The Sea, The Sea – SAS Thoughts

I just heard from Summer…  They are presently arriving in Hawaii, about 15 hours early, which is cool!!  Her cell is back on and she is out of email tme, so good timing.  She said she sent an update from Japan, but we didn’t get it so, she will have to re-send it…

Here are some thoughts about the sea from a fellow SAS’er

The world is two thirds water, and we have sailed over much of it. At one time, that would not have been an uncommon thing. A century ago, everyone traveled this way between the continents. A thousand years ago, boats and ships were the single fastest way to get anywhere. But today, few people sail the seas for anything more than a weekend on their boat, or a Caribbean cruise. We are almost done sailing around the world.

I had thought at one point, going into the voyage, that I would be afraid of the endless seas. Out of sight of land, there is nothing to depend on, nothing at all that can save you. If, for some horrible reason, your ship sinks, you will likely endure days of privation, or death if you’re less lucky. I’m given to morbid imaginings, and I always thought I would dwell on that idea, the sinking vessel, but instead it’s barely entered my mind at all. And while I enjoy the sight of land off the starboard side (or port, if that’s the way of it), I like best, I think, when there is nothing but water all around.

The moods of the sea vary. Most often for us, it has been a gentle mood, or at worst, a sprightly one, where the waves dance into the distance, and a few small whitecaps provide markers for the eye to catch on. Once or twice great rolling valleys have caught up with us and ridden along for a day or two, and then the ship rocks and swells, and many people take to their cabins. While it’s a little rough on the stomach, I think I’m most fond of these days for watching the sea, when there is something to really observe. A great flat plain of water is nice enough, especially when it catches the light of the sun or, better still, the moon, but there’s nothing to beat the near silent approach of vast trenches and ridges of water.

Near silent, but not completely. The waves move along with no hiss or crash as on a beach, because there is no shore for them to break on. But we are a ship, and they crash against us, so that there is, if you listen, a whisper of the water as it kisses the bow, or possibly, in the trench times, the roll of thunder as one wave after another smashes into us, or as the ship, lifted by a wave, crashes into the next trough. The wind sings by, and if we are close enough to land or the prevailing winds, sometimes gulls or albatross or other strange birds give off their piercing cries.

The clouds over the sea are nearly constant. They are patchy, though, often drifting somewhere near the horizon. For days, sometimes, the clouds are always far off, and one wonders if somehow they look that way to all ships at sea; if there just are no clouds overhead, no matter where you are, but only an illusion of clouds, smoke and mirrors at sea, to set the scene and make it more lovely. At times the entire sky is gray from horizon to horizon, and then the sea is perforce the same steely shade. But unlike what I have heard, they never blend. The sea always ends somewhere in the distance, meeting the sky but never, to me, causing any confusion. Even at night one can see a line, faint and dark, where the absolute black of the ocean meets the starlit darkness of the sky.

I have yet to see the full glory of a sunset at sea, have yet to see the sun sink beneath the waves and give birth to a flash of green, as sailors say it will. I don’t know that it has happened at all on this voyage, though it certainly could have; I work through a lot of sunsets. In the main, though, those clouds at the horizon block any chance of such a thing, and instead, the sun just sinks into them, reflecting red glory up to the heavens, but hiding away the moment of it’s daily death. At sunset, I must say, I prefer that there be land. The light catching behind islands is wonderful. In the Indian Ocean we sailed past Diego Garcia at sunset, and the fiery sky that night was one of the most perfect things I have ever seen. But any sunset at sea is lovely, and after the sky will dim for a short time, much shorter than at land because the sun is completely gone, not hidden behind a mountain or suchlike, and then will come the velvety darkness.

There are so many stars at sea, of course. The ship’s lights are still on, but even with them I can see more of the sky than I can anywhere I have been. Standing on a windswept deck, letting your eyes adjust, will show you everything in the heavens. The Milky Way is surprisingly bright at sea, and everywhere are stars, so many that, as I said, one can still tell air from water because of all the light. Even better is the moon, which sheds a silvery path on the water, a sort of road that stretches out forever, soft and welcoming, so that you want to take a little boat out on it and sail that way until the moon sets or the dawn catches you.

We are in the Pacific now, the largest ocean in the world. It takes a ship sailing as fast as we are, some 24 knots, 13 full days to cross this ocean. I cannot think of how brave or foolish the sailors who once traveled across it in months must have been. Tiny ships, small enough to fit almost in our main hall, the Union, filled with food and water, grunting pigs and sweating sailors, rats and plague and superstition, and still they sailed. I wonder if they found the sea as wondrous as I do centuries later, or if they cursed it and hated it. I suspect it was something in between, for how could anyone hate the beauty of it, the endless swell of the waves, the soft sea air and the vibrant colors at dusk? But they must have cursed at the storms, at the days when the winds failed utterly, at the boring, repetitious days and nights of the same thing always. Even I feel some of that, when we have a long crossing and all I want is to see a single bird flying, to smell the earthy breezes rushing off a green shore, or to see in the distance the misty shroud surrounding a steeply peaked island.

For all of that desire to see land, the sea is still a wonder and a mystery. It remains unconquered, wild, deadly even. We are strangers here, the last place in all the world where we are not and cannot be at home. We are always and only passing through. But what a spectacular passage it is, and how fortunate I am, we all are, to be able to make this voyage, aboard this ship, on the wild and wonderful sea.

 

By Jason Vanhee… SAS Fall ’05

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About Ask Marion

I am a babyboomer and empty nester who savors every moment of my past and believes that it is the responsibility of each of us in my generation and Americans in general to make sure that America is as good or even a better place for future generations as it was for us. So far... we haven't done very well!! Favorite Quotes: "The first 50 years are to build and acquire; the second 50 are to leave your legacy"; "Do something that scares you every day!"; "The journey in between what you once were and who you are becoming is where the dance of life really takes place".
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