Life at Sea

If there was a SAS quiz, there definitely would’ve been a question “what is the SASer’s worst nightmare?” And the answer most likely would be “Gooood morning ladies and gentlemen, this is captain speaking…” at 9 am on a study day. Study days happen every three days and are the only chance to catch up with sleep. But the crew has other plans…

They have regular drills, and for some mysterious reason these drills always occur on study days or while in port, and always early in the morning. One would think – why not eleven? Twelve? There’s no explanation. As Ashley likes to say, the train of logic doesn’t stop here. And what is most irritating, it’s not just one short announcement, followed by the alarm; the whole thing lasts for almost an hour. First, the captain’s “greeting”, that sounds in every room; then the crew announcements heard from the corridors; then the badass alarm, loud as it can be – a series of short high-pitched beeps followed by one long, and that long one seems to get into your very nerve cells. Then a bunch of other corridor announcements; then, as you start to relax in your bed and cease to curse the goddamned drill, planning to go back to sleep, another long loud alarm sounds. What for? Hell knows! At that point you just give it all up and crawl out of the bed.
Study days are supposed to be calm and full of studying; instead, they’re so relaxed that you don’t feel like studying at all. You sleep through breakfast – there’s nothing to eat at breakfast anyway, and after a few months at sea they look especially miserable; you get up for lunch, which starts at 11:30, hoping to get some decent food. But lunch is like dinner: a pile of salad, cucumbers, tomatoes, salary; buns of bread, said to be baked on the ship – tasting like they’re just from the fridge; then pasta, mostly same tasteless pasta, and some sauce for pasta; fish and meat, meat too stiff to be enjoyed; two vegetable dishes. A soup of the day, rarely attractive for me; sometimes a decent dessert, but mostly not. Every day, despite the fact that meat, fish and vegetable dishes are new every time, they feel the same. Taco and barbecue days are a bliss, but they happen rarely, because they cost more. A lot of people gave up already and moved to the pool bar for meals. Can’t say they make delicacies in there, but it’s at least some variety; but for that you have to pay. There’s also a special occasion dining that you can book, and it’s $30 per person. When asked if it’s worth it, everyone who tried it shouts “yes”; maybe it’s a plot, or maybe it’s really good – but one thing I know for sure: I’ve been to some places in San Francisco and Cape Town, and I very, very much doubt the ship can provide the meals of a $30 quality. Just because we’re in the middle of the ocean, for christssake. No possible supply of fresh products!
Between meals and studies you have all the time in the world, or so it seems. But after a while you accept the fact that there’s actually never enough time for anything. Too many people to talk to, too many activities to take part in, too much homework (I can’t complain, but I’m quite lucky), too many books in the library… And time flies, no, races, slipping through your fingers. It’s crazy how fast it goes by. We’re almost in Argentina. I feel like it was yesterday that I walked around Moscow with my friends and worked and… No, I don’t even want to remember; these were good times, but I don’t want to go back. If the ship would skip the last stop and just go take a course of a spring voyage, and then summer voyage, I would be happy. But this world has too many borders. They want visas, they want money; you can’t just cruise from country to country as you would’ve liked to. This ship is full of escapists, and I’m one of them; it’s a chance to stop from the everyday rush and take your time to think about life and future. But it’s hard. Even here, where no one presses you with routine obligations, where you don’t owe anyone anything.
Yesterday we had our own shipboard talent show. It’s hard to believe how many talented people inhabit this ship – dancers, singers, actors, sportsmen. It was a fascinating evening, full of music and creativity. One girl sang “Think of Me” in a perfect opera soprano. One girl performed the evolution of dance; another mixed ballet with salsa. There were three or four bands with all the guitars and drums and even an electric cello. There were guys who wrote songs; there was a jump rope champion; an Irish dancer; the a capella group; a poetry reader; but music dominated for sure. I was a little bit sorry that I had no performing talents, but it just felt so good being there and seeing all these inspired faces who were working so hard to do what they do and to be where they are.
And today in the evening we had a Union seminar devoted to space exploration with dean Kathy and Pinky, our own shipboard astronauts. Katherine Thornton and George “Pinky” Nelson. Both three times in space, from what I can recall; both full of fascinating stories to tell. It made me remember myself as a six-year-old, who saw a book in the store and refused to leave until my mom got it for me. It was a book about space, with huge pictures of the planets and everything. It definitely was not meant for a six-year-old; but guess who knew all the planets with all their characteristics in a couple of days. My first dream job – you know, when you ask a kid what he wants to be in the future – was a cosmonaut. Mom kept telling me no one would want me, because I was easily getting carsick. Yet there I was, in the middle of the ocean, never really sick once, listening to Pinky telling the story of his wife laughing at him when he told her he was considering applying to a NASA program, because he was always getting carsick.
The evening was full of excitement and good humor; the Union was packed, and the Q&A lasted for a good hour afterwards. I had a feeling that nothing can be cooler than going out there; any person, boasting of his or her adventurous life, would’ve had to shut up once hearing “oh, I’ve just been to space, three times”.
One of the questions was – if they both got an offer to hop on the space shuttle the next day, randomly, with no preparation, would they agree? “Yes”, – the childish enthusiasm in their eyes, the energy flowing out – they were talking about their passion, maybe about a secret dream that once they could go again – and knowledge that probably not. It was a good evening.
I ended it at almost three am, because close to midnight I decided to stroll to the diner and get some vitamin C. I made a circle through the seventh deck – and there it was, a web of bright diamonds of stars, blinking in the dark of the night; that perfect cosmic light. It was freezing outside, and I forced myself to go in – my cold still wasn’t gone completely. On the way back I got into a conversation; at almost three am I got to my cabin… SAS night talks, best you can have, when there’s no more crowds, no more rush, no more buzzing of the day. Oh the crazy talks we have… Oh the crazy dreams that follow! So what? Here’s to the crazy ones.

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