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Life on a boat

My ability to have unique experience is apparently enhanced by my ability to forget having had such experiences. Astronomy is one source, viewing eclipses or meteors or comets rarely but not having a strong visceral memory of them. More relevant to this post, until a few minutes ago I would have said that I had previously been on a boat four times: to Catalina Island for Frosh Camp, to view bald eagles in Idaho, in Loch Ness, and whale watching recently. Maybe others, but nothing I could clearly remember, and probably no more than one boat every two years.

Then I recalled having been on a narrowboat in the canals of London, only a month before Loch Ness. Now I'm not even confident of my number of boats being less than 10.

OTOH, I'm rather confident that I've never been on a sailboat, and even more so that I've never been on a boat or ship for more than a few hours at a time. Until this past week, thanks to the invitation of a college friend to go on her 5th anniversary cruise on a schooner off of Maine, where I've been for the past week.

June 8: train to Portland, finally leaving Boston by train. Pickup by Allison, hanging out with her friends and family. First lobster since childhood. First steamer clams. Allison got buzzed by a flying squirrel in the night.

June 9: First lobster roll. Got taken to outlets in Freeport, which is a bunch of clothing outlets. Boarding the ship, and bunking with the one other single guy in a tiny cabin with no headroom and coffin bunks. Had scallops, and envied someone's ahi tuna. Met someone who reminds me of both lindseykuper and oniugnip. Poor sleep.

June 10: under sail! Saw cormorant and seal, I was the one to first spot the seal too. Met people, played cards against humanity, the more offensive version of Apples to Apples. I tried to duck sun. I watched other people get into a rowboat, including one very nervous guy going to be with his wife, totally commiserating with his fear since while I can technically swim I sure wouldn't want to tip over. Then the right person asked me if I wanted to go for a row in the other rowboat and I said yes, so I had that experience. Didn't actually row.

That night was really impressive: cloudless night, very dark, great for stargazing. I'm still amazed at how few others seemed interested in that. Maybe they've had more opportunities. But I had Orrery out on my phone. Pretty sure I saw the Milky Way, as opposed to glowy clouds, despite my continuing to expect it to run E-W, not the N-W I saw. Also probably identified Mars, Saturn, and Spica in a triangle, being my first time knowingly seeing Saturn. Well, that I remember. Saw a satellite and meteor, which aren't new, but are rare. I thought about waiting for the ISS, but wasn't sure enough of where/when it's visible. Seizing the opportunity and staying up late to 11;30[1] turned out to be wise, since we barely ever saw stars again.

The *really* surprising bit was that I think I saw constellations reflected in the water. I didn't think stars would be bright enough, and I did wonder about bioluminescence. But we weren't seeing lights everywhere, just in a couple of patches, which had plausible angles of reflection with Cassiopeia in the north and Scorpius's tail in the south, and the water seemed to have Cassiopeia's W and most of the tail.

Slept well on the water.

June 11: Got up at 8 without complaint.

[1] Those who know my current habits will probably be shocked at such early bedtime and rise times. But everyone else was going under, and with noise and coffee at 7 and breakfast at 8... more evidence for my belief that I'm not inherently an owl or lark, unlike my parents (each one or the other), just someone whose social life and habits run to the nocturnal.

Turned out my sun avoidance was not entirely successful; nose was bright red.

Saw an osprey, read I Claudius, generally just hanging out during the day. In the evening we went ashore -- ship anchored, yawl boat took us over -- for a lobster bake. Where by 'bake' I think we mean 'steaming', and I'd feel happier if someone had known how to mercy-kill lobsters, rather than watch them flail around. Hiked around the island a bit, made s'mores, decided again that I lack some shellfish appreciation gene. It's not that I don't like it, but e.g. ha gow (shrimp dumpling dim sum) has never made me as ecstatic as it did my mother, and after one lobster I decided that the marginal pleasure vs. effort wasn't quite worth it. Oh, and my reaction to the first lobsters in years wasn't exactly "how have I been living without this".

Made s'mores. Saw porpoises. Sky cloudy. No one swam, the water was 52 degrees.

June 12:
Added top of forehead to my sunburn list.

