Embarking into the Living Heart of the Sea

June 27, 2023

Julius Gabelberger, Kenyon College

Julius from Kenyon College hauls on the main staysail halyard with Caleb Fineske, from Middlebury College, standing by to help

Ship's Log

20° 21.2'N, 158° 37.6' W

NNE, 2 on Beaufort scale; Sky - complex with clouds (cumulus)

Souls on Board

All blogs from S-310

When the ship abandons the shore - just as you had imagined - certain things come to life.

In the galley, potatoes scramble away from the knife; scraps of parsley make wild bids for freedom; cherry tomatoes scuttle gleefully from the cutting board to the sole. In the library, the books flop this way and that, as if they can't get comfortable on the shelf. And everywhere, over the ceilings and against the bulkheads, the sunlight shifts its weight restlessly from side to side, like a penned animal.

Nevertheless (as the shore abandons the ship) these aren't what really strikes you. Even with your eyes closed, you would know exactly where you were. Because what has really come alive is the boat itself.

It's breathing, you think, wildly, the first time you descend. It's a living being, and I'm inside its beating heart. At times, throughout the day, you imagine that the beast is walking, and the lot of you held, swaying from side to side, in the caverns of its ribcage. At other times, it seems to slumber, and the slow in-out of its breath saturates the still, hot air of the galley. And all the while, the sea stumbles along outside the portholes, just as you do inside. Every once in a while, as you chop and chatter, you look up at those portholes to find that - even though you're on the high side of the boat - a wave has pressed curiously up against the boat, peeking inside. It spots you looking and dashes below the sill in an instant, sputtering foam as it flees.

Other things, too, aren't quite as you expected. Sickness hasn't roiled up yet (although here and there you can feel it shifting in your gut, threatening to wake), and as the day goes on you find yourself less and less prone to believe that it will - or even, bizarrely, to believe that the sea is the reason for the sickness. The connection between cause and effect feels looser here. Like so: you are swaying from side to side, and the gimbaled tables are shifting back and forth, and outside, through the looking glass of the small, round windows, the sea wobbles up into great swells and then lets them fall to ruin. None of these things seem linked.

This is the Ship's Reality: the way the rules of the ordinary world, stuffed with all its trees and its phones and its regular gravity, become distant and irrelevant. There, one step forward takes you one step forward. Here, one step takes you across the quarterdeck; the next becomes a lurch to nowhere. And as its rules fade, so too does the land itself. Every time you come up on deck, Oahu has grown fainter; it dims between blinks, like a dream in daylight. The last time you see the island, it is as a thumbprint smudge over the sky, old and faded. When you come up again, half an hour later, bearing a pan of baked bread - it's gone. It seems suddenly very plausible, looking out at the bluer-than-blue ocean and the whiter-than-white clouds, that it was never there in the first place. The water seems real; the ship seems real; but already your memory of land is unconvincing and vague, full of inconsistencies.

Late at night, though, you rest your elbows lightly on the gimbaled tables in the salon, and feel for a moment their silent mutiny against the Ship's Reality - their utter fealty to the laws of physics, to the mass of the earth tugging them straight, dead downward. Suddenly they are what is true, and the cabin around is what is false. For minutes afterward, you are hyper-aware again of the shifting, the shuddering, the silent in-out breathing all around you. As you type away in the library, you think of how each plunge and dip means movement; means progress, both "from" and "to"; means that tomorrow you will be somewhere new.My name is Julius Gabelberger, and I'm one of the students onboard Seamans. As is probably apparent, I've never sailed on the open ocean! Today, I happened to be assisting Ashley in the galley - so I was doing a lot of moving up and down from belowdecks. Also: Hi, Mom (and co.)! Not dead yet!

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  1. Sharon Bonner July 5, 2023 at 14:28 - Reply

    Very evocative. One of the best blog posts ever, and I’ve read hundreds of them.

  2. Maya Gabelberger July 5, 2023 at 15:27 - Reply

    OK, mom here. I am definitely super biased, but I really, really love to read what you write and I love that two of your passions are coming together – writing and the sea/sailing/ocean life. Also, very grateful that you are “not dead yet” as you so heartwarmingly put it. And also, you now look like a fuzzy cue ball, ;-D, but it all looks good on you! (Anyway, I is hoping the folks reading this have the humor). Will everyone shave their heads when you cross the equator I wonder? Big hug to everyone! Maya aka Mom
    Also, Papa here. Try to not trip over the rope that is the equator. Petzi is our one source of truth. And we both missed 9 o clock on a a Saturday. Won’t happen again. Try to continue to not be dead. Papa out.

  3. bigblackbird July 5, 2023 at 22:08 - Reply

    That is very well written. Nicely done!

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