SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
August 19, 2015
Ruminations on the Elephant Table
In the environments that we work in, our awareness of the space around us is shaped by what we use and work with every day. For me, that means that my mental image of the Cramer is one of food. 'So-and-so's bunk' doesn't mean their bunk, but the secret cache of food that lies underneath. The settees in the main salon are named Flour, Cold Drinks, or Cholula. And the Elephant Table, extending out from the lab top, is home to squash, melons, and other gourds.
And so each nook and cranny of the ship means something different to each person aboard. However, there is something that joins them together - their odd names. Squalor. Jake's Corner. And of course, the Elephant Table. These names all come with equally odd stories that have been passed down in variations from shipmate to shipmate, and are part of the web of little oddities that make this ship, to so many of us, home. So today turned out to be the historic day that I finally learnt about the story behind the Elephant Table.
David, the offgoing captain, did not make this easy for me. Sitting on the quarterdeck eating watermelon salad at lunch, he offered me two clues: 'kinder' and 'tea'. For the next half hour, he watched in quiet amusement as I came up with possible theories, each more bizarre than the last.
Theory 1: Deckhand falls asleep on top of the table while drinking tea. He awakens to blazing light, as a glowing elephant appears before him and speaks to him of squash, and the potential for gourd storage under his sleeping spot. Waking up, the deckhand carries out the elephant's orders, thus the name.
Theory 2: Live baby elephants are secretly stowed under the table (before hydrowinch days) and transported from location to location for use in circuses during the 1800s, along with crates of tea. One day in port, a baby elephant escapes and his tiny rampage around the port popularizes the name. Thus, the name.
Theory 3: During the early days of political turmoil in the States, a baby elephant lived under the table. At one point, disillusioned with the unreasonable British tax system, this elephant threw crates of tea off the Cramer and into Boston Harbour in protest (as a Kiwi, this part of US history has always been vague to me). Thus, the name.
Not surprisingly, none of my theories were correct, or even close to the mark. But those moments of sitting around, talking and laughing about the weird little histories of the ship that we live and work on, are the lifeblood of the Cramer. Particular sayings, words and tales passed down by word of mouth over many years, kept alive and added to by endless curiosity and imagination. And while it's torturous trying to figure out what on earth people are talking about at first, once you start to settle in, it's really kind of cool.
Much food and warm wishes,