Starting Life Aboard a Ship, My New Home, First Impressions of the Watery World.
10/25/2010 55 °F
My latest attempt at money making has me signed up for six months aboard a 152-foot cruise ship that will be sailing the Columbia and Snake rivers this fall, and down the west coast to Baja California, Mexico this winter. It’s exciting, and seemingly a perfect job for a curious wanderer and inspired student of the world such as myself.
I am a deckhand. I’m one of a crew of four that work aboard this vessel. We work long shifts, 12 hours on and 12 hours off, on a rotating swing schedule that changes every week. Our shifts cover the entire day, so the ability to be flexible in sleep schedule is already apparent. This is my fourth day on the boat, and while I still have a lot to learn about my job, everyday I feel more comfortable here. I’m settling in to my new home. My deck partner and I, who is also my roommate, and the person who works opposite schedules to me, has the same birthday as me. When we found that out, it was kind of like a twilight zone moment of weirdness. How bizarre! What are the chances of that happening? Astronomical. Anyway, I’ve decided our room needs to be decorated with May 10th paraphernalia, in honor of the situation.
My “home”, my berth, my cabin, is much what you would expect for a crewmember aboard a relatively small ship. Its cramped quarters, designed for efficient living, where mostly to get at anything you want in your berth you only have to turn around. However, my cabin living space is actually quite a bit larger than my van is, so I’m more comfortable than one would expect. It also has lights, electricity and a functioning head (bathroom) which makes it quite a bit more accommodating. In the head, you have three options: toilet, sink, or shower. All of which are easily used by turning around in a skimpy three and a half foot wide area. I’m sure you could use all three fixtures at once, if you were pressed for time.
The food is excellent and plentiful, and available at three meals for the crew, and a make your own snacks all day long, providing you don’t get in the galley crew’s way. Coffee, Cappuccino, and other beverages are readily available as well. The coffee is terrific and helps keep you going during your long shift. My current shift has me eating a small breakfast at about 10 am, and then attending crew lunch at 11:30. I could wait, but I like to start my mornings with breakfast food.
My first insight is that it’s going to be an interesting dynamic between living and working on a boat. As I’m going to be onboard most of the time, I’m going to have to get used to the fact that while I’m traveling and seeing new territory, I’m more or less on a fixed position moving around the globe. It remains to be seen how I get used to doing my work, then shutting down and enjoying my “me” time. So far, it hasn’t been a problem, but I’m only on my first week. The other cool part about being a deckhand is that, when you are on, you’re on, and when you are off, your off, nobody is going to ask you to work other than attending the weekly emergency drills. In addition, everyone knows when you are off, and so they give you some breathing room, and let you do your thing.
I’ve seen some cool things so far while on the ship. There is a lot of river traffic on the river, and a long series of locks to navigate through. I’ve taken part in tying off the vessel, by either calling bollard distances for the pilot, or actually making the toss and securing the vessel on the bollard. Then we rise or fall depending if we are heading upstream or down, the gates open, and we are on our merry way.
I really like making the rounds at night. I love the way the moonlight shimmers on the near glassy water of the Columbia and the Snake Rivers. The night starts with deep cool blue, which in time deepens to the dark of night. While walking the decks, I feel the beautiful solitude that lone deckhands on the watch have felt since sailing began. There is something about it, that’s hard to describe. Maybe it’s just wanderlust realized, embraced, and lived, combined with a changing natural environment.
“So it goes”, the river, life, and the ship. Therefore, I will as well.