My Epitaph

If you don't question everything, you will know nothing and believe anything!

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Yet another...

I swear I am typing up a recollection of the lifestyle I was living 10 years ago that I haven't worked on in a few days (the only thing physical I have done has been play table tennis, but I played too much in too short a period: Thursday night play, rest Friday, played Saturday night so much I was thinking about seeing the surgeon to see what my replace/rebuild options are right now for the shoulder I had fixed in 1990 on Sunday, and then playing again Monday night, so I haven't been able to spend much time even sitting on the single day of rest between being active), but I will give this short flashback to the first breakfast on the first cruise that was 20 years ago this morning.

We had left Lisbon in the evening during dinner service.  Giving for an estimate of 12 knots (which was 4-6 knots faster than either the Nantucket or Yorktown Clippers could make in calm seas, and the Clipper Adventurer would get about 16-18 in calm seas), it would have taken about 42 hours underway, and since I know we arrived in Porto Santos at sunrise on Easter Sunday, 1998 (I recall that because the passengers complained about the trip to a house once owned by Columbus was closed because it was Easter Sunday and all the crew got identical pictures of sunrise while smoking the cigarette right before serving breakfast), that means we left Lisbon during dinner service on my father's birthday (April 10) - which happened to be Good Friday in 1998.  I recall being told that we expected to be underway for about 42 hours until arriving at Porto Santos.

If you enlarge, you should be able to make out the breakwaters where we would have below the mountains in the distance.

I will never forget that first breakfast service, 20 years ago today, because in the first, maybe 5 minutes, of my first full day at sea aboard what was becoming to feel as the first real home to me (other than the Coffeeshoppe de Smurf where I bought most of the weed/hash I bought the summer of 1992 while overseas at 21 for a program through university and had felt at home again in the winter of 1995/6 when I was remembered by a few employees from the summer of 92), I witnessed something I wish I hadn't (not as nauseating as that nasty porn picture I mentioned in a recent post upon arriving in Lisbon).  I don't just mean that I wish I hadn't seen it (like that disgusting pornography), but I sincerely wished it had never happened.

The night before, we had gotten underway after dinner was being served.  I don't recall exactly how many people cleared out of the dining room during dinner service that Good Friday as we left Lisbon, but we may have had between a third to possibly up to two-thirds of the passengers leave the dining room to go vomit from seasickness.  My section was in the very aft of the Dining Room, and included the Captain's Table (which was the only table I had that first night's dinner), so with the exception of the Welcome Aboard and Farewell Dinners, my 8 top table for the Captain would remain empty and I could assist others except for those two dinners (and even then I might not have my two 4 tops seated on the night's the Captain dined in the Dining Room).  Because we were doing about 30° degree lists all night (and although I was still in my early learning to read the ocean as a surfer, it seemed like perfect groundswell that was 7-8 meters/approximately 25 foot open ocean swell), we weren't really expecting a full Dining Room for breakfast.

The 30° lists sure made walking interesting.  On my way to the Dining Room that morning, I started up the main ladder-way in the center of the steps (and they were wide enough that I couldn't extend my arms and touch either railing from the middle).  Before I had gotten up that single flight of steps, I had touched both railings and arrived at the deck above the crew's quarter's (which also contained the landings for the fleet of Zodiacs amidship), again, in the very middle of the ladder-way.

For those who have never spent any/much time on the open ocean, their appear two main ways for a ship to address a swell direction (and the intended direction may well determine which way a ship must face the seas, that I don't know): the seas can be pitching or rolling/listing.  Listing seas would be like walking along the side of a hill that gains steepness (maxing out for us 20 years ago at about 30° lists), evens out, then begins to grow in steepness on the opposite side of the ship.  And I definitely do not mean like walking straight up a hill, but like you were making switchbacks or even walking straight along the side of a hill that grows in angle from relatively flat to about 30°, where you had best be prepared, especially with a tray of food over your shoulder, to change directions of the list in the peaks and troughs of the 7 meter swells.

I would eventually prefer pitching seas; that's like walking up and down hills.  I especially loved spending my free time in pitching seas on the stern on the deck for crew only (just below the open deck aft of the Dining Room) where I could look over the railing and see the screw turning when it was out of the water.  Sure, you could definitely hear and feel the driveshaft throughout the ship when the propellor was out of the water, but I loved watching it turn out of the water in pitching seas!

So, what was so horrible that I wished I had never witnessed that first breakfast?  I was later to hear that she had been told to wait a minute and my roommate would have gotten her a glass of juice.  The CDC probably wouldn't have been thrilled to see how we had the glass racks stacked on the deck, but that was the only place to leave 125 glasses used for the juice station for breakfast without having them shatter upon hitting the deck.
I was standing between these 4 tables, and the side where this photo was taken was where a small wall ended/began [that matches the one you can see behind the two tables along the far side that ends in a bannister that went from the top of the wall to the overhead (ceiling for those not used to nautical terminology)].  From that bannister that's about in the middle of the above photo, there was maybe 2-3 meters (6-10 feet) until the cabinets you can see along the bulkhead (wall) with the round clock and picture.  The same wall is not visible and, it too, had bannisters at both ends.  The glass racks that morning were just to the other side of the wall that would be to your right if you had taken this photo, and again, I was standing in the middle of these 4 tables.

