Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Blue Skies Across the Drake

After my last glimpses of Antarctica the previous night I awoke to find that we were already in the Drake Passage. But the waters were calm, and we could see blue sky! Not wanting to jinx our crossing most folks did their best to avoid saying it out loud, but I'm sure we all thought: "boy are we lucky!" Sure, the ship still swayed and bobbed to some extent, but according to Drake veterans this was incredible. The largest swells we encountered on our journey were only about 8 feet tall. As we progressed in continued extremely fair conditions, some members of the crew began to express real concern about their next voyage. At this point they had experienced 4 or 5 benign Drake crossings in a row, so surely they were due for a really nasty one...

Emboldened by the (relatively) flat water I decided to try traveling unmedicated. On the journey down I had used a Scopolamine patch but did not like how groggy it made me. It also made it difficult to focus my eyes on a computer screen. I was hoping to work a bit on the ship on my way north so this time I opted for pressure point wrist bands instead. I admit to a few instances of queasiness: there was one meal I didn't really eat (I think I tried a little bit of rice and soy sauce, then gave up and went to lie down in my bunk. This was partially a reflection of the range of vegetarian food available at this point in the cruise. The Gould hadn't been resupplied in around 6 weeks so, aside from a few withering apples, there were no fresh vegetables or fruit to be had.) and once, with some desperation I rushed to the back deck in search of a horizon line to orient myself to and, after distancing myself from the guy who was smoking out there, I did succeed in fighting back my mild nausea. Overall, however, I am pleased to report that my inner ear did fine.

As for getting work done onboard, well, I still found it difficult. The ship's engines were too loud for me to listen back to any of my recordings. Here's what they sounded like in my sleeping quarters, and in the cargo hold (turn down your volume, this one's loud!). Furthermore, the incessent mild swaying motions of the boat were better for inducing drowsiness and lethargy than inspiring intellectual brilliance. So, like many other folks onboard, I often found myself lured into the decadent leather couches of the lounge and the seemingly endless procession of DVD movies. When I got bored with Hollywood I joined Oona on the bridge, checked out our location on the nautical chart, and chatted with whatever crew member was on watch; or I went outside on the back deck and observed the retinue of albatrosses and petrels that were escorting us north.

This time Oona and I were both quartered in a berthing van down in the cargo hold. This is literally a shipping container that has been converted into living quarters for four people. It sounds like it would be an unpleasant place to call home for five days but actually it was fine, and even had a few advantages. For example, being lower and closer to the center of the ship meant we moved around less with the waves, which was a great boon if you were feeling woozy.

The berthing van, with it's metal lockers, florescent lights and curtained bunks felt very militaristic overall, but it also had some quirky details that made me laugh. First of all, the sound of the water pump was hilarious. Every time you generated enough wastewater in the bathroom the pump would kick in, making a wah-wah sound that was the perfect response to a bad joke. This never stopped amusing me.

Instead of a porthole, we had a tv monitor that let us see what was going on in several locations outside the ship. But perhaps the most amusing feature was the emergency exit, which was in the shower!

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