May 28th, Monday

June 20, 2007

“…the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves…” (Moby Dick)

It has clouded over in the night, with growing waves. Our alarm clock and other paraphernalia fell off the desk. I was too tense to sleep much, holding onto my mattress on both sides. The ship is most obviously rolling, but she’s also pitching and yawing. We can’t get a satellite fix, says Chris, because we have too small a porthole for the satellites to be picked up through it. But I think the truth is that it’s too turbulent for peering at little screens for very long without feeling queasy. We’re aware of a certain amount of turbulence in our stomachs as well as on the surface of the ocean, so we’re taking a precautionary tablet each and have chewed some more of Elva’s ginger jelly beans.

I didn’t bother with a shower. Chris had one but complained that the water wasn’t vertical; he had to hold onto the shower rail. We are both tired, but braved the stairway down to Deck 7 where after a decent breakfast of muesli and a crispy bun with and cheese and jam plus cups of tea, I felt better. Chris only managed a handful of grapes and half a banana! You have to hang on tight to the sides of the table to prevent your chair from sliding across the floor, which leaves no free hands for holding onto the cups and plates. The milk in my muesli bowl slurped over the edge. However, the table cloth had been sprinkled with water so that the plates wouldn’t slide so easily– a neat mariners’ trick.

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Reagan scuttled out of the galley to chain the chairs at the Captain’s table to the floor. The Captain popped down for a quick snack– “Good morning! Good appetite!” — and pronounced the weather “not bad, yet,” but couldn’t promise us any improvement before Liverpool. Is it going to be like this for the next five days, then? Or worse?

The waves are leaving trails of foam behind them. Some breaks in the cloud make bright patches; otherwise, there’s sleety precipitation. It’s very cold outside, but warm enough in the cabin.

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After reading some more of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, propped up by pillows, the soporific effect of the ‘Gravol’ kicked in and I slept again, so was late to lunch. Chris went ahead, having stayed on the bridge for most of this morning. He reports that there are lows ahead of us that “could be a problem” but the wind should continue to blow from the southwest, pushing us along. The wind is now at Gale Force 9, Gale 10 at times.

At lunch, the Captain warned us it “could get worse”, so there’s to be no more walking about on the ship than is strictly necessary! He’s clearly worried about us injuring ourselves. We were served fried duck with red cabbage and chips, followed by wedges of watermelon. Like the Stehlis we felt surprisingly hungry, though Mischa and I did request smaller portions. One roll of the ship sent all our plates flying over the table, spilling the gravy on them, damp tablecloth notwithstanding. Another had us all sliding on our chairs involuntarily across towards the Captain’s table, the water from my tumbler tipping into my lap, another rolling right off the table onto the floor. Woops, no harm done; we’d slid back to where we’d come from. Laughter. The steward, the cook and the officers know how to move around, how to brace themselves, what positions to stand in. We passengers are not so good at it.

Chris says that these conditions “aren’t conducive to serious study” (of his philosophy books).

I climbed up to Deck 13 to see what it was like on the bridge. There are no pilot reports from other ships in the vicinity, so we’ve no idea what’s ahead of us. Our Captain says, “All the other ships have gone. We’re the only one on this route, apart from one small fishing vessel to the north of us.”

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We’re glad we aren’t on that ship. Now that we know what it’s like out here, it’s sobering to think of the early settlers to Canada coming across or the original explorers taking this route in their tiny ships, or worse still, to imagine the slave ships crossing, with their human cargo chained down in horrible conditions in the hold. Mid-Atlantic is a lonely place to be at the best of times. However, we mustn’t let these thoughts get us down. Captain Block with a grin tells us to “think positive”.

We talked to Orlando again, who had experienced the 2004 Tsunami while at sea, near Columbo. the wave dropping his ship 10m in a couple of seconds. He also told us about the seabirds who sometimes lay eggs overnight, on the ships they land on.

We’re over half way, now. The 8m waves of this morning are diminishing a little, with the wind backing to WNW, so that the waves start to come from behind us. On average, we’re rolling 10º, with 25º rolls now and then. This morning it was more like 20º all the time. The complexity of sea and light is wonderful. What power!

By the evening the swell was gentler, less noticeable. Our supper was pasta with chicken fritters. On my own in the rec. room afterwards, because the others had other things they wanted to do, I watched a DVD from the ship’s collection: Miller’s The Crucible. I’d seen it before on an Air Canada flight once, but hadn’t been able to follow the dialogue for the engine noise. This engine vibrated just as much but was less intrusive and I wasn’t interrupted by the steward trying to sell me duty-free cigarettes.

At 22 Zulu hours, says Chris in the cabin, having put on another Beethoven Quartet for background music, there were 62 hours 40 minutes left before we reach the Irish coast; he estimates it will take another 10 hours 5 minutes to go round Northern Ireland and reach the docks. Therefore our ETA at Liverpool is now 1000 on Friday.

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