Subcontracting is not really an option on the ocean. If welding needs to be done, then the two options for the maintenance department are (a) to do the welding themselves, or (b) not be able to use the thing which needs welding until the next port where those skills are available. So the maintenance department needs competent welders. And metal bashers and grinders. And carpenters. And riggers. The same holds for cleaning services. Even if local contractors were rotated depending on which ocean was being crossed at the time, the daily commute from Buenos Aires or wherever would quickly become tiresome. Consequently the maintenance department is also the cleaning department, and can be seen every night sweeping laboriously through the ship, wiping down surfaces and polishing the brass work just in case the previous twenty four hours has infinitesimally dulled the gleam. The option of popping out to the shops for a missing part isn’t usually an option – even in port there is no guarantee the relevant supplies will be available in that country.
Surprisingly, even the logistics miracle that is Amazon Prime could struggle with next day delivery to “Europa, somewhere in the South Atlantic Ocean”. So the decks and forepeak are full of goodies – rope, twine, wire, spars, wood, canvas, shackles, glue, epoxy, etc. so that even if the relevant part isn’t onboard there is still enough in the way of raw materials to make something serviceable as an alternative. Yesterday the South Atlantic toyed with the Europa. There was a good breeze in the morning, slowly dropping to encourage us to set all the sails before lashing out with a fifty-knot plus sucker punch. Welds on the Fore Course Yard broke, the Main Upper Topsail ripped, lazy eyes were pulled out from the Fore Course (I think that is the technical term – they are the rope thingies which go through the sail to guide other thingy-ropes), and a fun time was had by all. To quieten things down a little, Eric the Implacable decided to let us drift for a while (apparently his preferred methods of heaving-to uses the Topsails, and they’d been successfully taken out of operation on both masts so he was on to about plan C).
Our destination in South Georgia is not renowned for dockyard facilities. So the maintenance department swung into action – after checking the gleam in the brass work, naturally. Yards may be seen in normal situations to be perpendicular to the masts. Even with our less than co-ordinated savagery on the sheets, they still end up vaguely perpendicular. Not so the foremast this morning – starboard end down on deck, port side up as spare flagpole or lightning conductor or something. Being welded. In the middle of the ocean. Once restored to a more familiar angle, the maintenance department decided that serving the lazy eyes (or whatever those thingies should be called) was next on the agenda. The approved technique is apparently to stretch the piece being served between two solid mounting points on the foredeck, and use a serving mallet to get a lot of leverage. But that is no challenge to the maintenance department – so this afternoon they can be seen swaying on the yard, grappling under the sails and adding some extra interest to their afternoon. Which would otherwise be filled with angst about the fading gleam in the brass work. The Main Upper Topsail is now on the sloop deck, with a long tear across one corner. There is a sewing machine on board, but since they would surely consider that to be cheating (not to mention dependent on clearing the main deck and having nice calm seas) I’m assuming the maintenance department will choose to unpick worn out ropes with their teeth to get some thread, and then use a couple of blunt staples and a cracked eggcup to stitch it back together. It should now be apparent that the maintenance department is a 24/7 operation while at sea, and does shift work (although somewhat bizarrely, the shifts are called Port, Starboard and Day), with the workers working a nominal (corporate speak for “at least”) twelve hours a day, seven days a week. As well as helping out in the awesome galley. Oh, and they also sail the ship.