O, To Be, A Grapefruit, At Sea

April 8, 2024

Author: Finn Torres, C Watch, Bowdoin College

3AprilPresismall

Sam, Jordyn, and Megan present on Blue Button Jellies, Drawing Credit: Jordyn Worshek

Ship's Log

Wednesday, 3 April (Finally), 2024

Noon Position (Lat and Long): 42°53.4’S x 174°03.6’W
Ship Heading (degrees): 100°
Ship Speed (knots): 5 knots
Log (nm): 700 nm
Weather / Wind / Sail Plan (from 1300 Watch Change): Sailing under four lowers with shallow reef in mains’l.
Description of location: Southern South Pacific Subtropical Gyre

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on lookout recently. There’s not much else
to do. Yesterday I was thinking about Ockham’s Razor. It’s some sort of
logic-y term that says when you’re given partial information, you should
always assume the simplest scenario. I.e. if you hear hoof clops, think
horses, not zebras. My inner ear does not obey Ockham’s Razor. When
everything’s churning and I’m in the galley, my ears don’t think, “Ah, you
are on a boat and the ocean is moving.” They think, “You should probably get
rid of everything you have in your stomach right now.” And I can’t convince
them otherwise until I’m actually looking at the sea.

Boat life, as a surprise to absolutely no one, requires a lot of adjustment.
I’m getting the hang of it but it’s hard to organize life when your base
schedule, your circadian rhythms, are being usurped daily. We’ve been split
into three Watch Groups and set to cycle through four Watch Times. Each
spans six hours with a twelve-hour recovery period between so you’re never
sleeping at the same time every day.

Each Watch Time has its own personality.

First, there is Afternoon Watch, from 1300 until 1900 hours. It’s a watch
you can almost convince yourself is just Oceanography Class. A field trip
day bumbling about on a boat for several hours, doing science and pretending
to be sailors. It commences in high spirits after lunch and gets interrupted
by actual class about an hour in (as much as you can call a bunch of us
scattered across the deck watching presentations on little white boards an
actual class). It ends with the smell of dinner wafting up through the
grates just as everyone begins to get hungry again.

We didn’t do a lot with white boards yesterday. Class time was spent running
lots of different drills, so we’re prepared in case of emergency. It’s good
to know we have thorough plans in case a fire starts, or someone goes
overboard, and I feel confident that we’re in good hands with all the mates
and Captain Allison. Yesterday she held up an old grapefruit, shouted “This
is a drill. Man overboard,” and hurled it into the sea: this simulated the
head of a person bobbing in the water. I’ve never seen so many people take a
bearing on a grapefruit.

The second watch is Morning Watch, from 0700 hours until 1300 hours. It’s a
bit of a rougher start because you’re woken up at 0600 hours for a 6:20 am
breakfast. This, so far, has led to a bit of morning anguish. Remind me why
I’m doing this program? I could be in Ireland or Copenhagen or France right
now and instead I’m getting woken up by a face lit only by a red headlamp
and the words, “Finn, this is your wakeup. It’s 5:58 am. Outside it’s 50°,
windy, and raining. See you in twenty minutes.” Morning Watch reminds me of
waking up early for rowing back at school. It’s a rough start to the day,
but nothing beats the moment the sun breaks through the clouds for an
absolutely spectacular sunrise. It’s all worth it when you remember you’re
learning how to sail in the middle of the Pacific.

Yesterday marked the first time I fully understood a sailing maneuver we
were doing. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by all the terminology so far.
All this taking, easing, heaving, and “tack,” which has not one, not two,
but three separate definitions. But I’ve started to pin down a bit of the
lingo and even picked up the meanings behind a few popular phrases who saw
their origins in sailing (I. e. the bitter end). Taylor just yelled down the
stairs “Galley, we’re double gybing,” and I know exactly what she’s talking
about.

