Here's a narrative of my journey across the pacific on a cargo ship. i left a little over two weeks ago, and now i'm in a pub in a small port in new zealand drinking beer and eating potatoes and wondering why the floor isn't pitching like everything else i've been standing on.
advance warning: this is TLDR to the max. i threw it together over the last two days and it ended up far longer than i'd anticipated, even with cutting loads of material. congrats if you make it all the way!
I, having arrived at the docks in Long Beach overtaken with a headache and nausea, had clambered up the gangway with my sea bag, registered on the manifest with two Filipino deckhands, one of whom asked if he could carry my guitar case, and played it as he led me to the superstructure, making loud guitar sounds whenever he passed other seaman. And, left alone in my cabin, which was sparse and precise, I promptly threw up in the sink, christening it as ignominiously as one could hope to, and collapsed into my rack and the merciful arms of rest.
This was my whirlwind introduction to the Natalie Schulte, the German container cargo hauler I was to ride to New Zealand and Australia. When I awoke the land was gone.
Through the night the Natalie Schulte had been loaded with cargo, swung aboard by three enormous cranes spaced evenly across her deck, her entire complement of crew bustling to fasten the boxcar-like containers to the ship and to each other. We had slipped away from our birth with little fanfare. We were underway, and, for the first time in my life, I found myself at sea.
I signed on to the Natalie Schulte because I want to write a book, and a near-month’s worth of steaming across the Pacific Ocean was far and away the most adventurous solitude I could think of. Adventure – that’s the other reason I was aboard. I grew up among the pages of Moby Dick and Sea Wolf and Treasure Island, and I, growing up far inland, have longed for the sea as long as I can remember. After months of faxing documents and release forms back and forth to London, the enchanting lore of tide and tack and trade winds and breakers on the larboard bow was my reality. An unchecked giddiness overtook me as I stood topside for the first time, the deck spread out below me, bow pointed south.
But before the joy of seafaring comes its trials, and I soon realized my stomach was not accustomed to the constant pitch and roll of the ship. It hit me first during my first lunch, in the officer’s mess room; the captain, a Russian, was addressing the passengers, explaining various rules on the ship, times and restrictions, when I made the mistake of looking out the portholes where the horizon bucked and pitched. I sat glued to my chair, my eyes watering, my mouth watering, forcing myself by pure will not to hurl on the table.
I retreated to my cabin afterwards, and stayed there for the better part of the first two days, stretching out my rack and popping Dramamine every six hours. Much to my consternation, my cabin was facing aft, and on the far starboard side of the superstructure, so that my bunk, which also lay to starboard, was at the most extreme possible length away from the center of the ship; every buck and pitch of the waves was amplified thusly.
But within a few days I got my sea legs and had little problem after that. The days began ticking away, one after another, and as I religiously tracked our progress on a map from home, using a ruler and pen to mark our latitude and longitude once per day, the weather grew warm, and then balmy, and then hot. Flying fish appeared, leaping clear of the ship’s thrusting bow and soaring effortlessly across the water, the stuff of myth and legend.
Their presence signaled our proximity to the equator, and after a week at sea we crossed it. Mariner’s tradition is that one who had never crossed the equator on a ship is a polywog, and once he goes over the line by sea, graduates to the status of shellback, a distinctive and exclusive club among men of the sea. The shipping company recently banned the hazing of new shellbacks, so I missed the great production of the captain dressed as King Neptune shaving the heads of fresh shellbacks (I can’t say I’m sorry for that.)
Later that day I discovered that calamari consists of a plate of steaming purple squid, and all my newfound seamanliness went into the trash bin with curled tentacles and my appetite. It seems my stomach is still very much a polywog.
Edited by PhillyB, 01 March 2012 - 09:01 PM.