14 May 2007

sailing west to America

The fog is so thick that I can't even see the bow, some 700 feet away. Gently
pitching and rolling through the night, I slept reasonably well. But you rarely
sleep really well on a ship. Always one eye and one ear tuned into your milieu,
listening to the steady cadence of the engine, listening for changes in level or
tone, for a high pitched whine or a low frequency hum.

Four more days and I will be in America. It's not as climactic as it was a
hundred years ago; the lure today is quite different. WalMart. No sales tax in
Delaware. "Everything is cheaper in America" my colleagues tell me. And the
people. "You can go to a bar, alone, and sit down for a drink, and within 10
minutes you're deep in conversation with three people, and by the end of the
night you're lifelong friends. That's what I love about America. This, this
would never happen in Europe."

Our last port was Kalundborg, Denmark. It was there that I discovered where the
Danish hillbillies live. A small town of around 20,000 residents, a pedestrian
based town center. Several turkish kabob places, a mongolian BBQ, a Thai
kitchen. Nothing authentically Danish, at least that was open on a holiday,
whatever that holiday was, it was unfamiliar to me. The Second Mate and I drank
a few pints at Cafe Bogart, a cafe themed on an American actor, staffed by an
asian girl. As I walked around, and was visually interogated by the locals
sitting at the small tables outside the various cafe's, I felt that this was one
of those places where an outsider, one who wasn't born there, would never fit
in, would never be accepted. No different than a small town in Appalachia.

The fog has grown thicker. I can no longer see the midship masts. What was it
like, to navigate in weather like this, back before steam, before radar and GPS?
I remember, as a midshipman, in my introduction to nautical science class,
having to triangulate a position based on Loran C, which has gone the way of the
8-track tape. It was a different life back then, on a ship. Harder work,
maybe. Different, at any rate. But fewer rules and regulations. Now we're
practically bus drivers, driving where the company tells us. The Captain gets
emails from the office, from someone who's never been on a ship, with
instructions to change course because some weather information aggregator has
issued a warning for our area. The fact that we're right here, looking out the
window ... no matter. Do as you're told.

There's still a lure to the sea, though. In the last two months, I've been to
Scotland, England, France, Holland, Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and am now
crossing the Atlantic to the US East Coast. From there? Maybe Venezuela? Time
will tell. My colleagues are from all over: India, Croatia, Russia, Poland,
Canada, The Philippines, Scotland. A mishmosh of accents and phrases.
Europeans use their silverware differently than Americans. I was never
permitted to use my knife to push the food on my fork. You had to scoop it up,
or leave something like mashed potatoes as a wall to push against. We switch
hands, knife in the right hand, then put it down, fork in the right hand, to
eat. Europeans put the fork in their weak hand, upside down.

The Chief and the Captain, both Indian, won't eat rice without some sort of
gravy on it. And the jar of pickled chilis is being consumed at what I consider
an alarming rate. There is no peanut butter on the ship. It seems that only
Americans, or north Americans at any rate, have developed a taste for it. The
Filipinos have something called 'banana sauce' which looks like ketchup but
tastes like bananas, creating flavor combinations that are ... well, they're
just wrong.

We had a dart competition over the weekend. Darts are a great social equalizer.
The deck cadet gave the Chief Mate an asswhipping, very much enjoyed by all
hands. The finals were the 3/M and OS versus the 2nd cook and messman.
Democracy finds a way to creep in, like an antiseptic, purifying and cleaning.

Perhaps the sun will come out and burn away the fog. Makes no nevermind to me
anyway, as I'll spend the day down below. But a sunset this evening would be
nice, with a sharp horizon and brilliant colors. A priceless view for free.


  1. Another great post. You've got a good ear/eye - as well as the ability to express yourself. I could feel that fog.

  2. you write beautifully - I look forward to reading you published one day!