SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans
December 05, 2018
Three Can Keep A Secret If None Of Them Are On A Tall Ship
Alongside at (wharf) in Napier
We’ve been on the ship long enough now that we’re all familiar with the intricate peculiarities of life here. Undoubtedly, one of these peculiarities is communication, in all of its iterations. This is the only place I’ve ever been where repeating what other people say to you back to them becomes a near-comical reflex, popping up even in casual conversation. I am in constant communication with some of my shipmates, namely those on my watch, who I see every time I am awake, without fail. Others of my shipmates I only hear about secondhand, in passing, or for brief chats before one of us heads to bed and the other to watch. It is in no way uncommon to have a conversation with someone who bunks near you that includes the phrase “I miss you!” or “I haven’t seen you in days!”
Communicating with the ‘outside world’ is even trickier, and incredibly sporadic. I still don’t know how the U.S. midterm elections turned out, and get emails and texts in waves when we come into port. Shipmates use precious international data to call relatives and significant others, or to email professors with urgent scheduling requests. I didn’t splurge on a new SIM card when I flew into Auckland, so all of my communication requires strong wi-fi. I ambitiously set out to email relatives and friends when I started this voyage, but now find that the best I can do when wi-fi is poor is to Apple Message my sister a bunch of information, to distribute more widely at her convenience.
Perhaps the most clear communication issue on the ship is how internal information gets spread. I think of it like a game of ‘telephone’, or like the bonding game my watch played, called ‘fax machine’, which is like a cross between telephone and Pictionary. When you say one thing, no matter how clear, or how trivial, it finds its way around the entire ship in a meandering but rapid circuit. It usually, however, does not make it through this process intact. If someone says, for example, that the meter net was ruined by something, and now has several large holes in it, then later the story may be that the meter net was bitten by an animal. Then the animal becomes a shark. Soon, after a second damaged meter net, the story explodes into outright fiction, narratives of dogfish revenge and sharks with chainsaws. In reality, the meter net was damaged (twice), but the first time was by an animal (perhaps a shark), and the second time was purely mechanical malfunction. It is just the nature of the ship that this information got so silly so fast.
To cap off this blog post, my shipmate and close friend Sal will give an example of just how quickly this process can take place:
“Mia licked a man-of-war!” is the first thing I hear when I round the corner towards the lab. We are taking the lab practical, which is the most fun version of a test I’ve ever taken. Questions are posted around the deck and lab and we are rotating stations, looking at equipment and in microscopes, tying knots and, at one station, “processing a sample” where the sample is a candy bowl. We are proving our skills and loving it at the same time.
“Mia licked a man-of-war?” is my response. For the folks out there who don’t know, Mia and I share a home institution, a major, a watch, and an awesome friendship. I saw the man-of-war that we pulled out of the neuston net this morning, so I know it’s real. I’m thinking ‘aren’t those poisonous?’ and ‘how did Mia get it in her mouth?’ I’m guessing based on the nonchalant nature of how this story is spreading that she’s probably fine, and I’m guessing she didn’t actually lick a sample that was out in a bucket, and the humor of the story that has reached me starts to dawn on me.
In search of answers, I head towards the lab. I see Mia holding a cup of water and looking generally not dead, so I ask “are you ready to be teased about this or is it still too sore? Why did you lick a man-of-war?”
“Is that how it’s getting around?” Mia asks, “I definitely didn’t lick it, but it did sting my tongue,” and so we spend the next twenty minutes theorizing how we will tell this story. Maybe, we decide, Mia was engaged in a battle with a man-of-war that was gripping her arms and the only way to get out was to bite herself out, sustaining a tongue sting in the process. Or perhaps she was trying to prove to the man-of-war she wasn’t scared of him, so she licked him outright to be tough!
Want the real story? Keep an eye on tomorrow’s blog post and my special guest Mia will finish it off. - Sal
- Mia Sigler, Mount Holyoke College, A-Watch