I watched this 97 year-old woman walk over to the stacked glass racks.  As I was bracing myself as the ship reached a trough, which was a far more abrupt changing of the list than at the wave's peak, this old woman had just started to bend over to pick up a glass out of the rack.  I watched it happen because I knew it was going to happen as soon as I saw her bending over instead of, say, grabbing ahold of the bannister at the end of the small wall.  I weighed my options, but without sacrificing my body by trying to jump over a table, as well as the small wall while hopefully, somehow, timing it perfectly, to miraculously land underneath her falling body to break her fall.  Instead, I was the first person "on her" and before she could tell me that she wasn't okay, I don't recall if it was a passenger, or it was the actual ship's doctor, but immediately after I asked her if she was okay a man cam up and said he was a doctor so I walked away somewhat in shock of just what I signed up for with the contract to start the inaugural season of the Clipper Adventurer!

It might have had to do with how my section wasn't as busy, but somehow I was the one chosen to deliver this poor old woman her meals until she could get off the ship in Porto Santos.  We were eventually informed that she had broken 6 ribs and punctured a lung in that fall (luckily we had a doctor on that ship and he had pain killers to help, the other two ships I had worked on before the Adventurer didn't have a doctor on staff because they were always close enough to land that they could have usually gotten a sick or injured passenger off quicker than 24 hours later).  I wonder how many of the same breaks would happen to my 73 year-old mother today because there's probably a bit a difference in the strength of bones of women between that quarter of a century.  I sure wan't expecting to hear it was that bad of a fall from what I had seen.  Don't get me wrong, in my shock having witnessed this (and immediately questioning if I was going to die while working aboard that ship which helped add to the shock value), I immediately escaped into the satellite galley/service kitchen (behind the bulkhead/wall with the clock in the above photo) and was reprimanded by one of my coworkers for saying something like "As far as falls go, I guess it was a 'good' fall!"  It was my black humor trying to make light of a situation that had me terrified for my own life.

At that time, I am pretty sure no one else had worked the dumb waiter and lift from the main galley because I had that assignment on the 3 day Pre-Inaugural VIP Cruise, and had that same task the night before (that assignment belonged to the section with the Captain's Table).  I don't even know if I had even voiced my realistic fear of mistiming a trough and losing my balance trying to pass a dirty bus tub of dishes to the dishwasher station and breaking my neck with a fall down the ladder way between the dumb waiter and the dirty dishes station by that first morning.  I don't really recall if we had started our dark humor of joking about how many ways we could get killed working aboard that ship during the VIP cruise, but it probably wasn't much later after having a 97 year-old fall the first breakfast on the very first cruise of the Clipper Adventurer's Inaugural Season that my fellow crew mates and I began joking about how we were going to die at sea aboard that ship.

I am pretty sure that I was the only one to witness her fall, I think most of my fellow crew mates first saw me running to her, or above her if they even saw that because I got the fuck out of there and into the satellite galley as fast as I could once that man said he was a doctor.  I may have even excused myself to go smoke a cigarette (and likely a few hits of the hash I had scored in Lisbon that I recently discussed if I did), because I was in a mild state of shock having witnessed that 97 year-old woman fall, break 6 ribs and puncture a lung on my first official day at sea with paying passengers aboard a ship that would feel more and more like "home" with every passing day (and regaining my sea legs).

I saw it coming and, unfortunately, there was no practical way for me to cover a distance to break her fall without likely seriously injuring myself trying to go over a wall that I, instead, essentially ran around to be on her immediately.  For me to have covered the approximate 2 meters/6-8 feet to break her fall, I would essentially have had to do a high jump (like the track and field event high jump) over the wall so that I could land under her.  But this was going to be impossible to accomplish because, for those of you who haven't spent much time at sea and don't know what listing seas are like, she had bent over at the very instant the ship hit the bottom of the trough, which meant that as she was falling to the deck, the deck was also rising up to hit her, so it might have taken half a second less time for her to hit the deck than if she had fallen on land (or in perfectly calm seas).

Have any of you ever started your first full day doing the job in your description (was organizing the food holds part of my description as a Dining Room Steward?  No, but it had to be done and I actually had work to do for a week instead of just looking like I was busy for 10 hours a day, so it would be like your first day full day at a new job after the training period, etc...) where, although you have already had some serious concerns for your own safety, you witnessed a customer break 6 ribs and puncture a lung?

20 years ago tonight I fell in love with one of the greatest sights I have ever seen

I chose this photo because the ripples can hopefully help you imagine what a full moon lighting up 25 foot open ocean groundswell without any land in sight would look like.  But watching the full moon rise 20 years ago and light up the ocean (with the corduroy lines breaking up the light), I searched out the darkest place aboard (the Observation Deck below the bridge and  above the overhead/ceiling of the Main Lounge) and tried to stand in one place, mesmerized by the beauty of the light of the full moon across the Atlantic's corduroy swell lines.  The seas were so rough that even in my best athletic stance, I was still moving my right leg ahead and behind my left just to keep standing still and take in the awesome view of the full moon lighting the only thing visible: the ocean.  The return trip to Madeira and Porto Santos would have been two weeks later and I fell in love with another sight at sea far away from land: the new moon!  I have yet to see anywhere on land where the Milky Way seemed as bright as on that Observation Deck, but New Mexico might have been close (a place mentioned in a post I need to finish about my lifestyle 10 years ago right now, instead of all these 20 year old memories!)

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