SEA Currents: Corwith Cramer
November 08, 2018
When in Doubt, Label
14°10.7’N x 055°31.7’ W
Description of Location
Tropics, East of Barbados
6.5 knots (Sailing under Jib, Forestays’l, Mainstays’l and Mains’l)
Sea Surface Temp/Salinity
28.6°C/ 35.6 psu
For most people, I would argue that it's not everyday one interacts with a space in which everything is in its right place and put there in a specific way. The gravity of this noticing may feel a bit heavier in light of my current living patterns (which may not be the tidiest or most organized), however, it's become quite evident that nautical life consists of and necessitates certain relationships with the objects (especially the massive one you are living on and riding across the ocean) by which you are surrounded.
This first hint of this noticing began with the shift in and expansion of vocabulary. Each day aboard the Cramer I was coming across new objects, new words, and new words for objects I already knew. Floor reluctantly became 'sole,' ceiling unwillingly shifted to 'overhead,' wall became 'bulkhead,' meeting or gathering tentatively became 'mustering,' kitchen turned to 'galley,' and bathroom transformed into 'head.' These substitutions, which I'm sure have a specific etymology, were soon paired with tens of new terms to describe locations aboard the ship (Louie Land, Harry Potter Closet, Jakes Corner, the Playhouse, and the Doghouse to name a few), objects that pertained to sailing (halyard, downhaul, jigger, hank, yard, brace, outhaul/inhaul, clewl'n, jackl'n, sheet, tack, boomkin), commands that pertained to sailing (cast off, up behind, tacking, gybing, made ready, made fast, turns on, 2-6-heave), objects that pertained to science (spectrophotometer, bathy photometer, hydrocast, spec cell, secchi disk, neuston net, cod end jar) and a plethora of TLA's, or three letter acronyms. It's all felt a bit overwhelming, as does learning any new language, but the more time spent on deck, observing, asking questions, reading, memorizing and messing up and generally being a confused and wandering adult, has helped to flatten out this learning curve.
As new names began to fill my head, I also started to notice how objects had very clear and secure homes. Without begin tethered down, fastened with a hook, tied to a string, bolted, held in place with non-skid padding, fit into place with a series of raised wooden slats, pinned down, taped on, clothes pinned, bungied, or any combination of these mechanisms and constraints, things would inevitably break, fall or become lost with the movement of the ship. Despite our best efforts and ingeniously designed safety features (such as thrice modified in two days clasp for a sliding door on the dish cabinet), objects still find their way onto the soles. Though it's obvious why it's all happening, the normalcy of objects in the hutch crashing into each other, everything in your bunk rolling around (including yourself), books slamming back and forth sharing ideas with each other, mugs and plates chasing each other in the dish tub, and galley pots and pans clanking about has been quite humorous at times. These objects,
animated by the ocean, seem to have a life of their own, chattering constantly, bantering with one another, contributing notes to a cacophonous orchestra, running away from you as you try to gather them from the soles, or oscillating in tandem such as the fans that live in the main salon.
Eventually, amidst all of these new objects, names and spaces, I began to notice the abundance of labels. From the computer I'm currently using which has three separate 'Lib 2' labels to the right of the screen, to each of the lexan containers labeled with sharpie and tape, countless objects have been given their specific and potentially ephemeral or enduring names. Certain objects and spaces even have dedicated plaques or hand carved titles like a few of the cabins and heads with names that include 'Schooner Man's Arms,' 'Burleigh,' 'Clogher,' and 'Jumbie's Rest,' or the fuel pump in the engine room which has been aptly and conveniently named the SCEJMMCFTP, or 'Senior Chief Engineer John Michael "Mickey" Cavacas Fuel Transfer Pump.'
The Doghouse, home of the navigation equipment, through rather devoid of labels is making improvements. On my third day on the Cramer, a fellow sailing intern and I were tasked with cleaning the sextants under the logbook table. We started by pulling each of the 8 numbered-boxes from the cupboard and one-by-one cleaning the telescopes, mirrors and lenses. We labeled (naturally) a piece of tape on each box with the date and our initials indicating that the devices had indeed been cleaned and proceeded to return them to the cupboard. By removing the sextants from their home, however, we had unknowingly signed up for a game of 3-D Tetris. In just about every orientation and combination imaginable we tried to fit the boxes back into place. Our approach changed from curious and gentle, to aggressive and frustrated as we spent more and more time trying to get the boxes back in place. Eventually we succeeded, spending nearly an equal amount of time cleaning the sextants as we did putting them back... The gods of labeling must have had us in their favor as their witnessed this pitiful episode of human confusion, for not long after our trip got underway when I was asked to once
again pull a sextant from the logbook cabinet, I noticed a label (this time bridging the boundary of a map) on the right-hand door with grid indicating which sextant went where. Though, and unfortunately, this label has made the task of putting the sextants back in the cupboard any easier, I do hope this initial labeling event will attract more labels to the Doghouse, and to the rest of the Cramer, so that future frustrations can be avoided.
In the galley, each shelf tells those putting hotel pans or pie dishes away not only where they should go, but how many should go there (ONLY FIVE). Two of the three drawers besides the sink have also been labeled; one plaque says 'Spoons,' and the other boldly reads 'Spatulas, Wisks and Other Flat Ended Objects.' Just the other evening, while returning the galley mats (the rubber mats that belong on the sole), something I had done the previous evening with some apprehension since I didn't know how to puzzle the mats back into place, I was informed that each mat had a sharpie label indicating
its orientation (port aft, port forward, starboard aft, etc), and sure enough there they were.
What I have come to realize over the course of the trip is that the Lab, filled with its many gadgets and doohickeys, stands out as the labeling factory aboard the ship. In this shrine to the gods of labeling, hundreds of glass containers have been granted ethanol proof labels from a labeling program on one of the computers, civettes are twice labeled, and colored coated tape and sticky dots denote different chemicals. One day, while processing samples in label, me and the same intern who played the game of 3-D Sextant Tetris were commenting on all of the labels in the Lab and on the ship, and joked how it would be funny if the label maker were labeled too. It turned out the joke was on us, for no sooner had we said this did the scientist in lab draw our attention to the label that was already present on the label maker. It was an unbelievably humorous sight to behold, but nonetheless welcomed in a place where objects tend to have an elevated and frequently animated role.
-Tyler, Deck Hand, B-Watch