A week after our return, I dream every night that I’m on the ship. The first few nights back home, waking up was extremely disorienting: much more so than waking up the first few times on the ship. I’m disappointed that my bed doesn’t move at night, but amazed by the quiet. On the ship there was noise all the time, waves, engines, people, the ventilation system in the cabin, or the rhythmic creeks of a ship on the ocean. I didn’t realize how continuous the low-key noise was until it was gone. The strangeness of the ports sticks out in my memory, but it’s all underlain with the sense of limitless space you get from being in the middle of the Atlantic. The luxuries of the ship were a fun distraction, but the persistent impression of the ocean’s hugeness is what stays with me most strongly. Often we would lie down in the afternoon with our balcony door open listening to the ocean, and being rocked by the movement of the swells. It was a thing to do, an unutterably peaceful experience.
I wrote a lot during the trip, about the trip, and other things too. Still, some disconnected details that I never wrote about persist in my memory. On many evenings we went to the friendly trivia competitions. At home, the four of us often take first place in our regular community trivia events, but we were taken down a peg or two on the ship. We were pleasantly surprised to find the trivia questions were worldly rather than American-centred, and yet, we still failed to triumph.
Reminders about safety and security were ever-present. In Rome, we kept encountering seemingly random pairs of military types carrying machine guns, and in Rome and our three stops in Spain we consistently found barred and shuttered windows and doors. The Paris attacks happened as we were leaving Europe. We found out about them from little printed newspaper circulars that you could pick up from the main desk each day. News often feels remote to me, far more-so in that context. I didn’t hear passengers talking about it, and this absence added to the sense of being nowhere: in our own little world.
The ship sported hand sanitizer dispensers in all public areas, and barf bags started to appear around stair cases as we began crossing the Atlantic. The desk and shelves in our cabin had little ledges to prevent items from sailing off onto the floor, though it was remarkable how seldom things shifted in the swells. I still remember the tiny, brave little vase, pilfered from my breakfast tray that remained immobile on our balcony table through mid-Atlantic swells and force 9 winds. The flowers alas died a sad death crusted in salty sea spray.
I learned some naval lore.
- If you’re going due north, your heading is 0 or 360 degrees. Due east, your heading is 90 degrees, due south 180 degrees, due west 270 degrees, northwest 315 degrees, etc..
The moon has very little effect on the movement of water in the oceans; its effects are only really seen on shore.
Ship stabilizers are wide wing-like projections that stick out of the sides of the ship below the waterline. Making the ship wider decreases its movement by the swells.
The horse latitudes are named that because they’re a part of the Atlantic crossing where winds would sometimes fail. If there were horses aboard, they would be disposed of in order to save water for the people, while they waited for the wind to fill their sails.
A sextant is a series of different lenses for sighting celestial objects: that’s as far as I got.
Generally, the most stable part of a rocking ship is the amidships, lower down. You’ll feel the most movement at the bow, and higher up.
The highest rank of officers on a ship wear white.
On board the ship there’s a gorgeous globe standing about 4 feet high. I have a more standard sized one at home with the land masses outlined with fabric paint to make them tactile. I love globes, and I would often imagine our puny little craft with us specks of humanity on it, crawling our way across the immensity of the deep. Writing about it now makes me long to be back on the ocean.
In Toronto, there’s a tide of public opinion toward scent-free environments, In my very limited exposure, this idea simply wouldn’t float in Europe. In all six of the places we visited, cologne was the norm, a lot of it, and used mostly by men. It’s probably unfair to target Europeans, because I noticed it on the ship too, the most offensive examples being in the gym. Why would one wear cologne to the gym: unnecessary, and unpleasant for people who need to breathe a lot. The other olfactory offense, smoking, was also unpleasantly evident. I think the rates of smoking are higher in Europe than here, and perhaps among gamblers too judging by the casino on the ship. It was located right next to the café where we liked to sip frilly cold coffee drinks, and I experienced deep and lasting cynicism about how some vices are hypocritically tolerated in order to enable other vices.
On board, we heard a rumor from other passengers about a line of cruise ships that operate by sail whenever possible. Their repositioning cruise across the Atlantic is two weeks from Lisbon to Barbados, five masts, no stabilizers. We’re captivated. Our favourite part of the trip was being at sea. It’s hard to imagine crossing with no stabilizers, but apparently the boats have a pool, so it can’t be too outrageous. On the other hand I hear the beds have side rails, so anything goes really.
I’m coming to accept that I’m going to have to shift my self-concept from someone who hates travelling, to someone who’s cautiously excited about it. This is a dream come true for my partner, who lives for it. I’m already wondering how realistic it is to fly to Dublin, spend time there, then make our way to Lisbon to board a sailing ship. Go us!