5th January 2002
It’s been 80 days since I left home. Michael Palin would be on his final leg of his circumnavigation of the globe, for me however, I am still circumnavigating the Grand Banks.
We are back in the south with a 30 knot wind, an air temperature of -15, and god knows how much wind chill. The sun is somehow managing to shine and the sea is the calmest it’s been for days – so it’s all very confusing weather really. We have sailed south to flee a storm in the north, but after steaming for 12 hours we realised we’d steamed into the path of two larger storms – doh! They actually turned out to be mere storm kittens despite their monstrous appearance on the weather chart.
Miguel reckons we’ll fill up quicker in the south, and says he will probably head straight for Portugal if the L.J.Cowley gets close. I’m sad that we won’t see any whales down here but happy to take that blow because the Santa Christina is closeby and Miguel hopes that tomorrow touch wood, cross fingers, snap wish bones and blow birthday candles, shooting stars, black cats, two magpies, stones with a hole, being shat on by a bird (which happened to me earlier), we’ll be able to tranship with the good ship.
I’ll tell you something that I miss… the no bullshit plain and simple, easy conversations that can only happen between friends and family, people that have a firm grip of the English language. I look forward to speaking easy with people, not enunciating every word, not interspersing my sentences with snippets of Spanish and Portuguese. I look forward to regaining a sense of humour and people understanding my humour. You try and explain what a one-eyed bloater is to someone who barely speaks English. Any ‘funny’ you try and crack is lost in the complexities of language.
Sometimes the language barrier is a strain. For instance the chief engineer’s conversation starter is “esconce” or “so””. It always catches me unaware and I’m always lost for words, how do you reply to that?
The first mate likes to speak to me in Portuguese, almost to catch me out. Tonight he said in Portuguese that the dinner was good this evening, and so I replied “That’s good, what is it?.” What else can you say? “Do you know what it is?” he said in English. I assumed he meant did I know what was for dinner, and so I said “No, I haven’t got a clue”. But he actually meant to ask if I had understood his question, and then went on to tell me that he had said that dinner was good tonight. All the people on the bridge then looked at me, astounded as to my ignorance of their language, but it was pointless to try and explain that I had understood and so just left it.
The other day at dinner we were all sat around the table waiting for the captain who was late. The chief engineer poured me a glass of water just as the captain entered the room. The captain said “Good evening.” in Portuguese. I said “obrigado” to the chief engineer and then “boa tarde” to the captain. He roared and said “Why did you thank me, I only said good evening to you”. It wasn’t worth the effort to explain that I was thanking the Chief for the water.
For some strange reason they often talk to me in French. Though I understand what they are saying I’m often caught unaware as I don’t expect them to be speaking French. The electrician said “ca va?” to me the other day and I looked blankly even though I know what it means in French, I was wracking my brains as to this new unheard Portuguese word!
These are all very small things, but it get’s tiring being the odd one out, or the foreigner all the time.
Aside from easy conversation, I look forward to waking up in a bed that doesn’t move, getting dressed on a floor that doesn’t rise and fall, and washing in a sink full of water with no waves threatening to slosh on the floor. I look forward to waking up and not looking at a weather chart, living in a world where weather is just an awkward conversation starter with strangers, and at most the inconvenience of getting cold or damp as you go between the car and the house and not something that rattles your house like an earthquake or threatens to send your world to the bottom of the sea. No smell of fish or diesel. I look forward to speaking on the phone without using the phonetic alphabet and radio protocol; allowing a natural break in conversation rather than saying “over” and saying goodbye instead of “Santa Maria out”. Placing a hot cup of tea haphazardly on any surface. Opening the window and knowing that a wave won’t crash through it. Not tying the chair up before going to bed at night. Silent silence.
Last night a new vessel entered the area, the ‘Lutidor’ and on it was the observer I met on the KA…Pete. He came out when I did in October and has been home and come back again for another trip, and Michael Palin has circumnavigated the globe, but here I am still going around in circles on my first trip!