Stopped off at the town of Stonington, on some island. Population 1200 by a post office sign. Reminded me of both Mallaig and Portree in size and appearance. Lots of old slat-walled houses with very steep roofs, huddled together by the shore, and climbing up steep hills, and stretching on for further than one might expect, because even 1200 is a fairly big number. Town supports two bookstores! Our cook said there was lobster ice cream, but I didn't see it; I did see a place selling "lobster tail" but with the explicit caveat that it contained no lobster, I think it's a color thing. Walked around where others shopped; found others getting pie in a restaurant, which ended up reminded me of a skit my mother told me about, someone in a diner asking for X from the menu and being told "X is out, dear" over and over, because they were out of about half the pies. But the blueberry was nice.

That night was weird. We could see some stars, in patches, but never a lot, even within the patches. It's like there were a lot of thick clouds obscuring much of the sky outright, and thinner fog obscuring most of the dim stars otherwise.

June 13: rain rain wind and rain. People pretty much stayed in their cabins or the galley. I opted for the galley, which turned out to have an excellent game table, but Chris never brought his Dominion over. At that, it was just a mildly miserable day, not a proper storm. In the evening there was a cake for the anniversary couple, with impressive erect schooners (not lying on the cake) in icing, and then a low-warning talent show, which was pretty good overall. I sang "Dragons in the Deep" with great impromptu a capella percussion accompaniment, and Galadriel's Lament, and then "One Misty Moisty Morning" for my second performance. Someone else turned out to know Steeleye Span too. I seemed to surprise people; the captain later said she'd taken me for the shy quiet type, not a crowd-engaging performer.

June 14: Got back into port. Got a ride to Portland from people who were stopping in Freeport for shopping; I should probably have pushed harder to go with the Jersey people, I could have made the 2:35 train. The next one was 7:55, and I ended up taking the Concord Coach bus instead. I thought about just spending a day in Portland to explore, but between clothes and chocolate purchases, didn't really feel like hauling stuff around, and was getting to the "I want to go home" feeling. Bus requires an ID for ticket purchase, which offends me; bus ride itself was decent. A movie, but you need headphones to hear it, though someone had their phones on really loudly... Shoulder seatbelts, which I don't recall seeing in a bus before. Nor the headphone jack and choice of channels, though in a way that's less surprising than seatbelts on a bus.

Going through Maine on rail or highways: green but kind of boring. An exception is the Amtrak stretch from Old Orchard up to Portland, which includes going through a marsh that has a rather interesting segment, though not for long.

I took a bunch of pictures, but most are more like memory supplements than great art, and I accidentally deleted my one view of the ship. I suppose the schooners in icing are worth putting up, but not now.

The ship itself was neat. The Isaac H Evans turns out to have its own Wikipedia page, which I did not expect. From what I was told on ship, it's an oyster-boat built in 1886, only later converted to human use and overnight trips. It had all the wood and complexity you'd expect of a sailing ship that old, though it also had RV toilets and shower, and running water in the cabins. I expect any ship out for more than a few hours has the highly efficient space use, with benches being storage cabinets and all. It has two rowboats mounted on the side, one of them able to take a mast, which also store a lot of junk when not in use, and what was called a yawl boat in back, though it was actually a motorboat, which functioned as tugboat, generator for the ship batteries, and of course motorized transport to shore. 65 feet long on deck, 99 feet long at max measurement. Captain Brenda said it could technically make a transatlantic voyage but you wouldn't want to; low sides (freeboard), so easy to haul oysters over but easy for storm waves to come over too. (Our trip mostly stayed within the barrier islands of Maine.)

Seasickness: none.

The crew was unexpectedly geeky. The two 18 year olds both had exposure to Hitchhiker's Guide -- one had read, one had seen the movie and really appreciated my Firefly T-shirt -- and a somewhat older guy sang Pippin's song from the Return of the King movie.

Social: I went in only knowing the star couple, out of 19 passengers. But they were half Techers (Caltech), and one was MIT, and I got along well with people. There was political argument, but none too aggravating. And! No vegetarians out of 24 people! Though one would be, if she weren't so allergic that she has to eat the few foods she can.

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Damien Sullivan

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