails, a 5 hour sail, our classes are based on South Carolina's teaching standards for 5th and 6th grade. The school curriculum is chosen by the visiting school during registration. Three to four subjects are selected to be taught while aboard. Per class there is generally 2 crew for every 10 children. On board during an educational sail, I teach a number of classes. My norm is simple/complex machines- a class about levers, pulleys (block & tackle), and inclined planes. We mainly talk about these three simple machines and where they can be found on board and the mechanical advantage gained from using a simple machine. In the class we first point out the mainsail with gaff and boom weighs roughly 1,800 lbs. and took 30 children and 4 crew members to raise and set the sail. Then the simple/complex machine class moves on to talk about defining and pointing out complex machines on board (the windlass is a great example). The class then turns to friction, and finishes with learning about knots and how to tie the most frequented for sailing aboard the Spirit of South Carolina.
I also teach a class on human impact. The human impact class is devoted to recognizing the way we develop in urban and rural areas via sidewalks, roads, consumption, and just having larger populations in one area. A model displays how our actions and consumption have an impact on how water runs off in to our local streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean. Navigation and sail theory are other classes I teach where the very basic ideas of how the Spirit of South Carolina sails using: sails, wind, and current. The Navigation and Sail Theory class also instructs on how to use a chart to navigate your future course, as well as, find your current location. Coastal Processes is another class I instruct that teaches how coastal areas change with wind, water, tides, erosion, etc. The class learns that the coast is always changing. A sandbox display shows how a strong storm or hurricane might impact a beach, and where all the sand goes and how it would return. There are many other activities of classes that our taught aboard the Spirit of South Carolina and any school in South Carolina who is wanting to get a day on the Spirit of South Carolina has that opportunity through the South Carolina Maritime Organization.
05.12.07 Our last educational sail of the season. The Spirit of South Carolina for the first season had over 1,000 students on board from counties throughout South Carolina. In all, the Spirit of South Carolina from October 1, 2007 took 29 sails with 24 different schools. Tonight I head home to gather work clothes for the winter and am due back for duty by Saturday.
09.12.07 Today I had one of those moments you wish life had more of. As I rode cowboy-style for the last sail of the season, I looked up and saw the sun setting over Charleston. "Bliss" hit me as I thought of how fortunate this moment was to me as I rode the boom of a tallship. Riding "cowboy" means you hop up on the back part of the boom and pull the sail aft as it is lowered down the mast to keep the sail from bunching forward.
10.12.07 Today I spent the day ripping the caulk out of the deck seams. Originally when the deck was laid, caulk did not fill all the void under the seams and therefore water leaks in and channels underneath creating a hydraulic when the boards are pushed down. On the off season, from now to the first of February, the goal is to clean out all the seams and re-caulk before the 10 day sail in February. On a 90+ ft deck, I did 3-4 feet of the port side. This may take up to two weeks, but soon we should have more than just the two of us removing the caulk from the decks.
11.12.07 Another day spent ripping out caulk from the deck seams. With two of us working on it from 8.20 a.m. until 3 p.m., we have now completed pulling out the surface caulk from the bow to the forward mast. Tomorrow we will begin raking the remaining caulk out of the seams we've spent the last two days ripping a part. The teak decks are an inch thick and we have just removed the surface caulk in many places with adapted putty knives and box cutters. I started a game yesterday where the goal is remove the longest piece of caulk. Today we surpassed yesterday's winner of 5-6 feet and pulled out a 7-8 footer. Kneepads were added to the mix today and really saved me the agony of sliding up and down the deck. My wrist are being stretched apart from trying to slide the puddy knife between the caulk and the edge of the teak to slice the two edges apart.
12.12.07 Day 3 of tearing out the seams filled with caulk and 5200. We are still trying to come up with an ingenious tool to increase our daily progress. We are still barbarians as we try to remove the caulk armed only with a knife and handmade rake (a sharpened paint key). This afternoon we were tortured by no-see-ums making our painfully slow progress, even slower.
13.12.07 Day 4 of ripping out seams, and we have New Tools! We picked up 3 Fein tools that have a vibrating blade to chisel away at the caulk. The Fein tools are on a "possible" recall, but we're going to try and use them until they break. Costing $300 a piece is a hefty price tag that we hope to recoup with our time. My prior guess of two weeks with an entire crew of 6-7 people working together on the seams now seems that it would take more like two months even with all of our luxurious tools.
14.12.07 Day 5 of pulling out the caulk from the deck seams. We have still not completed forward of the foremast. We had 3 people working for most of the day. We are getting closer and now have been able to say that we completed certain seams that are ready for routing. I would guess we are 75-80% complete forward of the foremast. We are off for the next two days and should be back on it Monday, or Tuesday.
17 - 23 of December: I spend all day running our newest edition to the family: Fester the Molester. A $500 circular saw from Festool that has it's own 55 inch guide rail. The Festool is leaps and bounds from the Fein tools and our homemade pry sticks. No tool has yet to get us to the goal of having the teak seams completely void of caulk. After two weeks of contemplating, while slowly inching forward, we continued to reorganize, and have now gone to owning 2 Festools, and outfitting them with dual blades. The second Fester wasn't going to be in our hands until the 2nd of January. But a little luck, and an early Christmas gift was purchased used from a local craftsman. With dual blades the idea is to make one pass and remove all the caulk from the seams. This happens probably 70 - 80% of the time. A second or third pass is sometimes required due to the varying widths of the seams. Running dual blades will open the seams up to more uniform widths that will allow the caulking tube the ability to reach the 1 inch depth of the teak. Side note, the Festools hold two different size blades; therefore, the starboard side of the ship will have seams that are 0.2 mm wider than that of the port. By the 21st of December, I had completed from the foremast to the start of the engine room on the port side. Once I return on the 2nd of January, I will be down to 8 days of work left to finish all I can in assisting with the deck seams.
The Christmas Holidays are providing me with a much needed break for my knees and stress level. I feel my quads and muscles around my knees are either taking a toll or strengthening in ways they have never before. For two full weeks I have worked on my knees for close to 8 hours a day removing deck seams. Standing up, and walking about has become a joy. The stress of worrying rather this project can be completed before the start of the season seems to be diminishing every minute Fester the Molester is running.
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