Sunday, March 14, 2010

Once More Through the Drake Shake

We had left Antarctica behind us, and were now headed back across the Drake Passage. This strip of water is known for some of the roughest traverses. While, for many people, it can be the quiet, peaceful, Drake Lake – for us it was the time honoured Drake Shake. There would be no peace for us as we were again delighted to find walking in a straight line more difficult than for a Russian after two liters of vodka, neat.

I looked at my book, the final adventure of DI Rebus, and attempted to read some more of it. But through the windows the horizon was playing all sorts of tricks. Not only was it coming up, just to hide itself once again, it was coming up at angles one could spend hours with a protractor trying to figure out. And never the same one twice.

“Doctor, please come to reception. Doctor, to reception.”

No rest for him this day, as calls were made more than they had been since our first passage. People whom I'd seen every day for over a week were suddenly locked in their rooms, seemingly tied to their beds, emerging only for meal times, and often not even for those.

Lectures went on in the lounge, describing the eating patterns of Humpback Whales, and Orcas. We played a game, it was called – try to stay awake. With the rocking of the boat, the darkened lights, the comfortable chairs, and the soft voices lulling one off to Nod, it was a game hard to win. Still – the presenters played a game all their own. For two weeks they'd been playing it, and it was only now in the final moments that we grew wise to it. Before each lecture they gave, two words were pulled from a hat.

Interdigitation, and slovenly. What does interdigitation mean? I'm not sure. Neither did the presenter. But it was his job to work both in to the next one hour presentation. We stayed alert, now keen on this attempt to spice up their own talks, and heard above the slovenly eating patterns of the humpback, and how Orcas could be distinguished based on the interdigitation on their dorsal fin. Do their dorsal fins have interdigitation? No. But were we wise to the dropping of this word? We wouldn't have been.

And it makes me think back to the other lectures I had heard, wondering what nonsense was spread around there. It also made me think that such a game would be interesting to play while teaching back in “the real world.”

The next lecture mentioned how sea-sponges looked like a 1957 Chevy. Something was out of place with this comment. This was the word drawn from the hat. The hat, of course, being nothing more than an envelop with the words “this is a hat” printed on the side.

And then it was time for lunch. Some people showed, some people did not. It was delicious. It strikes me that I've not often discussed the food on this ship. Always there, it just seems something taken for granted. There was delicious mousse.

In the afternoon, I found two half moon swivel chairs and used one to rest my behind, the other for my feet. It was the most comfortable two chair combination I'd yet come across (all chairs being bolted to the ground, and thus unable to move.) And in the middle of the boat, it was relatively free from nauseating rocking.

Here, for three hours, I sat and I read. And well the Ian Rankin novel is no more of an academic text than, say, DS9: The Never Ending Sacrifice (which is not to be confused with the soul key – as the former was quite well written, and the Soul Key was pretty terrible. Dan Brown could have done better. I shudder at the thought.) it was quite good. Very quickly I was sucked into the world of seedy Edinburgh, taken back to my weeks spent there, and all of a sudden I wondered should I have started with the final book in the 17 volume epic?

At four thirty I was dragged back to the chilled waters, as an announcement claimed that engine room tours would begin shortly. Nothing was off limit on this vessel. We stood on the bridge, we wandered the lifeboats, and we would now see the engine room.

Being led through it by the first engineer, we were warned, in other words, that what we were entering was akin to the world of Astar – the robot. He can put his arm back on, you cannot. Play safe.

Every two steps, as the boat swayed left to right, would see you passing some moving part, sharp tool hanging from chairs, or wiring unconvincingly insulated. We were told not to touch anything. If the boat causes you to fall, fall – do not grab a thing. And should the watertight doors start to seal, let them close. They will not open for you, and people have been known to be chopped in two by these monsters.

Yes, it was a delightful playground of cold war wonderlands. I felt like I was inside the video game, Missile Command. This made more sense when I recalled the boat was built in the mid seventies.

Climbing back above water level, where tea time sandwiches were abundant, and instant death or dismemberment seemed far away, I returned to watching lectures, and reading. My eye grew heavy, yet it was still so early. Not even dinner. I'd take a nap. This seemed a most gracious use of my time, and lying on my stomach, I could manage enough surface area to not be tossed onto the cold, carpeted, floor. Also – I was best to make the most of my window while I still could.

Dinner came and went, and in an attempt to wake myself, I stood outside, took a walk around the ship. The crisp air worked its magic momentarily, but back inside I once more grew dreary. I thought that I could stay up for the evening game, but after one or two questions all was for naught. I would find myself thrown atop the blankets, quickly asleep.

In sleep the rocking did not stop. In sleep dreams did come.

It seemed every hour I was roused from my slumber, sure that I was in an airplane hurtling towards the ground. The sound was right, the motion fit, and the speed seemed elevated. The dream images that backed these sensations up did nothing to help my false perception.

It's strange – after the fifth theoretical plane crash, you really stop to care. It just grows annoying that you're awake once more, gripping on for dear life. I can rest on my back or my stomach, but not sleep that way. And on my side? In the great Drake Shake? Staying attached to ones mattress is hard, and terrible, work.

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