Thursday, May 18, 2017

Routine and Disruption

Just as we started settling into the swing of things on board - seasickness dissipating, and our circadian clocks finally syncing with the 18-hour watch cycles - today disrupted normalcy once more. Today was the day we reached Ile Maria - our first island stop, and an uninhabited one at that.

We finished our first full cycle of watch rotations this morning. All three watch groups have stood all 4 of the watch shifts. 24-hour days only exist externally; we report position and weather observations to the outside world. Internally, though days truly are 18 hours long. Hours become time either standing watch or sleeping, preparing to stand watch, and days become building blocks of full watch cycles - when a single watch group completes all 4 cycles before starting once again. 

Dawn watch this morning was quite special. Approaching Ile Maria, fighting exhaustion and delirium, watch group A (pronounced watch A-yy) learned to identify navigational stars, but that quickly spiraled into a disco star-lit dance party. The hours passed seamlessly with intermittent torrential downpours and striking/setting sails to control our arrival time at the island. The highlight, though, was standing lookout, alone on the front of the ship, trying to make out the outline of Ile Maria on the horizon before the sun brought first light to the sky.

Anticipating a day full of reef activities, A watch only thought of our pillows after finishing breakfast. The chaos, though, began as we were jolted awake as the anchor descended down 100m to the seafloor. Quite alarming when exhausted and fast asleep, it was as if someone had misjudged the location of the reef and crashed us into rock bottom. (Those were my thoughts before my brain starting firing. The anchor. Right, it's stored right above your head.) These are the things you hope your brain hasn't stashed too far from short-term memory.

The first of many surprises, it was as if dropping the anchor not only freed us from our finally normal routine of watch duties, but also released the tension and stress that understandably had built during our first few days at sea. We stepped off the ship for the first time in 5 days and it was as if a sense of confinement lifted. Afternoon and evening on the quarter-deck was quite literally a joy. It was as if the stars were aligned for us, the skies parted in dramatic fashion, and people started bringing out the guitars and ukuleles for some wonderful improv singing and interpretative dance.

The highlight of the day was snorkeling on the reef of Ile Maria. We saw eels, octopi, too many fish to name, and even an occasional shark (don't worry, mom, we all came back with 100% of our limbs intact).

Returning to the ship after only a few hours of snorkeling, it was as if leaving allowed us to call her home for the first time. Coming back to snacks, singing, and a new sense of life on the ship, the night continued as a carefree moment of appreciation for what we are witnessing. While leaving the ship may have disrupted the routine we finally adopted, it also made us realize that this ship truly is home. 


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