Friday, October 16, 2009

Long Unrecorded Sailing Memoirs

Some late transfers from my sailing journal... First installment.

Basic Sustenance

Keeping hydrated has steadily become a simple question of "how many senses can you simultaneously disengage?" Spending upwards of 10 hours a day in blazing sunlight- both that from the sky above and that of every beam that might have missed you on the way down reflected up from the water below- creates an obvious thirst that is nearly never satisfied because of the complicated skills required to ingest the only accessible fresh water. You see, the small engine used to help fight currents when in unfavorable winds (which so far has been nearly always, in our case) happens to be built directly next to our water storage tanks and generates a shocking amount of heat considering its size. This, in turn, makes the water an unbearable temperature to drink when you're already sweating, strained, and sunburned. Solution: disengage sense of feeling. Meanwhile the water itself, after a day or so of re-filling the tanks, generates a sort of sickly-stagnant smell which, paired with the diesel fumes that almost perpetually fill the cabin while we're under way, becomes so nauseating that straight up sea-sickness would be a welcome relief. Solution: disengage sense of smell. A day or so after that the stagnant smell aided by the heat settles into a stagnant taste only worsened by the sour diesel-dominated air, at which point there's one solution: disengage sense of taste. All of this I was beginning to get a handle on until a few days ago when we accidentally refilled the tanks with a hose normally used to power-wash decks and sails which stirred up some kind of whitish sediment slightly resembling wood shavings in the bottom of our holding tanks so that every glass we fill now bears a visible water to ??? ratio of 3:1. At this point, I'd be happy to resign myself to the less complicated option of never taking a drink again, except that I can at no point ever possibly be farther than 30 feet from my suddenly-extremely-maternal older sister for at least a few more weeks and, therefore, will never be out of earshot from her demanding that I "swallow something before I shrivel up and die." Solution: disengage sense of sight. I've never been quite so familiar with the miraculous synchronization involved with the many small muscles in the mouth and throat required to move something downward as quickly as possible. Because once you've removed nearly every possible thing that could draw your attention that's about what you've got left!

Cabin Fever

Things are different than I'd expected. Living in such limited space I thought I'd never see a moment to myself again until we docked in Baltimore and all started working but that isn't the case. I'm learning a lot about everything. They tell me I'm learning quickly too, but lately we've been going for long stretches (as in several days) through areas that haven't been dredged well and if I were to make a mistake we can't afford the time or money for a tug to come get us if we were to run aground. Between times that it's safe enough for me to practice anything interesting, I'm assigned to tying lines, hailing on the VHF radio, or keeping a lookout for logs or anything else that might damage the ship to be avoided. None of these tasks require constant attention. Alaina and Pat get so absorbed in the charts and depth finder that most days they go for hours (and sometimes the entire day) without hearing a word when I talk to them so I haven't really bothered anymore. I understand. They've got everything riding on this ship. It represents an enormous investment, their temporary home for the next few years, and only hope to make it to their new city. But I can hardly believe there are the same number of hours in these days as every other that I've lived. I read constantly, I listen to their arguments over routes and how the sails should be trimmed to learn more about how everything works, but still there are hours upon hours left to fill and now that I've already alphabetized the CDs, DVDs, and spice cabinet as well as performed what could have been a surgery on the mass of wires in our electronics bag to separate and organize them I'm low on options. Much of this time, I've realized, I spend listening with an intensity I had never known myself to be capable of, first to the great deluge of sounds as a whole, and then I separate them distinctly one at a time. Especially the engine. There is a constant emission of a million and one sounds coming from its place below the deck at the front of the cockpit and I shatter them into categories of hums and whirs and metallic clics and rhythmic drips like an orchestra. I keep finding that I can hear things far quieter and far further away than I ever knew and wonder if this was always the case but I never knew with all the other competing distractions or if it's developed over the course of this frequent exercise. I'm half convinced it's because of the sensory adaptations which become imperative every time I get dizzy enough to make myself force down a drink leave my hearing as the sole operating source of input… I've never been particularly interested in machinery before this and I have to laugh at how childish my imagined picture of this engine is having matched each sound in my head to knobby gears or thin springs and cogs that could just as easily be buttons and yarn or paper chains. But I realized that sometimes I see it as an oily old man grumbling and spitting about "doing all the work around here." Patrick opened the wall to look things over the other day only to find that we've been leaking oil badly for a while now. We joked that our engine's "crying black tears in protest" but in my mind's eye he'd just been sweating 'til the bilge was full of motor grease.

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