May 19th
First full day living on the ship.

Last night was my first night on the ship. I fell asleep in my bunk anchored at Fisherman’s terminal in Ballard and woke up to the sound of roaring engines and water splashing against steel.  We left the harbor at 5:00 in the morning and I remember some small part of me woke up, felt the shift take place and knew that we were underway. When I came up on deck at 7:00 sharp for breakfast, I stood out on the Fantail and watched the coastline running by, faster than I had expected, and our frothing white wake coming up over the swim step.

It should have been a triumphant moment , one of pride and excitement, but for the moment, fear is eclipsing any positive emotion that tries to break through the cloud curtain of my thoughts.

The days are extremely long, and half of the time I don’t know what’s going on. Things would move much faster if I felt like I was really helping with some of these projects. If only more deck hands would get giant splinters embedded beneath their nails like yesterday, then I can be helpful.

 It seems like most of the energy of the expedition crew, together with the deck hands, is all poured into how we’re going to lash 26 double sea kayaks onto the extendable dock and then hoisting the whole thing from the fantail to the sun deck four stories up.  It’s a lot of winching and rigging and engineering and crap I don’t know anything about.

I know a little more today than I did yesterday.

That sentence sounds a little more optimistic, and little more after school special, than I feel right now.

Everything is different on the ship. It’s more than a world, it’s a universe.  The walls are steel, ugly and magnetic, and the stairs are steep and loud. And everything has a different name- everything’s either a hatch or a ladder or a bulkhead or a head.

What cheers me up is two thoughts, and I run them together in my head during the day like clicking marbles.

One: the electronics I’m going to bring aboard when we set sail to Alaska next Saturday. Lovely, clean, glowing, little things full of music and electronic books. All the songs and stories I’m going to pack onto those things, even if I never get a chance to look at them just knowing that they are there. 

The girl in my head, the girl I probably ought to be, wouldn’t bring anything Apple onboard. She’s bring weathered books on Alaskan history and leather bound journals to fill in. She’s untether herself from the seduction of Steve Jobs and his many glowing, soothing screens.

Screw that girl. Forget it. This boat world is full of dirt and salt and engineer’s oil. The deck hands and guides walk around with sunburns and bleeding hands. Something about my little silver Ipod seems like a secret, a rebellion, a connection to my regular life on land that I refuse to give up. 

Does that make any sense?

The other thought that cheers me up is medicine.

But I’ll get into that in another post. Sometimes thinking about being an EMT onboard a ship cheers me up to much I think that maybe I just want the medicine and not the ship.
But then….

Then the day is over, finally over, it’s eight in the evening and I walk past the Bosun on my way downstairs to my room. He’s  sucking on an electronic cigarette and he gives me a nod and says, “You did a good job today.” He keeps walking. Encouragement is hard to come by around here. So when you hear it, you believe it. It starts to tilt your world back into place the smallest bit. 
A moment alone is nearly impossible to find so when you do stumble upon it, it’s like this perfect capsule of pure relief breaking over you.

Day number one. Thirteen hours pass between when you wake up and when you stop working. You stand under a cold shower for a minute. And then you climb into your bunk, which tips back and forth a little bit, and wait for tomorrow to get here.
Writing in a rare place of refuge...the emergency gear room.

In the Ship Yard

Day by day, things are getting better on the boat.  I'm getting to do more interesting tasks, basic but gratifying, mostly outside. I've been working alongside our Bosun, a boy with a face so sunburned it makes his blue eyes and the whites around them blaze. Everyone just calls him Bosun, or Bous. He can do everything. Whatever needs to be done will be done if he's around. Whenever I work with him I pretend I'm his apprentice. I trail him like a baby duck, doing exactly what he says, needing extremely clear direction for even the simplest things. I try and be helpful and initiate, but the one time I hammered something without checking first, and I hammered with gusto and confidence- look at me, problem-solving! She doesn't need direction, she's a natural!- It turns out I should have been screwing it, not pounding it, and the resulting bent piece needed about two hours of fixing.

As of yet, it has not been traced back to me. 
We built an extendable dock to put off of the fan taie. It took two full eleven hour days. He showed me really quickly how to tie a Bowlan and I got it right the first time. I actually tied a big thing onto another big thing. When he kneeled down to re-tie it, assuming I'd done it wrong, he was totally surprised. "Holy shee-it!" He said. "It's a Bowlan! First time I've ever seen anyone get that right the first time." Then he stepped onto the dock and lit a cigarette. 
I was holding a nut in place while he tightened down the screw on the railings of our new dock. It was mid day, sweltering hot. We'd been working since 7:30 in the morning. "What are you smiling like that for?" He asked.
I looked down at the wrench in my hand. "Because. This is the first time I've ever used tools."

The day I got back from my grandmother's funeral, after three days away, one of the other guides quit. Out of nowhere. Said he didn't want to do the long days anymore, he was ready to retire. Now there are just three of us. The strange thing was, he had been happy and hardworking and enthusiastic those first few weeks, when I was struggling, and half awake, and telling my boss I couldn't do it, I thought I had to quit. But it was the other guy who left. He's in Hawaii now. And it looks like I'm staying on, for a whole summer of bowlans and tools and other things I couldn't do before.