Here’s an audio version of this post
Two days out of Porto Santo, on our way west across the Atlantic, our sighted friend spotted a scientific buoy only 20m of our starboard rail. These autonomous floating gadgets are, I understand, set adrift to go where ever they’re carried on the seas, sending data on temperature and salinity up to research satellites. I have no idea how many of them may be abroad on the oceans, but the probability of seeing one from the ship seems pretty darned low to me.
Another nautical phenomenon I’d never heard of is shore birds following boats until they die, the birds that is, not the boats. Apparently land birds will sometimes fly alongside a boat or ship for quite a long way. Eventually they will land somewhere on the boat, then simply keel over, (see the nautical metaphor I used there?) and die, presumably from exhaustion. Rarely such birds will revive and fly away, but most of the time they don’t. It seems to be something of a sad mystery, and without access to Google, it’s going to stay that way for me, for now at least, and I’m completely ok with that.
Shipboard life offers lots of options for keeping one’s self diverted, entertained, sustained, informed and indulged. Bizarrely, I’ve been finding myself awake and alert early in the mornings, so today I took part in one of the more unexpected activities aboard. Each morning at 8:00, (that’s pronounced 800 hours in naval language,) Father Barry conducts mass in one of the smaller meeting rooms. A complex array of motivations made me want to go, and it was by far the most unusual mass I’ve ever attended. Now that I think of it, apart from the occasional wedding, it’s probably the only mass (out of thousands) that I’ve ever attended by choice. Once my mother thought I was old enough to choose, I chose “no thanks.”
The service itself wasn’t particularly unusual, just its context. There were around 15 congregants, with a lay reader, songs with no instrumental accompaniment, and a pleasant intimate feel. The priest is a personable man, perhaps in his 40’s, with an easy manner of speaking, and an entirely capable voice for the singing parts. The responses came easily to my lips, which moved politely, despite my inner lack of conviction.
I’d never attended such a small mass or one outside of a church, and I was forcibly struck by the vast array of spaces in which mass has been conducted in the 2000 years or so within which Catholic mass has existed. As a child, mass was something held in a building set aside for it, or occasionally in a space in my school. But mass began as an illegal rite whose participants courted death by attending. Since then, in different times and places, it’s existed secretly as something forbidden and dangerous. Attending a service by choice, in such an improbable location, made me more aware of this than I’ve ever been.
I wondered whether being so far from everywhere in the middle of the ocean would make me feel edgy or uneasy, but the ship is so improbably comfortable that I don’t feel anything like that. It’s hard to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when there’s gourmet food every day, gym equipment, hot tubs, and a “drink of the day.” Today’s drink is a chocolate martini. I’m counting the minutes till happy hour, (as contrasted with existential angst hour) when the second drink is only a dollar. Tomorrow’s “drink of the day” is an espresso martini. My favourite time of the day for coffee just happens to coincide with happy hour: life is so good!
The wind is quite strong today, and there’s a notable swell that makes it challenging to walk without holding on to something. The treadmill felt a bit like yoga; lots of uncommon balancing action combined with the usual. The strong wind means lots of spray, so anything out on the balcony, including me, gets coated in salt pretty quickly, so I’m sitting inside on our little couch, moving slowly up and down, and feeling incredibly lucky. The captain just informed us over the P.A. that we’re now in one of the deepest parts of the Atlantic, nearly 3000m. There may be no sea birds around, but there’s life aplenty beneath us, lots of which hasn’t been catalogued yet. I love to think about this, there’s something really exciting in it.