Sunday, August 5, 2012

As the sea will allow

These notes are written alone in my crew cabin, below the water line, as much as I can possible write after each long long day. The full stories will be flushed out when I come home.

Adam is our bosun this week. He plays guitar and has a beautiful voice although it's a little bit difficult to get him to talk. The other night we sang chanties together. I liked everything about it: the sounds of water splashing against the hull, the dim yellow light of crew quarters, the late hour. Adam looks like a young sea captain and I take a lot of photos of him. He taught me a song that went like this:

It’s wave over wave, sea over bow
I’m as happy a man as the sea will allow
There is no other life for a sailor like me
Than to sail the salt sea boys, sail the sea.

I particularly like this song now because sometimes, sometimes, it's true. Sometimes the wind is blowing salt off of the ocean and I look around, I live on a ship with all of my friends, I'm as happy as this weird, transient, rocking, listing world will allow. 

Today we saw humpbacks bubble feeding. These great pods of whales would blow a ring of bubbles under the surface of the water and then emerge all at once from the middle, twelve whales with massive mouths gaping open. The shrieked and groaned when they came up. We got into a little boat to be close to them, and a baby whale breached right in front of me, it’s glistening, barnacled skin so close I could have reached out and touched it.  The spectacle lasted all day long. 

Towards the end of the day when the sunlight was finally slanting, I was out in a little boat and three whales blew in succession, and the sun caught the spray so that each blow was a rainbow.  At crew dinner that night I kept saying over and over “I just saw whales blow rainbows. I just saw whales blowing rainbows."

Happy a man as the sea will allow.

I woke up at three in the morning to something banging on the boat. It sounded like something in the water was smashing repeatedly against the hull. The boat was rocking, not back and forth but up and down, like airplane turbulance. My bed would fall away from me and then bounce back up.  I could hear footsteps going up and down the stairs, although that’s nothing new because my bed is directly under the stairs. I sat up in bed and wondered if we were sinking. If we had hit ice and been crushed. I contemplated going upstairs to investigate. But what happened instead is that I fell back asleep. breakfast, most of the crew were talking about it. We had all woken up at three in the morning to a the dreamy thoughts of shipwreck.
“What you felt was the boat getting the shit kicked out of it,” said Scott, the former cop-who-trained-Iraqi-cops-turned-liscened deckhand who had been working the night shift. “Iceburgs!”

Jordan, our second mate with the sharpest, keenest sense of humor on the planet, looked up from his plate and laughed at all of us. “What woke you all up last night was two foot waves." 
We were quiet.
"Two feet."
“How big to the waves get in Baja?” someone asked from the corner of the table.
“Twelve feet.”
Two foot waves and I thought the ship was in dire peril. Shows what I know. But the truth is, our Endeavour, she doesn’t have a keel. She's got a flat bottom and even two foot seas can send it pitching hard.

 Big new: I know longer hope for some epic but ultimately benign disaster that would have the ship hauled off to shipyard for the rest of the summer, because I’ve started to sink into ship-life. I’ve started to look forward to my days. I like Reid Glacier, in all her elegant, moon like monstrosity, and I keep my  eyes on Margery and Dawes whenever we float past, hoping for some calving and the swell of wake that will follow. The food is better under the relief chef, Mike, and he flirts with the girls on crew like all good chefs should.  

I've forgotten the running countdown of the days till I can go home. Now when I fall asleep I worry about not having enough days left on the ship, because I know exactly how boat word works. Everyone will be on different ships next season, or no ship at all, and all the friends I have here, the stalwart stewards and exhausted engineers and the hilarious mates, as much as I love them now, I'm not going to see them ever again.

Already this week I've been almost written up for:

1. Not forking over my prescribed anxiety medication to my supervisor. It's captains orders to hand over any medication you're prescribed when you're on the ship. But I wouldn't do it. Boy, did I get into trouble for that one. I eventually did. Maritime rules are funny. If you disobey your captain you can get locked in a cabin alone and fed bread and water. Or go to jail. 

2. Not wearing my uniform. This one really ticked me off. It's not worth getting into. "This is your final warning before your'e written up," was how it was worded. And I stood there, I had my arms full of rainboots, and thought, "My final warning? When was my first warning?"

Would it be too terrible to ask how many write ups I can accumulate before something actually happens? Because I only have four weeks left on the boat anyway.  I don't think I will ask that.

Today I don't feel like a sailor or happy or anything. I wonder how I got out here in the first place.

Today was different. Better. I don't know how to explain it. It's been raining for days but my mood is buoyant. All day I sang the song that Adam taught me. I walk the decks singing the chorus which is the only part I can remember. “I’m as happy a man as the  sea will allow.”

Today we were close in the Bay to our sister ship, the Wilderness Explorer. Their chief engineer and their chief mate took a rescue boat between our ships to pick up some fuel. The WEX floated in the blue evening light so close to us I could see people standing on the bow waving.

Randall is on that ship, and I had this idea that he’d come on the small boat just to put his arms around me. We sail so close to one another but I haven’t seen him since  we left Seattle on May 27th. I got so giddy about this idea of seeing him in person that I ran circles around the ship. I put my radio on channel 74, the channel we’d agreed to talk to eachother on if our boats ever sailed in site of one another.

It was invented idea, there as no room for him on the rescue ship.  But I hung out on the fantail anyway and watched the little boat come and go. I gave handsome chief mate Kevin an envelope with a chocolate bar and some almond butter for Randall and saw them melt away into the distance.

And just then, Randal patched through on Channel 74 and we talked over the radio for the first time all season. It’s weird having a person you love so much just ahead of you in  the middle of nowhere, and you know they are there, but you never get to see them. It’s very similar to just not seeing them at all.  
Between the Safari Endeavour and the Wilderness Explorer
This week I became an amateur glaciologist and an expert in pinepeds. I put on a photography slide show and gave a performance about nautical terminology, shuffled kayaks endlessly on the easy dock, threw jokes back and forth between the cheery deck staff and every night cleaned the wound of the poor, red haired steward with the mangled toes. I wrapped knees and examined sores and tried to amuse myself with books and music at night, but I never had much energy.

Last night I dreamt I was halfway up a huge cliff with Andrew, and we were just climbing like normal, nothing out of the ordinary. Climbing all day, pitch after pitch, like we do when I'm home. I woke up and immediately tried to close my eyes and go back there. 
Total Soul on Vacation

Well, chef quit. Not the flirting relief chef but the real head chef who was supposed to come back from vacation today.

What happens when the chef quits the day before 55 guests walk onboard for a week?

I guess we'll see.
The hotel manager quit as well. She's married to the chef so it makes sense. Just this morning she walked down the gang plank in Juneau so we all thought she was coming back onboard. But she was just coming back to collect her things and Chef's things and she's flying right back to Seattle.

It's truly sad because she is an incredible, kind woman, sharp as a tack. I'll miss her on the ship. I'll miss the chef, too, even though he never spoke too much. The stewards are being all shuffled around now and we are running with a very, very small crew. 

The days will stretch even longer as we each take on more and more duties. 

This is a great experiment.

I still feel like a journalist, although not so much undercover  anymore because I know a lot of sailors who are reading this. 


kate said...

I love your blog! I'm glad you had a good week and I hope your good mood lasts!! I was so happy you wrote me back I'm sending you a package of goodies this week!! Anything you're craving?!

- Kate

Anonymous said...

Great writing, Melina. This experience is really making you an amazing writer. Above and beyond.

Rose said...

Hi Melina, your old classmate Rose here. Been a while since I've checked in but no surprise, your blog is inspirational as always. :]