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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans
December 15, 2015
Absurdity on Land and Sea
Anchored at Napier New Zealand
What separates a sailor, particularly of the salty Seamans variety, from any old landlubber? During our port stops, the answers to this question become the most clear. It could be our slightly disheveled air-our stained t-shirts, matching hiking sandals, and wind-tousled hair that make the locals look twice. We can go ahead and pretend it's because our open ocean tans (sunburns) make even the most rugged of Kiwis seem like they don't enough time outside. It could also be the way we move in packs through any town, like a swarm of locusts alighting on any and all available Tim Tams. Or it could be our magnetic American Personalities, smiling with big white teeth at all the waitresses and saying novel American words like "do you have wifi?" and of course, mispronouncing all the local names. But today as we imposed ourselves on the art deco, jazz age, Great Gatsby splendor of Napier, I realized we have something else to set us apart: a well-developed sense of the absurd that colors all of our experiences.
In all seriousness, one of the best parts of living on the dear old S.E.A.mans is the ridiculous jokes, acts and bits that arise from all of our time spent without the convenient distraction of internet and iphone. We've had blog posts both tender and lighthearted, but as a first time blogger I felt I would be remiss to let the entire trip go by without painting a picture for our dear readers of this most integral aspect of life at sea. Science deployments and sail theory aside, it's the jokes that are my favorite. And so, let me give you all a taste of what Professor Mark would call the Seamans subculture.
Picture this: It's a quiet night at anchor watch. From the quarterdeck comes the soft sound of singing-something that sounds like the Christmas classic Silent Night. But as the melody reaches your ears, you begin to realize something is not right. Instead of the standard, rather renowned lyrics, someone has gotten creative. Aha! It is just dear Xiaotong, a C watch stalwart, singing her own creation "Cod End Jar". That simple piece of oceanography equipment, catcher of all zooplankton, has been immortalized in its very own song. And little XT didn't stop there. No, she created an entire album's worth of old staples reimagined with a very simple rhyming scheme. That is, the words "cod end jar" over and over and over again. It may have begun because no one can seem to remember all of the lyrics to any one song, but it has become a ship-wide (or at least C watch wide) favorite. Choral renditions, featuring three part harmonies, are often a part of any group activity. New Zealand just doesn't realize what a hit it has on its very own shores.
You see, living within 100 feet of 33 people creates some creative forms of entertainment, especially when binge watching Netflix isn't a fallback option. Every day activities become vehicles for elaborate playacting. For example, our latest work of theatrical genius is something we like to call The Game of Clue: Field Day Edition. The ship is cleaned bow to stern every week or so, and several shipmates have realized the potential such a scenario has for Murder Mystery. Why, something suspicious has happened in 16th Street, and there are many suspects! There's Mrs. White (Bulkheads) in the Doghouse with the Sole Sponge. There's Mrs. Wood in the Aft Cabin with the Squeegee! And most sinister of all of course is Sir Foulie Locker, in the Foulie Locker with the Sea Boots. Stay tuned for further updates as the game progresses.
If you think this sounds like the activities of crazy people, you might not be so far from the truth. Putting 33 big personalities in a very small space is a social experiment worth documenting on its own, but our group seems to have developed a few additional personalities to add to the mix. In fact, every single student on the ship has several distinct accents and personas to adopt as the need arises. There is one for every occasion! A classic David Attenborough works well for narrating ship life as if it were a NatGeo documentary. But, nothing fits the task of delegating watch tasks like a thick German accent. When the ship is rocking, throwing bodies across the main saloon like a dance floor, the only appropriate character is that of Jazz Age Starlet, which requires a good deal of jazz hands and a Mid Atlantic dialect worthy of Katherine Hepburn.
All of these quirky little diversions have created habits that are hard to break. So I think most people in Napier were surprised to find a huge group of Americans speaking with absurd inflections as they walked down the street. The thing is; we just can't stop doing it. At this point, you shouldn't be surprised if your student has a hard time speaking and/or acting in a normal fashion for the first few days they are home. It sounds strange from the outside, but the whole ridiculous nature of life on a ship just makes everything more hilarious at sea than it will ever be on land.
And, it doesn't hurt that all of our shipmates are uniquely entertaining in their own right. I know I'll miss the huge variety of humor we have here-from Andy's quiet sarcasm to Liz's puns to Ollie's exuberant character acting. It's an eclectic mix that makes all the difference to life aboard-after all, we can't be expected to just sail and do science experiments. I think that's the best difference between a SEA Semester student and the people we meet on land: we are surrounded by a constant stream of uproarious laughter.
That's well your blog post,
PS: A big hello to the family back in the land. Keep the Cool Yule going until I get there, I can't wait to see you all!