In this installment: Before Sailing. The Dangers of Water. Lobster Porn.
"Water is the strong stuff, it carries whales and ships.
But water is the wrong stuff, don't let it get past your lips.
It rusts your boots and wets your suits, puts aches in all your bones,
Dilute the stuff with whiskey, aye, or leave it well alone."
Before I set foot aboard the tall ship Rose I did my best to prepare for the voyage. I read several books on Maritime history and culture, I listened to as much sea music as I could find, and I performed certain tests on myself to see how sea-ready I was. These tests were very simple: The Rose's literature stated that it's mainmast is 130 feet tall, so I climbed approximately that high up a tree and spent some time looking around and feeling the trunk swaying in the wind. The books and articles I read warned that seasickness makes you wish you were dead (and noted that there is no reliable cure except to "sit underneath a tree"), so when I discovered that I could sail for 2 days on the Dutch schooner Venitofte off the coast of the Isle of Lewis I decided to eat and drink whenever these were offered and to sit near the side of the boat where the motion would be the greatest. Each of these things helped make me either ready for the academic content of the class, or confident about my ability to function anywhere on board the Rose.
After 5 days aboard the Rose, much of which was spent out of sight of any land, we arrived at our first port - the small and very quaint town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Quite naturally, we made the bar by the docks our first stop. Those who did not were busy waking the extra 200 yards to the other bar (I feel certain that if Lunenburg had a third bar, someone would have mentioned it), where they were later joined by those who had first stopped at bar number one.
The next morning I had serious stomach problems. No, it wasn't overindulgence of beer the night before that got me; it was the water! The local water is VERY heavily chlorinated in many Nova Scotian communities and this exacerbated some sort of stomach bug that spent the better part of that day getting the better of me. Some of the crew empathized, and mentioned having had similar reactions to the water on their first time in the region. I joked that it was a malicious attempt at poetic justice wrought by Neptune for my not having gotten seasick at all in the prior week. Weakened, but still on my feet, I mustered with my fellows at the capstan, and walked over to the local maritime museum. There, in my less than steady condition, I discovered that over-chlorination wasn't the only thing for which my reading and experiments had not prepared me.
I want to pause here to state that the maritime museum in Lunenburg is a great place! They have models that show the topography of the ocean bottom along their coast, with markings to note currents. They have dioramas showing the various kinds of boats that have been used over the centuries to harvest fish from their waters, and live specimens of at least a dozen of those species. They have a model-sized exhibition of how to launch a ship, complete with a discussion of various superstitions involved. They have memorabilia from the original Bluenose schooner, a detailed exhibition of how ships are put together, an interesting section on the history and techniques of maritime rum running, and a small chapel dedicated to sailors lost at sea. And then they have a video room.
My path through the museum passed near their snack bar and the smell of the deep fryers did not help make me less queasy. By the time I was halfway through the rum-running exhibit I had to make a side trip to the men's room to empty my stomach. I returned to the exhibits and thought that sitting quietly for a while would be a good idea, so I went to the video room where a series of 10-15 minute long marine biology videos were running on a loop. There were maybe 2 dozen people there, many of them children, and I took a seat near the back.
I think it was the second video played that became the single most surreal experience of the entire 2 weeks. It was an undersea documentary about lobsters, narrated by one of the 2 divers involved. He was intensely passionate about his subject to a degree that must have kept him from stepping back and seeing it from the audience's point of view. Later, I compared notes with some of my fellows and everyone who spent any time in that video room agreed (amid shared fits of laughter) that the video was "lobster porn".
It seemed so innocent at first; the camera looking about the sea bed and finding a "rare" blue lobster making its (or as we were soon to find out, his) way around the rocks and plants. The narrator was obviously reliving his great joy at stumbling across this creature as it cruised along, and not even bringing the video through all the various stages of editing had managed to dull his exhilaration. The intensity in his voice as he gave his descriptions of what was happening before us was stunning, and he became even more excited when his protagonist met another lobster to interact with. The camera zoomed in for a close-up shot of the dark blue, male lobster as he sidled up alongside a bright red, female lobster.
His voice was ecstatic as the lobsters rubbed antennae, and when they finished mating he sounded like he should have surfaced to smoke a cigarette. Helping to complete the effect was the music, which was more than a little sleazy sounding; As their mating got underway and the red female rolled onto her back - her little legs flailing about - the rhythmic, twang of the music got louder. The only thing missing was a cameo by Marky Mark.
After this segment, everything else was dénouement. He showed some lobsters with strange coloration - like the one that was solid red on its left side, solid black on its right - and some lobsters that had developed in a region with very little ground cover on the sea floor. These latter lobsters couldn't hide from prey, but had evolved to be larger than other types of lobsters, and had enormous claws. Where I sat stunned during the sex portion of the show I laughed out loud here, as he claimed that these lobsters were so fierce that they simply would not back down. As he was saying this a second camera showed the lobster's reaction to the other diver's camera moving toward it - the lobster was backing down.
That I enjoyed myself as much as I did, despite that day's ill health, is a testament to how good and interesting the museum really is. By late afternoon of that day I had more or less recovered from my stomach bug but, as you can tell by the tone of this story, I still have not fully recovered from the video. I will forever be careful about drinking water around that region - in part because of the chlorine content, but also because that video reminds me of the old W.C. Fields quip: "I don't drink water, fish fuck in it."
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