My bed was narrow, like a coffin, but I spent two years in a sleeping bag so the only annoying part about it was the matching-size blanket. It was like trying to sleep with a towel. Luckily, the interior of the ship is heated so the blanket (that eventually wound up on the floor) wasn’t even necessary.
I woke up disoriented, dizzy and slightly confused, but a speaker over my bed announcing breakfast reminded me that I was on an expedition through the world’s most dangerous ocean en route to the most unknown place on earth. I jumped out of bed excited and almost naked. Our cabin has to be close to the engine, because it seems louder here than any other place on the ship. But the engine’s hum made a nice white noise that almost completely drowned out Jaime’s snoring last night. Almost.
Our porthole had been sealed shut as a safeguard against the violent Drake waters, so it was impossible to know just how crazy the swells around our little vessel were. We were definitely rocking something fierce, as all our stuff had found a new home on the floor of our cabin. And in addition to our closet doors and cabinet drawers swinging opening and emptying their contents all night, the door to our room doesn’t want to stay closed either.
Once I stood up and stretched out I felt great. I don’t know if it was the bracelets or my previously unknown tolerance to seasickness, but I was tip-top and ready for a meal.
In a chair outside the dining room sat Weird Guy. He neglected to respond to either of the "Good Morning"s I offered him but the moment the dining room doors opened he bolted passed the buffet and sat down. Nobody joined him until there was no where left to sit.
I had completely forgotten about Natasha until I saw her replenishing the bacon tray. She looked up and smiled a big smile. It wasn’t any bigger than the one she gave the person waiting for bacon in front of me, but it was big enough to brighten up my already bright morning. And it was a nice contrast to the fried and shriveled strips of pig gristle cradled in her arms. I went for the oatmeal and toast and fruit combo and tried desperately to make it to a table before a wave came and assisted my food onto the floor or, even worse, someone’s head. Our group reconvened at the same table as last night and we shared stories of fallen and otherwise displaced items in our cabins.
I was amazed at the agility of the dining room staff. We were bobbing through the water 20 degrees in either direction, yet they were striding gracefully about the dining room, arms full of plates and glasses and discarded yogurt containers with banana peels sticking out of them. They were players in some sort of aquatic ballet.
Shane took the floor again and laid out the day’s events. Our plan was to cruise through The Drake (which he noted was uncharacteristically calm) for another day and a half while enjoying a few meals, lectures, and naps along the way. A new menu was left on the table for us to peruse. Everyday at lunch we’re expected to make a selection from the dinner menu so the cooks know how much of everything to prepare. One of the choices was a vegetarian pasta salad dish. That’s two days in a row now that we’ve had a veggie option so it looks like I won’t be needing that stash of Power Bars after all.
Once the lunch plates were expertly cleared with nary a fork dropped, we clumsily made our way towards the bow to the lecture hall/lounge/bar. Bo, the MEI birdman, began his lecture with some facts about various southern birds, but I don’t think I caught the name of a single species before I was out like a light. I woke up some indeterminable time later and saw a handful of others also snoozing in awkward positions around the room.
I went out on the deck and saw most of my fellow passengers bundled up and leaning over the sides squinting at the sun-soaked waters. The waves weren’t nearly as dramatic as I had anticipated. With all that I’d heard and read about The Drake, and with the early morning undulations that caused such havoc to our cabin, I expected to see some mighty surf. But it didn’t look like anything worse than an average day in the San Francisco Bay. Jokes were going around about these untroubled waters, calling it the Drake Lake. Regardless, it was obvious that our number of people affected by seasickness were climbing because the dining room was only half full for lunch (which was, again, delicious). And it seemed every restroom on the ship had barf residue in the can.
There were a couple lectures after lunch, and I slept through both of them. The rocking of the boat, mixed with the heat and darkness of the lecture room, mixed with a digesting meal put me right out. Others had foreseen this and brought pillows. Meals, lectures, and naps, just as Shane had said.
