Friday, 7 October 2016

Calm is a dirty word...

Allegedly, (and I think my source for this is Neil Gaiman, so it may not be totally reliable) in the days of the tall sailing ships sailors would sometimes be becalmed in an area referred to as the doldrums. After a week or two in the hot tropical sun with fresh water running out sailors would start to hallucinate that the flat calm waters on either side were solid fields that they could just step off the ship onto. I dismissed this as a bit of creative writing until a week ago when we ourselves were in the doldrums. We stop steaming at regular intervals each day in order to carry out various scientific measurements, and when the boat stops moving, there is nothing. Just flat, blue, dead calm on either side for as far as the eye can see. Not even a whisper of wind. The sea was a hard impenetrable blue with a surface slick as glass. It looked like force would be required to break the surface.  



The evenings were amazing; I was told there was bio-luminescence so I trotted up to the bow and spent the next hour staring at the pretty. As the boat cuts through the water it disturbs plankton which luminesce with this eerie pale green glow. It was absolutely pitch black apart from the stars above and the waves foaming and glowing around the bow. And when I poked my head over the side (maintaining a very tight grip at all times, otherwise, eek!) it was just like flying through a black night with green clouds flowing and curling underneath me.  When my eyes adjusted to the dark I could see the stars reflected in the surface of the ocean. Every so often there was a little flash of light in amongst the water, which I think must have been flying fish. So, so beautiful.  And there are so many stars without the light pollution! This keeps surprising me. To the point where although we haven't crossed the equator I can't recognise many constellations because there are too many stars! And I think that I saw a shooting star.


I woke up this morning to gray, lowering clouds. The humidity has been rising almost unbearably during the last few days as we start to head south towards the Equator. Walking outside of the nice, air conditioned environment of the ship has been like walking into a warm, wet oven.  When I moseyed outside and onto the deck this morning it was to see sheet lightning playing across the clouds miles away. So far away in fact, that I couldn’t actually hear the thunder at all. But the storm was heading towards us and within half an hour we were being pelted with rain whilst watching the lightning forking down. It did a nice job of cooling the ship down; the rain hitting my face was cold but as it ran over my feet after being warmed up by the ship’s deck it was blood warm. The ship’s first mate told me that he’s been at sea when the ship was struck by lightning. He made haste to reassure me that as the whole ship is metal it’s just conducted down into the water and doesn’t actually fry any poor bugger who’s holding onto the railings at precisely the wrong moment! “Made a hell of a bang though.” he said, reminiscently. Then he shared that the metal core of the fibre-glass antennae on the boat had vanished; vaporised by the incredible heat of a direct lightning strike.

Have you heard of Neptune's court? Or the Crossing the Line Ceremony? Those individuals who have never crossed the equator in a nautical fashion apparently get dragged by Neptune's policeman to Neptune's court to face the god and his missus (one of the crew in a padded bra and wig) and face the charges against them. Only when they have paid for their crimes, are they permitted to cross the line and to have the "freedom of the seas". Awesome. Apparently back in the day this used to be pretty hard core with beatings, head shavings etc. But nowadays everything has to be consensual (Hah- a slipping of standards in every trade) so the punishment tends to consist of being covered in the slops that our cook, has left the tropical sun for a week or so before the ceremony. Oh, and kissing a fish. Apparently the list of my crimes is very long already which I feel pretty indignant over! What precisely is it that I’m supposed to have done?! But the man who normally does the head shaving assures me that he won't touch mine as he thinks that red hair is too pretty to cut. Best get my henna out again tonight...

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