Saturday, March 27, 2010

a cage without walls or door. Or ceiling.

So, my schedule is all backwards.

My shipmate, Buddy, AKA "The Barge Whisperer" (his quiet voice has my deef ass saying 'what's that?' and "Excuse me?" and periodically the more crass "Huh?") has decided to work 12 hours on/12 off for the next two weeks. Since buddy was made barge captain before me on here, I have to follow suit. I am doing, if reluctantly, this for several reasons: first off, the past 3 months he's pretty much worked any night jobs we got, and second, he's the senior, dammit.
I don't like working 12-hour shifts simply because I get fatigued at the end, even if it wasn't a particularly difficult day. Honestly, my caffeine addiction allows me to compensate, although I shift consumption towards the latter half of my watch to keep me alert. I've long since passed the stage where being buzzed up will interfere with sleep. The net result of this is that I can't enjoy my diet soda addiction for the first half of my watch, which makes me sad. Not so bad.

Today is a light-duty day. We had our latest job delayed by 24 hours, which means that it will be piggybacked onto the next job (no problem for me) tonight at midnight. I slept part of last night away, but I'm still on a daytime rhythm, which is fine, as it's a sunny day and I need to go to the grocery store...

BUT, I can't go to the grocery store yet, as we're empty of cargo and sitting high out of the water, AND it's a spring high tide. I learned this a little while ago when I got prettied up and attempted to slide our longest boarding ladder down to the dock. Didn't quite make it.
So, while there is an easy solution (wait for the tide to drop), I also became instantly aware of how cut off I am from the knowledge of local conditions, and also I suddenly realize that I have failed to give a rat's ass about the tide, wind direction and sea state for the past few months... and I view this as a bad thing.

I tell everyone that I grew up on a fishing boat, and this is truth. From the time I was seven, I never wanted to do anything but catch lobsters. I certainly didn't want to be a seven-year old kid. I wanted to be an adult, right fucking quick.
The old timer indulged me. He treated me like a mini-adult when we were out fishing. I had responsibilities, and a salary. I was a gorilla by the time I was 12. Six feet tall, 200 lbs. I wanted to be strong enough to fish like a grown-up, so I fished, when there was fishing, and grew up.
The thing is, I have a character defect. Well, I have more than one, but the one I'm talking about is that I define myself by my productivity, which leads me to identify and assign self-worth based on what I do. I was a very, very junior marine biologist, so I became all about that, but identified myself as an out-of-place lobsterman, when, in fact, I was just a kid from the suburbs who worked part-time on a lobster boat. I had to half-lose my marbles and abandon my whole life and semi-academic lifestyle before I could really call myself a lobsterman. So, one day I did just that.
When I really, really went all in on fishing for a living, I asked a lot of questions and really got into the lifestyle. My education allowed me to dabble in the policy side of fishing, but I really just enjoyed the catching of lobsters, just like I did when I was seven. With the Notorious B.O.B., being a fisherman truly became part of my nature. I no longer had to struggle to consult the tide chart, could discuss local conditions, and didn't have to think twice before checking the weather. Knowing what was looming over the horizon to make or ruin our days became a ritual- I would no more debate about checking the weather than I would think about whether or not to use toilet paper... it was just something that was done in the morning before I started my day.
When the B.O.B. made me captain, I really struggled- business had been bad, and our arrangement led me to give my paycheck (and his) for bait, fuel and pay for Grateful Dead, my pothead deckhand. My favorite days, however, were the frequent days when The Dead would forget to show up for work, because I could go catch lobster alone. And in that time, I finally got to completely let myself get into a rhythm and consonance with my environment that bordered on a religious trance... though there was much cursing, throwing of things and fury, too. And that's part of being a sailor as much as anything.

So, all of a sudden today, when I realized that I had no idea that it was high tide when I got up, I understood much more the terrible complacency that can come with losing touch with one's environment. I feel very much the loss of that unconscious rhythm.

You know, I feel like the professional ordinary seamen I used to run down when I was on a ship... you know, the guys who are content to be a strong back and take direction without ever really educating themselves on their floating environment and home. Well, my complacent ass has learned 10 times more about cargo handling and safety since I made the switch from ships to barges, but I am no longer situationally aware of what's going on beyond my hull.
I allowed institutional laziness to place blinders on me, focusing me only on what's in front of my face... that tendency to define myself by what I'm doing? In order to maintain my self-worth, I have to regain some of what I lost. And the strange part is that it will have to be WORK to do this. It is not my nature just now to be in sync with the natural world. I need to get that back.

1 comment:

bigsoxfan said...

I've been reading a lot "lot" of Patrick O'brian lately. Mainly becaouse I can lose mysef on an eighteenth century man of war making a trans pacific run, I don't miss the wife and boy so much. More to the point. Aubrey's "particular friend" S. Matuerin, had no sense of tide, wind guage, or most other nautical terms. He could, however, whip you up from the dead as long as the tide hadn't turned.
In that vein, O'Brian makes use of all the tricks of the nautical trade. State of the moon as it relates to the local tide, comes to mind in your case. I feel you pain, to lose the feel of the sea around you, just because you are in sheltered bays, takes away much of the good things that don't come in the payoff.