Today I have put on my shoes for the first time since we left Punta Arenas five weeks ago.
Until now, I have worn only the famous boots or (below decks) socks-with-nobbles that are warm and comfy, prevent slipping, but are not waterproof. This morning is a brief interlude of sunshine, warmth and calm waters and all of us are shedding clothing like Londoners on the first day of tanning in St James’s Park. So, before it is too late, let me describe bow-watch night watch requirements in the Southern Ocean at the start of winter. Our coldest ambient temperature has been minus 6 Centigrade, estimated at minus 20 in the wind on the bows.
Hat: obviously. My fleece-lined woolly beanie is great, augmented by a fleece buffy pulled over it. I envy the neoprene gaiter/balaclavas some people have, and the thermal tops with an integrated hood. When really cold, I added a big woollen snood thing which reduced my field of vision even further but was very warm. Jacket hood and collar pulled up are also essential.
Top half: working outwards – merino vest, merino long-sleeved top, wool gilet, upper section of waterproof salopettes, heavy Paramo water/wind proof fleece, larger fleece, and finally the oilies jacket which just does up over that lot. For 30-40 minutes all those layers work well on a bow watch but you don’t want to do very much and indeed you are restricted in your ability to manoeuvre by the padding.
Bottom half: merino or other thermal leggings, wind-stopper walking trousers, thick sweatpants, salopettes. It is important to carefully plan toilet visits, even though the back half of my salopettes unzip to enable using the loo without a full strip.
Feet: two pairs of sock liners, one pair of very thick thermal socks and then boots. This worked fine for me in the coldest temperatures though often my toes were colder after the watch than during it.
Hands: my gloves have been my weakest link and I will write more about them. In South Georgia I bought a pair of mittens which are great on the helm and watch but no good for rope handling. I have liners, and over them a pair of fingerless wool gauntlets which look weird but function well. Then either the mittens, or heavy sailing gloves. These gloves are not brilliant, because they destroy dexterity without actually being very warm. They are good for handling ropes when it is really cold but otherwise not so useful, especially if you haven’t got liners underneath.
As we head north, each person celebrates when a layer is shed. Someone will announce they helmed barehanded, or that they’ve shed a fleece layer under their jacket. One person has appeared in shorts (though it must be said he is both permanent crew and Australian). So today is a turning point: I’ve put my shoes on.