Monday, September 9, 2013

The People

[Written Saturday, 31 August]

The best thing about being on board a replica of an 18th century sailing vessel is the people.

It takes a while to realize that. You start off visually overwhelmed: huge sails, towering wooden masts and poles, and a web of rigging doing god knows what. Telling yourself, "Hey, I'm gonna be using these things," is like driving into San Francisco over the Bay Bridge, with the Golden Gate Bridge framing the dense cluster of tall buildings surrounded by the sea, and telling yourself, "Hey, I live there."

And then you, and all the folks who came aboard with you, start learning the ropes (ha!), learning your responsibilities, and learning the rhythm of the ship. Then you and your watch - around 15 people in my case - are awakened at 3:20 so you can muster in the early morning subarctic light at 4 AM. Then it's climb, and haul, and scrub, and chafe your hands raw on sandpaper rope and stiff linen sails, until 8 AM when you collapse on the tables on the gun deck, huddled four to a bench over your late breakfast and coffee. Exhaustion spirals out from the pit of your stomach, paralyzing your legs and making your vision swim. Then it's down into the aktre skans (don't know the English word for that), up with the hammocks, and sleep till lunch at noon.

It's 8pm now, and the midship watch (that's me) was on call for 24 hours until two hours ago, so I'm about to pass out again. I ain't gonna write much more right now, and if I don't publish what I have, I won't publish anything at all. Let me take a shortcut back to what I was saying.

You work hard, you sleep when you can, you climb rope rigging and deal with a million little details and fuckups, and you throw one more load of cups into the dishwasher, and back up the little ladders to muster under the stortoppen at 4 in the morning, and you might -- MIGHT -- ask yourself, "Wait, what part of this do I actually enjoy? Why am I absolutely loving every moment of this?"

I had to think about it for a day before it came to me. It took a while because one it's so blindingly obvious and ever-present. It's the people. Those bodies you climb over to haul on the same rope, and embrace after a long watch, and sit around playing guitar with are what make the ship special. Age, nationality, and gender slowly fade into the team unity. You sleep together, hammocks bumping into eath other; eat together, crawling over each other to get off the bench and around the cannons to get second third helpings; work together, pushing and hauling with a unison born of necessity; and share the same joy and love for the beauty of the ship and of the forces of nature that power it.

And that's just week one.

It's true that most of my watch signed off here in Norrtälje, but I don't think the friendships will end so abruptly. Plus, there is now a whole new bunch of people to meet and befriend. You won't find me complaining.

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