Life Aboard the Ship

Well, I'm off the ship now, more's the pity, but it doesn't sail in Puget Sound in the winter. Too much rain. Too much wind, as well, which you think wouldn't be a problem for a sailing ship... and it wouldn't, if it was just us crew, but when you have a deck full of 45 kids and parents and are trying to do quick maneuvers, things get a little dicey. We tried setting sail once on a dark and blustery day, but only managed to just put it up, sharply heel over, get a few "oohs" and "aahs" from the passengers and then drop and sea stow it, which is to say that we furled it as quickly as possible, and none too neatly, just to get it out of the way. Sea stowing is grand with a sail that weighs 2500 lbs...

So I'm off, but way back when in the day, "Life Aboard" was one of the classes I often taught. And a lazy class it was, too, for it mainly involved taking groups below decks, pointing out a few of our living arrangements, and then answering the barrage of questions that followed. The class was essentially a long answer to the question: What is it like to live aboard a ship?

Well, every ship is different, isn't it? On some, the crew get their own private bunk for their entire stay, decorating it the way they like and unpacking as much as one can unpack within a bunk. Not the jolly crew of the Adventuress! We had 37 bunks aboard, and only one of those was private. (The Captain's.) Well, I suppose the First Mate had a designated bunk too, but since the rest of the crew used it in the daytime as a couch, it could hardly be counted as private. For the rest of us, we picked a bunk for the duration of a trip, whether it was four day's worth of day programs or a six day overnight, and then when it was over a blank bunk sign-up sheet was pinned up to the main mast. Since the lower bunks were used for other things in the daytime, like the seating around the table in the main cabin, it was protocol to pack up one's things every morning and stow them in the upper bunks, a fact I always told the kids after asking the question, "So, if you came aboard, how much stuff do you think you would bring?"

Typically, the kids were simply amazed to learn that we actually lived aboard the ship. I guess they thought it was a day job.

We used the ship as a metaphor for the planet, showing that we had to conserve the resources we had aboard, and - hey, look! The planet has limited resources too! Space was one resource, and after I showed the kids how we used the bunks for multiple things, I would lift the floorboards and show the storage down in the bilges, or show the lockers that were cleverly worked into every nook or cranny.

So what won't I miss about living aboard?

I won't miss the heads. You can't throw toilet paper down a marine head. Instead we had painfully tiny trash receptacles next to the toilets that would have worked for, say, six people. Sadly, we often had more than thirty, most of whom were teenagers. Gross. Enough said.

I won't miss the bunks. The first one I ever slept in had a clearance of about an inch when I was laying on my side. Made me feel lucky to be as small as I am. That first bunk was also home to "Def Leppard," the electrical plug for the anchor light, that had a nice big scary label on it, something about don't touch this or you'll be electrocuted.

I won't miss six days without a shower. Although I do have to admit, not having ship's showers made me surprising familiar with the Shore Heads of Puget Sound. (I should write a book.) It was not only the shore heads I got to visit (Elliot Bay has the best, FYI), but many fitness clubs that opened their locker rooms to our use as their way of supporting to organization. Mmm. Free spas.

I won't miss munging the soles. Mung is the mysterious black layer that builds up on the edges of the sole boards, and so every now and then we would lift the sole boards one by one and scrape down their edges, wipe them top and bottom, and vacuum underneath. Which wouldn't have been quite so bad, except think of the sole boards as gigantic, awkward, heavy puzzle pieces that you can only grip by two metal bolts, resulting in strained backs, smashed fingers, and, for me, lovely bouts of arthritis in my hand. Jolly fun.

But there's far more that I will miss...

I will miss Lucy, the merry little heater that warmed the main cabin in the colder days of late fall. I'll miss the view of the main cabin on those nights, when Lucy's glow flickered on the walls, with the blue light shining on the main mast and the red light glowing from the hall we called the bowling alley. It was like our own little Las Vegas down there.

And I will miss hiding out in the Engineer's hidey-hole from ten to eleven when I had the eleven o'clock anchor watch. There's no point in going to bed for an hour and getting up again, and the hidey-hole, the most hidden room on the ship, almost always had little treats for the crew squirreled away in it.

I'll miss the anchor watch "ninja walk" that was necessary to creep about above decks like a ghost, and the amazingly strong calf muscles it produced.

And I'll miss those unexpected little moments that only come from living aboard a ship. The seal on the dock that lunged into the water just in front of me when I'd walk to the shore head at night. The gronking grating racket of the blue herons at 3 in the morning on an anchor watch. The cradle-like swaying that rocked me to sleep. The feeling of the wood straining and the ship lunging when the sails caught the wind.

I guess it's a darn good thing I'm going back to it next year.