This continued blog-journey from Part I was inspired by and liberally borrowed from a classic book and well-known 19th century American writer you may recognize. I’ve added some modernized twists.
Pleasuring and Measuring Sea, Passengers, and Crew
All day and night our ship was anchored in the Upper Bay. Yes, our great pleasure excursion had traversed a full two (2 I say!) nautical miles so that we may take in the rain-drenched shores of Brooklyn to the portside, New Jersey to starboard. Ahead of us beyond the Lower Bay and out to sea the storm was not yet finished with its mayhem. Waves churned up hills of sud and seafoam at the harbor’s mouth, beyond there only the bold and daring would ascertain. Thus, with no quarrels from one single passenger it was “unanimously” decided the Quaker City’s second departure would begin the following day should the sea and weather accomodate.
This idleness allowed for more heavenly prayer and church hymns making us all more idealy situated should any misfortune befall our voyage. Up at first light I briskly made my way to breakfast and with good reason.
“I felt a perfectly natural desire to have a good, long, unprejudiced look at the passengers at a time when they should be free from self-consciousness—which is at breakfast, when such a moment occurs in the lives of human beings at all.
I was greatly surprised to see so many elderly people—I might almost say, so many venerable people. A glance at the long lines of heads was apt to make one think it was all gray. But it was not. There was a tolerably fair sprinkling of young folks, and another fair sprinkling of gentlemen and ladies who were non-committal as to age, being neither actually old or absolutely young.”
As hoped, a day later we heaved anchor and set out to sea, the storm less than mighty than the day before, yet unwilling to subside entirely. It appeared we elustrious passengers would be “tested” first to measure what fibers we had during the self-conscious hours and the ruckus sea would oblige. Finally departing there was a cheerful sigh on deck: we were headed eastward and the American coastline began to fade. The broad and rolling ocean ahead had a different sort of welcome in mind.
“One could not promenade without risking his neck; at one moment the bowsprit was taking a deadly aim at the sun in midheaven, and at the next it was trying to harpoon a shark in the bottom of the ocean. What a weird sensation it is to feel the stern of a ship sinking swiftly from under you and see the bow climbing high away among the clouds! One’s safest course that day was to clasp a railing and hang on; walking was too precarious a pastime.”
However, should you have in your possession a mess-hall serving tray and a bar of deck soap, given the present seas you could easily travel from one end of the ship’s corridor in the stern straight to the bow (almost) in a most expeditious and harrowing manner — if timed just right with the troughs and crests. But fair warning, ill-timed starts would result in ill-timed endings. One’s most astute calculus is recommended, for the safety of self, property, and select others targeted.
To my pleasant surprise and good fortune I was not seasick. I found great joy in their gastronomic state and my lack of — for I had not always been so lucky.
“If there is one thing in the world that will make a man peculiarly and insufferably self-conceited, it is to have his stomach behave itself, the first day at sea, when nearly all his comrades are seasick.”
It was about that moment, while outside near the after deck-house door, that one of our esteemed travelers of some age and great wisdom, heavily wrapped like a mummy from chin to toe, lunged out with the ship’s downward plunge right into my arms:
“Good-morning, Sir. It is a fine day.”
He put his hand on his stomach and said, “Oh, my!” and then staggered away and fell over the coop of a skylight.
Presently another old gentleman was projected from the same door with great violence. I said:
“Calm yourself, Sir—There is no hurry. It is a fine day, Sir.”
He, also, put his hand on his stomach and said “Oh, my!” and reeled away.
In a little while another veteran was discharged abruptly from the same door, clawing at the air for a saving support. I said:
“Good morning, Sir. It is a fine day for pleasuring. You were about to say—”
I thought so. I anticipated him, anyhow. I stayed there and was bombarded with old gentlemen for an hour, perhaps; and all I got out of any of them was “Oh, my!”
I went away then in a thoughtful mood. I said, this is a good pleasure excursion. I like it. The passengers are not garrulous, but still they are sociable. I like those old people, but somehow they all seem to have the “Oh, my” rather bad.
While climbing up the stairs to the quarter-deck from the many rushing and thrown to the side rails to share the day’s meals with the sea, the bow of the vessel reaching up to the sky, I took a big puff of my cigar feeling quite bold that Poseidon kindly favored me rather than our geriatric Oh-my’ers, when someone shouted: “Come, now, that won’t answer. Read the sign up there—NO SMOKING ABAFT THE WHEEL!” It was Captain Duncan, the excursion’s chief. I damped out my tasty tobacco, nodded in acknowledgement, and continued my way forward. In a pursuit to discover and understand ways of naval travel, I found a spyglass in an upper-deck state-room behind the pilot-house. Ah, another ship off the horizon. Then another shout: “Ah, ah—hands off! Come out of that!” I exited as commanded, found a lowly deck-sweep and inquired:
“Who is that overgrown pirate with the whiskers and the discordant voice?”
“It’s Captain Bursley—executive officer—sailing master.”
I loitered about awhile, and then, for want of something better to do, fell to carving a railing with my knife. Somebody said, in an insinuating, admonitory voice:
“Now, say—my friend—don’t you know any better than to be whittling the ship all to pieces that way? You ought to know better than that.”
I went back and found the deck sweep.
“Who is that smooth-faced, animated outrage yonder in the fine clothes?”
“That’s Captain L****, the owner of the ship—he’s one of the main bosses.”
Realizing that the port side of the Quaker City was overcrowded with more Don’ts than Do’s, I took my curiosity starboard. There on that side of the pilot-house lay a sextant on the bench asking for my close examination. I told myself, they look to the sun as such, and I had hoped to relocate that ship in the distance. With my eye and hands on the instrument no more than three innocent seconds, a tap on the shoulder followed by yet another detesting voice:
“I’ll have to get you to give that to me, Sir. If there’s anything you’d like to know about taking the sun, I’d as soon tell you as not—but I don’t like to trust anybody with that instrument. If you want any figuring done—Aye, aye, sir!”
I began deducing there was apparently very little a paying passenger could tinker with save your cabin’s lavatory toilet-tissue and soap, and perhaps there too one required first a full naval inquiry. I ventured to find the deck-sweep once more for more future Don’ts.
“Who is that spider-legged gorilla yonder with the sanctimonious countenance?”
“It’s Captain Jones, sir—the chief mate.”
“Well. This goes clear away ahead of anything I ever heard of before. Do you—now I ask you as a man and a brother—do you think I could venture to throw a rock here in any given direction without hitting a captain of this ship?”
The wise sailor advised against given that the Captain of the Watch — a vessel’s sheriff if you will — was standing just over there quite interested in my probing curiosity. With my tour of investigating dashed…
“I went below—meditating and a little downhearted. I thought, if five cooks can spoil a broth, what may not five captains do with a pleasure excursion.”
Aristippus of Cyrene once said “The vice [of pleasure] lies not in entering the bordello, but in not coming out.” Let us hope there are not so many captains disembarking at our destinations. As a wise Irish friend once told me, some cause happiness wherever they go, and others whenever they go.
To be continued…
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