The Whisper of the Sea

Last night’s dreams consistently returned to the image of sleeping on a porch swing pulled and pushed to its limits by a maniac, a rhythmic alternation between weightlessness and a heady plunge earthward. It wasn’t, when I awoke, far from the truth: we’re nose into a 50 knot storm swell with 30+ foot waves.

The ship is comfortable riding these seas; she takes them like an old horse at a slow canter, bow rising high and back, then slipping forward and down over the crest for the next one. Occasionally a wave sneaks in out of sequence, and we get a dull, jarring thump on the hull. Coffee mugs tip, handsets tumble from their cradles below, and above, a massive gray-green curtain of spume rises five stories up to engulf the bow. Evocative, romantic stuff, I tell you.

I’ve brought Steinbeck’sLog From the Sea of Cortez to keep me company on this trip. It seemed appropriate: for all my adulation of Hemingway’s writing, Steinbeck seems a much better companion when actually at sea. Like me he was inessential to the Western Flyer’s exploration of Baja. He was not as a scientist or seaman. He simply had the desire and means to go, and in doing so to learn a little more of life at sea, to provide company and a spare set of hands. He also hoped, as I do, to find a way to capture and share his impressions in words on paper. What better travelmate could I ask for?

Speaking of companions, there is an eight inch metal pole that runs ceiling-to-floor beside my desk. It’s there, no doubt, to provide some of the structural stiffness that makes the Palmer a Class A icebreaker, but it also serves as a handy place to hang my guitar. I discovered this use on my last cruise, and it appears to have become (as the vernacular goes) “a thing”: Barry and Sheldon have hung one of the ship’s guitars from a matching pole just aft, where the Electronics Techs work. We haven’t had many group jams, but the computer lab has been rarely without music when work gets quiet.

I have, though, found another use for the pole: I don’t know where it starts or ends above or below deck, but it appears to be made fast into the heart of the ship, and when I place I my ear against it, I can hear the humming, beating pulse of this great machine. There is, of course, the maddening electronic canary chirp of the Knudsen and patient rumble of the diesels, but there is so much more. A low breathy whistle, like air blown over the mouth of an empty bottle, and a hushed, insistent whisper. I can’t help but think of the whispering as the voice of the ship itself, speaking to noone in particular. Just, perhaps, muttering quietly under its breath, as one sometimes does when alone on a great and distant voyage.

The first time I heard it, I pulled my ear away instinctively, the way you do when you stumble into a private conversation. But I soon found myself feeling that it would be more impolite not to listen. We are, after all, of the ship here, not outside it, and if it is speaking to anyone as it climbs and descends these endless banks of sea, it must be to us.

I’ll let you know what it tells me.

Speaking of writing and telling tales, I’ve been sorely disappointed at my lack of fictional output since we set sail. Mind you, there are those seven days a week of 12-hour workdays to contend with, but the days are often quiet, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to occasionally taking some of the quieter hours to write these blog posts (yes, my manager reads this blog – hi Scott! – and I’m counting on him to tell me off-thread if he wants me to cut it out).

But while my non-fiction travelogueing – is that a word? – has come along comfortably, I’ve been unable to manage more than three sentences of fiction in as many weeks. It is as if my “fiction brain” and “non-fiction brain” are two entirely separate creatures that don’t get along particularly well. And not only can they not abide spending time together in the same body, they seem to want to let the other’s scent clear for a few days before moving back in.

So I’ll resign myself to reading Steinbeck, watching the sea and listening to steel poles for the time being. Yes, yes, and coding up that RVDAS display software. And I’ll count on my fiction brain coming out of hiding once I’ve finished telling these tales of my days at sea, and helping me make up some some brand new adventures. Hopefully from the comfort of a nice quiet coffee shop that doesn’t pitch and roll like a porch swing. (see video at

3 responses to “The Whisper of the Sea

  1. Sounds like maybe the anti-nausea meds are working… Hope so. I know I’ve found seasickness to be extremely distracting in my few long voyages.


    Sent from my iPad



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