SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
April 29, 2014
Reflections on S252
Course & Speed
Also anchored, insofar as that’s possible
Not an anchor
These last few days, watching the students plot our position nearer and nearer to the Big Island, I would note the return of little things that meant ‘shore’: radio static, an airplane flickering five miles up at night, and just barely on our side of the horizon - another ship. Small pieces that mean nothing until you’ve left the lights and calls thousands of miles behind and weeks in your wake. I assumed I would keep collecting these small reminders of shore until I saw the first speck of land creep up out of the ocean and I would watch it grow as we approached. I was wrong. I woke up this morning and there was a huge island like a mural taking up my horizon from the port beam to the starboard beam!
Yeah. I was taken aback. While I was swaying there, still in shock and trying to put myself together, much like getting off a really rowdy rollercoaster, Nikesh swaggered past me with a coffee cup and began shouting orders. Sails rode down their stays smoothly. Sheets were kept from flogging. Every student was hustling and there wasn’t a “Hurry up, I got things to doooooooo” heard anywhere. After a stint or two as Junior Watch Officer every student seemed to know the score - where to be, what to say, how to do it. It was awfully impressive to see them work the sails down and handle the lines like they’d been born with ‘em in hand. A metamorphosis from six weeks ago when every one of them hesitated to tell you the difference between the peak jigger and a coffee cup.
It’s a good thing I never taught these kids how to pump black water, otherwise I’d be worried for my job.
What do you think, Sara?
Many things, Elmo, but mostly the following:
This morning the big island of Hawai’i rose out of the ocean and into the clouds before us, a solid reminder that the wide Pacific does not go on forever and neither can we. 3407.2 nm on the long-suffering taffrail log and time to haul it back, take in sail, and prepare Mama Seamans for coming into harbor.
Days like today end up being chop and change sorts of days, with lots of tasks, busyness, and feelings. We put tidy harbor furls in and covers on our sails, stretched our awning across a quarterdeck that has been showered with spray for the past two weeks of bounding across the tropical Pacific, and cleaned some of our accumulated rust streaks with Ospho. We rigged and launched our small boats and shuttled all hands ashore to clear customs back into the United States. We settled back into rhythms of anchor watch that have faded in the long miles since Nuku-Hiva.
We marveled at the novelty of the incessant sound of the tour helicopters overhead and struggled to remember that we needn’t speak French to the crews of the two outrigger canoes that came to circle Seamans at impressive speed. Many of us, perhaps, grappled with feelings both of homecoming and an odd sense of departure-very soon S252 will be leaving the home with have built in this community, and already the absence of the dramatic heel and motion we had been coping with in the Trades feels foreign, echoing in the physical our emotional experience.
In Two Years Before the Mast, Richard Henry Dana writes of this odd time at the end of a voyage, when excitement and quiet blend together: “the activity of preparation, the rapid progress of the ship, the first making land, the coming up the harbor, and old scenes breaking upon the view, produced a mental as well as bodily activity, from which the change to a perfect stillness when both the expectation and the necessity of labour failed, left a calmness, almost an indifference, from which I must be roused by some new excitement.”
That the shipmates of S252 will miss each other as parting friends is undeniably true-any group of people who have lived and worked together for six weeks will miss each other. But we shall soon leave not just our friends, but a way of life, a set of rhythms and rituals, a pace of activity and patience that comes to run very deep in our seagoing lives. We shall have to learn to live on land again, and Dana’s calm indifference speaks to a reluctance to let go of this life which has structured both our waking and sleeping hours over thousands of miles. It is good to be home, and very hard to think about leaving it.
- Sara and Matt