Escape Velocity doesn’t have a proper sea berth, although in most circumstances as a catamaran we don’t need one because we stay pretty upright and don’t heel over with the wind like monohulls do. But the past few days muscling windward in 7-9 foot seas I sure wish we did. It gets too much like a carnival ride down below.
A sea berth is a narrow bed amidships where the motion is less violent, usually a settee. So that you don’t fall out when the boat leans the other way the berth is fitted with either a lee board, a stowable rail like you’d use on a hospital or child’s bed, or a lee cloth, a canvas or net contraption rigged to keep you from falling out. I like lee boards because its easier to get in and out of the berth but I saw one break once as a result of a particularly heinous wave in the Gulfstream, dropping the berth’s occupant — Jack — against the saloon table and engine box narrowly missing serious head injury. In any case, the idea of a sea berth is to hold you snugly at shoulder width so you can sleep no matter what wild corkscrewy motion the boat might do.
I know, sounds claustrophobic, right? I was afraid of that too before our first sea passage. It was on Victoria, our friend Stan’s lovely and sturdy 34-foot Tartan. We were on our way from Annapolis to Martha’s Vineyard, a trip that would take several days. When it was time for me to go off watch and sleep I dreaded crawling into that skinny little berth, especially since I like to flotz aound a fair bit while I sleep and there’s no chance of that here. But once I hiked myself over the leeboard and got settled It was surprisingly comfortable. I put on my headphones and pressed play on the old Sony portable CD player and the Flecktones took me away. A minute or two later someone shook my shoulder.
“Five minutes,” I heard through Flight of the Cosmic Hippo.
I looked at the clock. Four hours had gone by. I was out cold and UFO Tofu had played over and over again while I slept.
We don’t get that on EV. We don’t sleep in our own bed on passages because the autopilot is below our berth and it makes a high-pitched whoopwhoopwhoopwhoopwhoop! sound that reminds me of Curly from the Three Stooges. Plus, in a queen size bed there’s nothing to keep you from rolling back and forth with the boat’s movements.
We have a settee in the main saloon and that’s generally where I spend my off-watch nap time but since this passage is so incredibly bouncy and rolly I have to spend a lot of physical and mental energy just staying put because there’s nothing to keep me from going airborne or whacking some delicate body part against the edge of the saloon table. I’ve developed all kinds of cricks and stiffness from being clenched for hours.
Then there’s the noise. Right overhead are plenty of mechanical bits that clank and squeak and groan, and below is the banging and crashing of waves against the bridgedeck. Sometimes a wave hits us so hard that everything in every galley cupboard and drawer goes airborne for a second then lands with a huge crash so loud you’re sure everything’s broken. (It isn’t.) Even the oven shelf clatters with the waves. It’s hard to hold a conversation, let alone sleep.
Jack made a nest in the Presidential Suite using rolls of fabric and other piles of storage overflow to limit the rolling distance and he likes it. I tried it but the sounds are so completely different down there that I kept jumping up and running out to the cockpit convinced Jack had a terrible fall, or we hit something, or the mast fell down. (It didn’t.)
Tonight, after a very bouncy day when I was feeling a little queasy Jack offered to take the first watch and I accepted, figuring I could sleep off the stupor induced by the non-drowsy formula Dramamine. Ha! I stuck the earbuds in and tried to drown out the sound long enough to get to sleep. I went through Gomez, Mumford, the Punch Brothers; even Adele at top volume couldn’t knock me out. I dozed a little and finally gave up and went outside to relieve Jack early.
“I was going to let you sleep another hour,” he said. I told him I couldn’t sleep and curled up under the blanket in the corner of the cockpit, our coziest spot.
“But I’ll nap here for an hour if that’s ok,” and within a minute I was asleep. The cockpit sounds are familiar and comforting, and the space is small enough to feel secure.
An hour later Jack nudged me right in the middle of one of the vivid dreams we’ve both been experiencing off-watch. In this one I’m having breakfast with my family in New Jersey.
“Oh, man! You woke me just as Dave was offering me a flagel!”
And with that he went below to the Presidential Suite and I shook myself awake and started my five-hour watch.
I can almost taste that flagel.