Dispatches from the Deck: October 2nd

Morning watch. I am on deck, completing boat checks, engine checks, and taking weather recordings. The chief mate asks me to relieve another member of my watch at the helm.

“I’m here to relieve you at the helm,” I say, “What are you steering?”

Noah responds, “I’m steering 175°. It’s taking about 3° right rudder to keep her on course.”

I take the helm.

Guiding Seamans is not like driving a car. She’s slower to respond and gets tossed about by waves. Sometimes, the ship swings 10° off course to the right before swinging just as far to the left. Other times I mix up the direction in need to turn the wheel to correct it, sending us way off course before I can fix my mistake.

Eventually we settle into a sort of agreement. I can keep her on course, mostly, sometimes getting knocked off. It is daytime and sunny, and the seas and skies are blue, and the world is round, and we are scudding across the surface of it.

Later I am the lookout.

We are hove to for science. After gybing twice and arranging our sails inefficiently, we are not moving any more than the currents can push us. The bubbles along the boat float slowly. No longer rushing and hissing like a newly opened can of ginger ale like they do when we move at 5 knots. The motion of the ship has changed, making me feel sicker. I am sent to the lookout to stand at the bow of the ship, looking for other vessels and oncoming weather. I am holding onto a metal line on my right. My harness has me clipped into a bar at my feet. My left hand grips  the deck rail, steadying me in a half crouch as the bow pitches upwards and comes crashing down. Sometimes it is enough to pray my face with salt water. It feels like a dramatic cleansing.

Fly fish appear, skim the water, and disappear again. They look like amphibious air planes, their fin wings hard to see in the sun. Their tails are reminiscent of airplane tails, or maybe it’s the other way around. From the bow hangs a line with three fish tails, dried and roughed up from the water. They will hang there until the line breaks and they fall into the sea. It’s a way of honoring the fish we’ve caught, and it’s a good luck thing.

Today I feel lucky. Nearly sun burnt, yes. A little sick, yes. But everything is alive and by light and salt sprayed. I am one spec in a huge ocean.

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