Life of a sailor

Until that point, all my maritime experience was condensed in half a dozen of ferry trips across the Tagus river, all the way back in Lisbon. And now, out of the blue, I was going to spend most of December surrounded with salt water while crossing one of the trickiest oceans in this planet. And why not?

For us passengers, life aboard the Shackleton was mostly devoid of occupations. Without any specific training and without time for it, the ships duties were obviously on the crew. The rest of the people around there just had to come up with a way to spend the time around there. Fortunately, Shackleton was amply stocked in that sense: there were more than a year worth of books and magazines, plenty of board games, the media room was literally covered up with selves full on movies and TV series, an improvised gym on a corner of the cargo hold, two game consoles and a PC room were we could even access a very, very slow internet via satellite link. If this wasn’t enough already, we even had a small sauna on board. Seems weird at first but the Shackleton was build on a Norwegian shipyard so it actually makes perfect sense. Nordics love their saunas. And, if the sea and the weather would permit it, one could always go outside with a camera and go finger crazy.

But there weren’t all roses. With plenty of more people on board, there was also a lot more dirty dishes, a lot more food to prepare, more toilets to scrub, well…. more dirtiness all way around. At least we had to help with that. Thus, right on day one we got a gash list hanging out from the notice board. Gash is a term used broadly around these parts to designate the daily janitors. Everyday was a new room on it, i.e, the occupants of the chosen room were on gash duty, helping with whatever was necessary. Though most of the tasks were around food: wash and dry plates and cutlery, peeling potatoes, sweep and mop the floor and even polish the metal bits from the chairs on the dining room. With so many people on board I ended up doing gash just for two days during the whole trip. It was a welcome break from all my reading, relaxing and afternoon naps (yes, plural…)


On board, thing started pretty calm and horizontal but they quickly became a 45º degree adventure. For the first two or three days, right after leaving Cape Town docking port, sea was calm and the weather rather pleasant. But as we went further South –  and as we got further away from dry land – the angrier the sea was becoming. The really nasty days arrived when the swell around us reached 2 meters high. It isn’t half as bad as you can get around these parts but it was more than enough to make our life aboard pretty miserable. A two meter swell made life aboard the Shackleton pretty similar to a week on the back of a 70’s bus crossing the hill side without brakes. So that’s why the furniture around here is nailed to the floor. A meal soon became quite an adventure. A simple task of bringing a plate of soup to a table just two meters away could easily transform in a hot cabbage shower. But the biggest challenge was always the morning water. It is bad enough to have to aim to the vase while still all dizzy from sleep, let alone with the toilet moving all around you. Wearing sock in the toilet was always a bad idea during those times. True, after a couple of days on that and one starts to counter balance the ship’s oscillations without even thinking about it and life gets a bit easier, but until then every hallway is a possible head concussion.


Has you might expect in this situation, seasickness is something to fear. Its one of those things that are simply unavoidable. The best course of action is just take the pills for it and wait for the best. In my case I could even say that I was able to do the whole trip without any sickness of that kind. But I also have to add that I was going though those pills like they were M&M’s. Ironically one of the side effects of these pills is…nausea. Its like taking a painkiller that could give you a migraine… Again, with me the nausea was more a case of uncontrollable sleepiness. Since I rather sleep 16 h a day than to puke all the fine food that was being served around there, my days during all the roughness were literally spent sleeping and eating.

As we get closer to 60º latitude – the Antarctic Polar circle limit – the sea was already getting calmer by the mile. When we saw our first piece of floating sea ice, life aboard had already regained its usual horizontality.


Português faz favôre!


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