Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Survivor Mentality

On the ship you're either working or you're hiding. You are hiding by lying very still in your bunk in your crew cabin or, if you just can't take the confinement of that little room, you are up on the cluttered boat deck with the rescue boats and stacked Zodiaks, where the incredibly loud ventilation system guns away at all times but at least you're by yourself.

Sometimes I sit there under the ten o'clock twilight of an Alaskan summer night and think about what it would be like to go overboard. Unlike the rest of the decks, the boat deck has only a thin wire railing that you could easily slip and fall under or trip and fall over. Then you would plunge three stories into the sea, and unless someone happened to be looking out the window at the exact moment of your rapid descent, your plight would go unnoticed. Then you'd be in an exceedingly unfortunate spot indeed.  The ship would keep steaming along at 10 knots, leaving behind its foaming wake and then, nothing. The waters would calm and you would be alive and alert and treading water for probably four minutes before you lost control of your limbs and went under with only the jelly fish and bull kelp for company.
Adam and Scott, survivors both.
 About a week ago I got into an impassioned debate with my friend Adam about just how long one would last in that deadly cold water without a survival suit. It was crew dinner time and we were eating rice with chunks of unidentifiable animal. I was declaring that you'd have just a few minutes, tops, and my argument was augmented by  an onslaught of satisfying statistics on hypothermia and numbers regarding core temperature and comas. 

"I guarantee you, I could last a lot longer than that," Adam shot back. Adam- deckhand, relief engineer, relief bosun, has 32 years of sailing experience to my five weeks. "I'd take my pants off, blow up the leg, tie it off, and use that as a personal floatation device."

"Oh REALLY?" I asked. "When you're submerged in 42 degree water and your body is losing heat TWENTY TIMES FASTER than air of the same temperature, you'd just undue your belt and take your pants off, all the while kicking for your life? You think you'd have the dexterity to do that?"

"Yes I do. I know I would. And you know, that's what separates a survivor from a casualty. Someone who has a plan, and sticks with it and refuses to give up."

He seemed to have a point on this one. "Then I'd better not go overboard,"I whispered, stabbing a bite of seamonster with my fork. "I'd never be able to take my pants off and make a flotation device out of them when I was drowning. I can't even take my pants off in my own room."

And it's true- I can't. Not when I wear the company issued belt.

The belt has a cheap, silver metal clasp that jams up every damn time. My first night in uniform it got so badly stuck that I had to get a deckhand to undue it WITH A PAIR OF PLIARS. I didn't know anybody onboard and there I was, having to ask for help taking my pants off. ("I'm'm the medical team leader,"I said the next day during introductions and I swear I saw eyebrows raise.) The next day it got stuck again and this time, while wrestling with the thing, the sharp metal cut a long, straight gash into my thumb with bled on my equally horrible blue crew shirt. Oh, how I hated that belt. And now I didn't merely hate it, I feared it.

What would happen if the ship went down, and everybody made it into the lifeboats except for a few heroic crew who would include myself and Adam, certainly, who stayed on the listing, sinking vessel till the last possible second trying to jig the failed electrical system and call out our coordinates for somebody, anybody, to come to our aide, but we couldn't make it so we jumped into the ocean and the lifeboats had since rowed away leaving us to our lonely and icy demise? I can tell you what would happen: Adam would just whip his pants off and construct a little life raft out of them, and as he floated towards shore I would go down, straight down, my last wretched moments in this life spent wrestling with the clasp of the cheapest tin belt in the entire Mariners' Lifestyle catalog.

That very night I took the belt and I threw it into the trashcan in a dramatic gesture that demonstrated my wrought iron will to live.


Caroline said...

I came across your blog through digthischick, and I'm hooked. Thank you for your humor and wonderful storytelling. (And photos!) You've certainly got yourself a new fan.

Surndr said...

patagonia webbing belt...then you can pull off the pants and puff 'em up! :) haha enjoy your vacation melina!

katie m said...

ha ha. seamonster!

Catherine said...

Thanks for a good laugh after a stressful day. I love the way you write!

Baby By The Sea said...

What an exciting summer. Love this, especially the laugh it gave me. Safe and fun travels ahead for you!

Cassandra said...

HAHA I love this post. Freakin' belt buckle! Good for you! :P

Chris Burke said...

David Letterman says pants are just funny. This post proves that!