I woke up just in time for snacks (meat not included!). The lovely Natasha presented them and I ate till I got sick. Jaime, Unmarried Gay Couple, and I were fast forming a clique, with Sharon and a black guy from D.C. named Michael on the periphery. After our snack, we all sat down in the library for some cards. We tried a few games, but Michael was getting tired of them because they involved no money. He proposed some casino games like poker and blackjack and offered to be the house. Five-cent ante. It took a very short time, but he had beaten me out of a dollar – that’s 20 games. And even so, I don’t think he liked me. Anyone whose good enough with numbers to beat four people at a time continually for an hour is way too anal to like a slobby, loudmouthed kid like me. I paid up and went downstairs to take a shower. Oddly, it wasn’t as difficult as one might imagine. I only fell once, but I had closed the toilet seat beforehand so no embarrassing stories resulted.
By dinnertime it was official, The Drake was disappointing. Shane remarked how of his 49 times to the continent (making it close to 100 trips across The Drake) he has never, ever, seen it as calm as it has been for us. Our food still migrated across the table and people were still holed up in their cabins cursing Neptune, but we were hungry for some serious jostling. Petrified as I am about water, and tidal waves in particular, I was ready for some violence. I wanted to watch a rolling giant approach from the distance and dwarf our craft as it came careening over us. These ships are built for it, I know, because I’ve done way too much preparatory research on it. I wanted action, I wanted tension, and I wanted to face my fear. All this desperation for excitement, coupled with my lacking any sense of consequence, makes me think I watched way too much television as a kid.
When I was 21 I lived with a girlfriend and we shared a Dalmatian. One morning while my girlfriend was hungover on the couch I was in the kitchen fetching the dog some food. Crotchety and with headache, I was instructed very loudly to "Just shut the hell up!"
I hadn’t realized it but I was talking all sorts of goofy jibberish to the dog and making weird noises and jumping around.
Before I could make another peep the floodgates opened. "You never shut up! You’re always making stupid noises or humming or whistling or talking baby talk to the dog! It never ends! Just shut up! Just for a minute!"
Over the next few days I took a long hard look at my idle behavior and came to the realization that she was right. I am constantly making noise. Be it talking to myself, singing, tapping on something, growling with the dog… Hungover or not, it wasn’t in her character to blow up like that, so I worried about how obnoxious I must be to others who were too polite to say anything.
I was hanging over the end of my bed one afternoon contemplating all of this when I decided, then and there, to make a concerted effort to curtail my incessant buzzing, purely out of respect for those around me. I had to grow up.
Then the dog came in and I engaged her in a howling match.
I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with people either equally as clamorous as I, or at least remarkably tolerant of it. So I was worried boarding this ship that I might find myself among stuffy, reserved types. I was afraid I might not be able to contain myself and eventually blow up into a flurry of squawks, table-drumming and out-and-out singing. But as luck would have it, both Jaime and Bob are if not as loud, at least as obnoxious as me.
My only problem now is whistling. Though my cohorts could conceivably handle my constant whistling, maritime law strictly forbids whistling while at sea. It is said that such a thing "whistles up the winds" and makes for rougher seas. I remember a children’s book wherein a guy was forced to walk the plank after being caught whistling. I wasn’t keen on giving Shane any more reasons to hate me so like gum to an ex-smoker, I have since taken up Hoo!-ing to re-direct my urge to whistle.
My friend Bradley and I once spent a week at a pen-pals flat in Gothenburg, Sweden. By Day 3 we recognized an unidentified clicking that had been delivered every 30-60 seconds since we got there. We isolated the sound to the flat next door. Only it wasn’t coming from the same place, like would a drip from a pipe in the wall. Instead it seemed to migrate. It grew annoying day after day until Bradley made the wise observation that a small clicking was better than, say, a loud, sharp, guttural Hoo! every few minutes.
Without words we knew what needed to be done. Every time we heard a click from next door, we Hoo!-ed. If I heard the click, but Bradley did not, I Hoo!ed and Bradley would answer my Hoo! with another Hoo! and vice-versa. Soon the click was unnecessary and all that was needed to prompt a Hoo! was another Hoo!