Evening Watch is like a mirror image of Morning Watch. It runs from 1900
hours until 0100 hours and I’ve decided that hour 2300 to 0000 is the worst.
The watch begins in a dimming daylight that sneaks away almost unnoticed
unless you’re on lookout. I watch albatross glide silently about the ship in
the fading light. They look so serious I feel the need to restrain my
singing to more solemn sea shanties for the hour. Once the sun is gone, the
temperature drops, and the ship feels like a life raft in outer space. It’s
easy enough to stay awake well past midnight when you’re home but with
nothing but red light and pitch black, I’m sleepy by 2100. My only relief is
the 0030 wakeups for oncoming Dawn Watch, who greet us, faces matching the
albatross, above deck for their six-hour shift.

The majority of my adjustment period here at sea was consumed by exhaustion
and sea sickness. Ali, one of our boat’s lab hands, told me it’s a regular
part of this sea component. It’s tiring to be learning new things in a new
environment while simultaneously battling constant nausea. I hold off on
taking sea sickness meds until I feel I need them and in an absolutely
humbling moment on Day One at sea, I, hit by a sudden wave of nausea, hook
myself to a railing, and perform what is quite possibly the most efficient
throw up in remembered history. Thus begins my journey with Meclizine.

I’ve decided that sea sickness is a mindset. Not in the sense that you can
control it, but in the sense that when people ask me how I’m doing, instead
of saying “bad,” or “stressed by schoolwork,” I get to say “seasick.” This
is the point at which I discover the utter troopers our group contains.
Doing lab work on watch with Amelia, I am inspired by her dedication to
science. Every few minutes she excuses herself politely from the room for a
bit before coming back to cling tirelessly to a pole planted in the middle
of our wildly spinning lab. I think we are all completely over the moon to
be (mostly) past the coveted Nauseated Constantly portion of our cruise.

The last of the watches is Dawn Watch. Dawn Watch is the Kraken: running
from 0100 until 0700. You get to find out why the crew you relieved at 7 am
looked so solemn. My first Dawn Watch was brutal. You can sleep all you want
the day before, but at 4 am, your body is going to fight you to be in bed.
In lab with Mya and Amelia, I go through the seven stages of grief with my
eyelids, stalling at the bargaining phase. Listen, I’m only going to close
my eyes for like ten seconds. That’s basically just an extended blink. Our
lab tech, Amy, asks us to read a lab contract, but with the nausea, it makes
the most sense for one of us to read the contract aloud while the others
listen. I struggle through a page and a half, slipping in and out of dream
states before caving and asking Mya to read the rest. As she reads, I begin
drifting off to sleep. Amy catches my eyes close and suggests a walk
outside. Mya later tells me she fell asleep while I was reading. I later
tell JD and Anneka, half joking, that my first Dawn Watch feels similar to
torture.

That being said, I just completed my second Dawn Watch this morning and it
was absolutely lovely. I tried out a new strategy where I just sleep from
1600 until 0000, get the Evening Watch to wake me up an hour before Dawn
Watch, and then eat dinner at midnight. It seems absolutely demented on
paper, but it works really well.  I’m not tired at all during my watch, and
I have some wonderful hours of deep thought on lookout. Hour Five of watch
heralds in the welcome light of day and as the sun rises, all I can think
about is the Man-Overboard Grapefruit. Somewhere out there is the farmer who
picked that thing from a bush or a tree or wherever it is grapefruits come
from. I bet they never thought that grapefruit would end up in the middle of
the Pacific Ocean. Take that Ockham’s Razor.

Finn Torres, C Watch, Bowdoin College

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3 Comments

  1. Mary OBrien Torres April 8, 2024 at 21:13 - Reply

    Dad is laughing his head off reading this, Finn. My ‘mother instinct’ wants to helicopter you out of there immediately. Congratulations to all for surviving the first, and what I am assuming are the most challenging, days at sea. We are enraptured reading all the narratives on this blog. XOXO

  2. Jackie Fox (Ali’s mom) April 9, 2024 at 21:24 - Reply

    Thanks, Finn, for this delightful narrative! Loved reading it, and laughed out loud. Here’s to “bumbling about……doing science, and pretending to be sailors”!

  3. Dad April 16, 2024 at 06:23 - Reply

    In his octopus’s garden in the shade…

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