Sentry Duty – an obligation full of potential wonders

Date: 17th of November
Position: 39º 06.8’ N 010º 26,3’ W

Darkness. Suddenly, a whispering voice repeating my name again and again. What time is it? I hesitate to open my eyes, trying to make out the person in front of my bunk. There is no light falling in through the window in our cabin. The voice asks if I was awake when I remember it correctly. Sentry duty. Now. Some words about the weather outside, the exact time and a groaning answer from my side before the shadow leaves. I force myself to get dressed. Layer over layer, until I am sure I don’t have to freeze during my watch. What an inviting thought just to lie down in bed again. Well-equipped with flashlight, gloves and climbing harness I make my way up to the quarter deck. The first rule never to break: Being on time. Otherwise we are obligated to pay with a chocolate bar for the previous watch. It starts with relieving the former watch.

My first task for that night is to look out for other ships, lightning fires or whatever I make out in the far wides of the dark ocean. My eyes close from time to time, I try to concentrate on not falling asleep. My sight slowly wanders over the horizon, when I recognize a small impulse in the blackness of the sea. Right down there in the water, on the bottom of the waves. Tiny pulsating green lights, almost moving to the rhythm of the ocean. That magical process is called bioluminescence as I was told later (Small plankton shining because of a chemical reaction in their cells). A wonderful play of lights I could watch the rest of the night. However, sentry duty of course means being watchful, exact and ready all the time. Apart from lookout it is important to check the whole ship once every hour (the safety round). On deck, everything has to be tight and at its place, for example safety equipment like life rings and life rafts. Furthermore, the ropes have to be at their correct places on the pin rail. In swell, the windows and shots should be closed.

Under deck it is necessary to make sure there is neither a chance of a fire nor any water in the bilges – the deepest parts in a ship. Another important task of sentry duty is the engine round. As usual, precision is a big priority. When the engine is running, it is naturally quite loud in the engine room, which makes it really complicated to concentrate and copy all the different numbers from different displays about emissions, pressures and oil temperatures correctly. If anything seems not to be the way as it should, it is engineer Willi’s part to solve the problem immediately, no matter what time. A regular report about the weather is another part of every sentry duty.

What temperature do air and sea have? Where does the wind come from and how strong is it? What does the barometer say? Every single hour, all of these observations (weather, safety round and engine round) are written down in a small book in the Navi. Additionally, we transmit our GPS position into a nautical map regularly – one of my favourite tasks. The last and most important task is the role of the helmsman. Standing at the wheel, holding the wooden rudder, giving one’s best to hold the course and to follow the mate’s instructions is a great feeling on a sailing ship like the Thor, a feeling of great responsibility. These are the main tasks of every watch. However, it would not be called a sailing ship without sails. From time to time these sails happen to be set, faced to the wind, dropped and packed again. As that does not happen automatically, it is our responsibility to arrange it. Sometimes, when a sail tears, Simon the boatswain, chooses someone to help him to sew it. That would be too hard to do alone, besides the fact of the waving heights that make it even more complicated.

One day I got the chance to climb the rig and assist Simon with sewing the topgallant sail. First, I felt a little insecure on the rocking yards, but my balance improved by the time. From up there, we could see so much further across the sea that was reflecting the golden sunlight. Simon was showing me how to start repairing the sail, when I recognized a sudden move from the edge of my eyes. What I saw was magical. There were dolphins happily gliding through the deep blue water at the bow of the ship. A piece of elegance. Furthermore, I should not forget to mention that there are three different types of sentry duty. What I just described is called standing watch. The second version is anchor watch, where it is not necessary to check the engine.

At harbour watch, we need to check the ropes regularly apart from safety round and weather documentation. The crew is separated into four groups. Our daily life on the Thor includes a 24-hour sentry duty system. As a result, every group has six hours of duty per day, three at daytime, three at night-time. Different times of watch have their advantages and disadvantages, which is why the system rotates several times. The whole system works like a clock. Every single component is needed for the clock to work precisely. Sentry duty is always special in some way. A red sunrise, the smell of the Spanish coast, billions of shining stars making me dive into another world every time I look up to the sky at night. Dolphins gliding through the silver water, symbolizing freedom and grace. All these moments make every single watch special in a different way.