31st December 2001
New Year’s Eve
This morning I wrenched myself from the warm slumber of my cocoon-like bed and indulged in the glut of tea that has been produced from the stores. Proper tea, or as damn near to it as you’ll get here. It’s the wishy washy English Breakfast tea you get abroad, but it’s still so much nicer than the herbal teas that have been on offer previously.
It was just getting light as I appeared on the bridge with the winches whining and the wind howling. The weather had turned nasty, quickly and unexpectedly, and we were heaving up while we still could. The waves were washing over the stern flooding the deck with tonnes of water while the fishermen clung on and brought in the catch. The largest carnivore on earth silently followed the ship, looking more like a nuclear submarine than a sperm whale, as it crashed through the waves with indifference.
Well here I am on the last day of 2001 bobbing around in a stormy Atlantic ocean. A year ago today I was in the Isle of Wight watching the dawn of a new Millenium with my family. I don’t think it is possible to get a more contrasting situation. A lot has happened this year: Don died and was buried the afternoon I passed my driving test, I finished university and got a bit of paper for my trouble and a wealth of experiences and memories I wouldn’t trade for anything. Abby and Josh moved up from Primary to Secondary school; their first move in life. Talan & Keziah who still seem like babies ventured into the big world of school, Toby started playschool and Jake moved into the last year of Primary school. I had several part time jobs and bought a car. Vik and Tim moved house. I applied for a ‘proper job’ by email on Wednesday, got a phone call on Friday, did a sea survival course on Monday, had an interview on Tuesday. Another phone call the following Tuesday, back to London on Thursday and to Canada on Friday and so begins this journal.
“When the days are the shortest, The nights are the coldest, The frost is the sharpest, the waves are the biggest, the wind is the hardest, the sky is the darkest, then polish your whiskers and tidy your nest, and dress in the richest and finest and best…The winter has brought you the worst it can bring, and now it will give you the promise of spring!” – Vikki James.
The weather has changed once again since this morning and now the sun is shining. It is winter evening sun, the sort that makes everything gold and the air really crisp. The sea is still rough and the sun catches on the big waves. I glimpsed a couple of dolphins but they disappeared again quickly. The last day of the year was started with whales, and ended with dolphins, not bad.
A big part of me wishes I was at home and getting ready to go out; I feel like I’m missing so much by being here but also gaining in other things. Whales vs New Year’s shenanigans.
I’ve been thinking a lot about if I should carry on doing these trips. I have come to no conclusion. For staying are the advantages of easy and quick money, experience at sea, the occasions when you see something fantastic. Against is the lack of scientific work (I don’t know if this experience will help much in getting a better job), being away for so long with no social or family life, in fact not much life of any sort. Amongst some quotes Vik gave me in my Christmas present are two which I had been thinking before I saw them, they sum up my situation.
“May you live all the days of your life.”
“It matters not how long we live but how.”
I definitely think that this trip has been worth it. I have experienced a unique way of life, and seen some awesome things which you would never get the opportunity to see doing a normal job. However by living this life too long I think you become stagnant, it’s a case of gauging how long is too long. I think maybe the way forward is to look for something else when I get back, but do another trip until I can find other work. The summer trips are sure to be better as the weather is fine and the atmosphere lighter. There aren’t occasions like Christmas and New Year to think about either.
On the radio check tonight I realised what a boring ship I’m on. The others have finished fishing or about to finish and are getting ready for a big party. We are still fishing. Our party is going down to the mess before midnight to eat 12 raisins each and a glass of champagne.
At about 10:45 here it was my turn to phone home. It was just before midnight at home and everybody had just got back from a meal and visiting family. I had to keep the call short as others were waiting to call home too, but it was good to wish everyone a happy New Year. Dad had heard from Dave about the Dive Club trip to the Red Sea – they are going too early, so I won’t be able to join them.
I put the phone down and went back to my cabin. It hit me how much I missed home. I felt pretty gutted and homesick, much more so than at Christmas.
Before midnight I went downstairs and the table was decked out with cakes and snacks. All the officers sat around the table and the cook counted down to the midnight. We stuffed raisins in our mouths at midnight, one for each month and each granting a wish. After that we drank champagne and ate cake and snacks. It was pleasant but boring, downstairs I could hear the crew singing, banging and generally having a good time. I really wished I was below with them, but was expected to be with the officers.
By one o’clock it was over and everybody dribbled off to bed so I took my chance to go downstairs with the crew where things were much livelier. Somebody had a guitar and everyone was singing a mixture of Portuguese and English songs, and some were even in Enguese. It was great fun and we had old songs in common, some by the likes of Cat Stevens and Bob Dylan. The atmosphere was great. Basil Fawlty had been given the night off, and so he could join in. It was great to see him having fun rather than fetching and fussing over the officers. I still feel uncomfortable having someone do my washing and serving me food, so it was good to see him relaxing along with the rest of us. The party went on to about two thirty. Everybody had to be up in a couple of hours. It ended up with just me and the cook drinking beer (my first beer since leaving Canada), in a ransacked mess (literally a mess). It seemed that the more beer I drank the better my Portuguese got, and the better his English got until we were having a right old yarn. He told me about fifteen times that I should come to the galley if ever I was hungry and he will make me something to eat and give me one two or three beers, no problem.
It’s been an up and down kind of day, but it turned out to be much more fun than I anticipated, and tomorrow is a brand new year with endless possibilities…