Imagine the big dark sky above you sprinkled with millions of stars. You are surrounded by water and there is no other ship or light on the horizon. You can sense the nature around you and you feel timeless.
This could be one way of describing sentry duty at night. But of course, there is much more to it. And if you have never put foot on a traditional sailing vessel like the Thor Heyerdahl you might find it fascinating to learn about our daily routine which is very different from what we are used to at home.
First of all, the whole crew except from the captain and his 1st mate is separated into watches that are on sentry duty two times a day. Each watch has a head of watch and an assistant who coordinate all the jobs they have to do. Our watch system on the Thor consists of four watches. Additionally, there is one member of each watch on galley duty every day, who prepares some delicious meals for the whole crew (such as some mouth-watering cinnamon rolls yesterday). To give you an idea of how this all works and what it has to do with time slots I will give you an example of my own watch.
In my watch there are nine students, one teacher and our head of watch Lukas. I really like my watch because all members are motivated and are always in a good mood. The duration of one watch is three hours. There is one watch during the day and one during the night. In my case, I am on sentry duty every day and night from two to five. Yes, you have read correctly, two to five at night, every night. This is why we call ourselves the heroes of the dark. You might think that we do not get much sleep because of our sentry duty but let me tell you it is not about the possibility to get enough sleep. It can be really exciting to be awake at night and you might be lucky to spot some dolphins or you get to talk to your friends.
In general, each watch takes over the responsibility for the ship’s safety and secure it in all possible ways. There are several jobs in a watch which all must be repeated in a certain order. On the one hand there are jobs where you have to stay in one place and you will not be moving much, such as the role as a lookout or as helmsman. For these tasks it is very important to stay focused for your own and everyone’s safety.
On the other hand, there are several tasks which require moving around on and under deck. This can be rather hard if there are a lot of waves and wind. Every hour someone has to make a safety round. In order to do that you have to look into every little bilge of the ship. Bilges are the lowest parts on the ship and must be checked often to be sure that no water is leaking into the vessel. This is very important because a leak in the hull or other spaces could cause the sinking of the ship. Furthermore, there is a machine round where you have to check the engine. For example, you have to secure that there is enough fuel in the day tank. You have to check all temperatures and must immediately inform the engineer about any inconsistencies. This, of course, is essential for the safety on board!
Moreover, we have to control all the sails of the vessel (which are actually a lot!!) and sometimes need to hoist, lower or sheet them in or out depending on the wind. There are many different types of sails on board of the Thor Heyerdahl and we need to know all of them by heart.
I guess everybody has a different opinion of his or her favourite task, but I personally prefer being a helmsman and having the “power” over the vessel by steering it. This position can be tough because it requires constant focus on the waves, water and the vessel. For me it is very important to keep a good overview over the position of the vessel and everybody in your watch. I also like to coordinate the watch and to navigate the vessel.