notes from the field

No. 7 - Crusted With Salt

My cabin is one level up from the main deck overlooking the starboard bow. Above, and set way back, are the master's and chief engineer's cabins, the radio room, and the radio officer's cabin. Above them is the bridge. The ports look out over the forecastle where the anchor windlass, capstans and bollards are firmly rooted. I can see over the bow to the horizon and the view is more intimate with the oncoming sea than that from any other protected vantage point. To take advantage of such a spot, however, one must be able to see. The weather, while not being mean, has been soggy and miserable -- fog, rain, wind and icebergs. Every time I've gone to the bridge in the last several days, the captain has been there pacing. Our tracklines between stations look like the trail of a drunk sailor. My windows are crusted with salt and there's nothing to see.

But the weather began to change as we moved east and north. It snowed early this morning -- enough for several inches to pile up and for the night watches to throw snowballs at the oceanographer who was trying to listen to BBC on his portable short-wave radio in order to collect late-breaking stories for the newspaper he posts every morning -- but that's another story. Later today, as we came past the end of King George Island, the fog began to retreat, we got glimpses of smaller islands and grounded hulks of icebergs and even the sun for a moment or two. I retreated to my cabin to write some notes in the afternoon as the ship turned downwind and we traveled with a following sea to the next station. The fog had thinned had there was noticeably more light and texture in my spaces -- which consist of a foreroom, about 6 by 9 feet containing a clothes cupboard, a small refrigerator, a desk and a bench, plus an alcove for a sea bed and an all-in-one sink/toilet/shower. Best of all, there are three rectangular ports, each about 1 by 2 feet. After clearing away some rust, some weather crust and a coat of new paint covering it all, I opened one port wide and enjoyed the afternoon. The wind was behind us and the ship was riding the swell comfortably; I could hear an albatross all the way from his normal flying position off our stern as he looked for edible morsels to jump out of our wake; and it was glorious to be able to see more than a few hundred feet. Hump day is tomorrow and this may be a good omen.


next episode: GET UP.