Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Clogs Abroad, October 11, 2010: Pressure Cooker

'Twas Brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves
And the mome raths outgrabe.
- "Jabberwocky", by Lewis Carroll,
from Through the Looking Glass & What Alice Found There

After three years of having all the answers, or at least knowing where to find them, I find myself in a world in which I know nothing: the tiny galley that serves "Victoria."

At least I know how to do dishes
, I think, as I wash up the few plates and cups left from a meagre passage repast of grilled cheese sandwiches washed down with instant lemonade. Although even that wasn't true when I came aboard Victoria in Tonga -- young Thomas had to show me the procedure of pumping sea water over the dishes, washing and rinsing with seawater and then dribbling a few drops of precious fresh water over each dish. I grew to love the slight salty tang that clung to cups, as though every chilled beverage were a salted margarita, every hot coffee a play on salted espresso caramel.

A wave hits the bow, the boat swishes her tail and tips (nautical terms) way over to starboard, the washed plates go tumbling off the counter onto the floor, then we tip the other way, and I have to hold on to the side of the sink as I climb uphill to pick up the dishes, which are now sliding along the floor past me, knocking against the base of the swinging stove. Okay, so one step toward doing dishes, one step toward the drawing board.

As I chase the dishes, I keep one eye on a pot of leftover stew on the stove. Of course, the pot on the swinging stove is level the whole time, which is why the floor isn't covered with a hot mess, and why my arms and face aren't covered with terrible scalds and burns. The beauty of a gimbal! I'd draw a force diagram of if I weren't so worried about the right-hook-left-hook waves we might take at any time, which will lift the pot off the stove and really change the timbre of the evening.

Nobody is particularly hungry tonight anyway: the seas really started to hunch up beneath us earlier in the day, and the wind is singing through the rigging. But what do I know? Nothing. Except that the boys are probably hungry, and it's my job to feed people, so let the stove swing, let the waves crash: I will bring a meal to the table. Okay, not to the table (more sliding, more mess, food all over the floor, cups tipping over, forks getting lost in the settee cushions, lots of yelling and holding on). I will provide the option of a hot meal to those willing to eat leaning in a corner, or crouched on the stairs to the cockpit.

And the stew really is just what the doctor ordered. I lean in the corner and eat before starting my next watch, grateful for the warm core as I creep into the water-filled cockpit every twenty minutes to check our course and scan the horizon when the waves lift us above the troughs. That's what food is for.

There is something liberating about knowing nothing -- without the context of previous experience (and consequence) I'm free to believe that any meal is possible on a small swinging stove in the middle of the open ocean. I look out at the heaving sea and try to determine whether the waves have flattened a bit, maybe the wind is down below 35. At least it isn't raining, right now. If the seas drop, I think, as Victoria rises up and up and up on a wave and I look around, holding on as we surf down into the trough, tomorrow I will make a large, hot meal and a hot dessert. Roast lemon pepper chicken and pear cobbler....What could possibly go wrong?

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