Monday, June 17, 2013

Africa Mercy - The Sail: One Nurse's Journey

More from my friend on board the Africa Mercy. I love her poetic and detailed description of the sail to La Palmas, where they are docking for repairs and maintenance. Read on . . .

The Sail
06 June 2013

We have just arrived in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, the shipyard where we will be undergoing repairs, maintenance, and inspections for the next several weeks.  We left Conakry at noon last Saturday and arrived here at noon, five days later.  The sail was very nice--ideal weather, calm seas, and smooth sailing all the way.  It was an odd time, a mixture of work and "cruise ship" atmosphere.

With Mercy Ships, everyone works.  If your regular job is suspended during this shipyard time, you get assigned to a different job for the duration.  I will be the pre- and post- operative nurse for the eye surgeries once we reach Congo, but for now, I work in the galley.  We are making three meals a day for a crew of about 300 people, so it is a big operation.  I find it physically taxing, standing on my feet from 8:00 AM to 7:00 PM, chopping vegetables, washing dishes, washing all the fresh food in bleach water, etc.  We do get breaks and meals, but's a lot of standing and leaning over a sink or counter while I work.  Aleve (naproxyn) is my new best friend!  

Our work is about to get even more complicated, because they plan to do renovations in the regular galley.  We'll have to move our cooking to the crew kitchen, a much smaller space set up for individual and family cooking, not mass production.  Ken, the chief chef, has modified the menu to fit the new circumstances...I'm guessing that it will include a lot of soups and sandwiches.

I've never sailed on a cruise ship, but I've heard it described as one big party.  We also had a lot of fun while sailing.  Someone organized events for every evening, ranging from worship on the bow at sunset, to Open Mike entertainment, to a game of "gotcha".(Each contestant was given a name of another player to "eliminate" by sneaking up on them and squirting them with a syringe of water.  If you got your victim before you were squirted, you inherited your victim's target for your next quary, until everyone was eliminated except the winner.)

For me, the wonderfully refreshing thing about the sail was the ocean. It stretched from horizon to horizon in all directions--endless, vast, gently undulating, sparkling in the sunlight, a whole cacaphony of colors.  If the sun is behind you, the water is emerald blue, except the almost-black water in the shadow of the ship.  If you face into the sun, the water is black at the base of the waves, coffee brown on the sides, and white on the crest.  In the distance, all you see is sparkles dancing.  If you look at the water in our wake, it is a light aquamarine, filled with bubbles.  It gradually smooths out and blends in again, but the surface of the wake remains smoother than the surrounding water for quite a long time, leaving a visible trail.

There is a peacefulness about sailing.  The pace is steady, hour after hour, cruising in a straight line toward your destination, but at such a slow, measured pace.  The scenery doesn't change, except another ship in the distance now and then, so it feels somewhat timeless, like an endless voyage, sailing to the ends of the earth.  We had navigation updates, of course, so we were aware of our progress on the map--but I could imagine what the Pilgrims must have felt crossing the Atlantic for months with nothing but stars to guide them and no feedback on their progress.

Gran Canaria is one of several little islands just off the coast of Africa, but they are part of Spain, both governmentally and culturally. 

Las Palmas is a large city, and a tourist attraction.  It will be interesting to see how it compares to Conakry.  I suspect that it will feel a lot more familiar--European, with a southern Mediterranian flavor,  but far closer to my culture than Guinea was.  I expect that I'll have a good time exploring on my days off.

But for's been a long day in the galley.  Definitely time for bed.


This is a running post about her work in Africa as a nurse. Click here to learn more about the nurses and doctors on board the Africa Mercy.


  1. It is so much fun reading her adventures.

    Galley duty sounds awful. =(

  2. It sounds like quite an adventure, but also very tiring.

  3. What an adventure! I don't think I would survive very long on any kind of ship, cruise or otherwise. She is very brave.

    Thank you, Sharon, for sharing your love story on my blog. That is a lovely romance!

    Mary Montague Sikes


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