Hoo-ing’s sheer infectious quality spread like so much mayonnaise. Soon all our new Swedish friends were doing it. When we got back to the States our friends there took to it even quicker. It became our call of the wild. Wherever you were, whatever you were doing, if you heard a Hoo! you were expected to Hoo! back. I had everybody at work doing it. Bradley had everyone at his work doing it. We found the most satisfying Hoo! done in a crowded place with other Hoo!-ers within earshot – that way any bystander got a Hoo! ricochet that lasted as long as the Hoo!-ers wanted. The Hoo! is best employed, though, when discharged close enough to someone that they flinch.
My new friends on the ship grasped the Hoo! with no hesitation. The Hoo! turned out to be a test. Those who could stand the Hoo! were worthy. Those who could not were pushed to the side and left in the wake of our Goodship Childish.
This brings me to another point: I can relate the events that take place on this ship; I can detail how I woke up and went to breakfast, what I ate, and who I ate with. Indeed, I have been doing this and I’m sure you’re bored of it too. What I can not do, however, is explain the little nothings that I share with my new friends, the seemingly inconsequential exchanges that accumulate into a foundation. After less than two days together we already have inside jokes. We can converse in Hoo! while others look at us with trepidation. We can pass jokes that would offend most of this ship in one way or another. I had no idea I would make good friends on this trip, much less vulgar, immature friends way older than me. They are giving me hope that one can grow up while simultaneously not growing up.
Our little assembly spent the evening in the forward bar/lounge/lecture room. Another, very different Natasha was tending bar. Blame Hollywood for my preconception of a Russian woman, but she matched it perfectly. She had short hair and a chiseled Eurasian face. When I talked to her, she held her cigarette with two outstretched fingers and exhaled confidently up and to the right while her indifferent eyes stayed fixed on mine. It was very confident, borderline intimidating. Her Russian accent and name helped too.
Steve, a 32 year-old Canadian with long, curly hair subdued by a tuke joined us for a game of craps. Michael, of course, spearheaded the game and again played the house/bank, using all his winnings from the afternoon session. Finding Craps to be infantile and elementary, I preferred instead to play the far-more-intellectual game of Connect Four.
On deck with nothing to do but freeze and, of course, play harmonica (Jaime on the left and Steve on the right).
I'm surprised the thing didn't stick to his lips.
After losing a few games to an old Japanese man nursing a martini, I felt another nap coming on. We all agreed that the bar/lounge/lecture room should henceforth be called the Lethargy Room, so in lieu of a group nap we headed up to the deck to refresh and see what was going on outside.
The ship was just approaching the cusp of the circumpolar phenomenon called the Antarctic Convergence, a nomadic spot where the Southern Ocean meets with either the Atlantic, the Indian, or the Pacific Oceans. The extreme difference in salinity, density and temperature make for some interesting occurrences. For one, the air feels different. It gets foggy and thick. Second, the colder, denser waters sink below the warmer waters and the turbulence stirs up the sediment on the ocean floor, creating an incredibly nutrient-rich environment. From this area is born phytoplankton, single-celled plants that serve as the very bottom of the Antarctic food chain. One of the main feeders of the plankton is krill, tiny shrimp-like crustaceans. And krill constitutes the main diet for nearly all the recognizable animal life in Antarctica – seals, whales, and penguins all feed on the krill.
As we motored over the dense, murky water and damp, foggy atmosphere of the convergence, my lil’ gang and I discussed a bunch of nothing and recognizing that we were fast becoming inseparable. We decided to make it official and come up with a club name… Who best represents Antarctica? Ernest Shackleton, the single-most courageous and heroic of all southern explorers. And what makes something, anything more fun/funny? Nudity. Thus was born The Naked Shackletons.
Sometime after 1am we went back to our respective cabins and Jaime and I stayed up another hour talking about The Clash, the Cold War, and God.