This story of the doldrums is part 3 of an ongoing series on my cruise to nowhere.
See Part 1 here: Cruisenecks
See Part 2 here: Cannibal Isles
Sea travel is slow. In this day and age, the idea of reaching a destination over a course of days is very rare. It’s a rhythm that takes some getting used to. Travel, as in, the actual getting from one place to another part of it – is downplayed in our modern concept of the idea of “travel”. Even those that spout “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” usually don’t start their journey stories until they have already reached their destination.
And so, off we are, ostensibly to spend our longest period of time at sea, two days, which is how long it takes to get from Fiji to French Polynesia. We are heading to Bora Bora to get away from the gritty low income life of Melanesia and have us some good ol’ still officially colonized resort time with nature so lovingly preserved by rich folx exploiting human labor..
It feels so strange to be heading East, I’ve always associated it with the wrong direction. Long drives across the United States have instilled in me that the West is the Best, Get Here, and we’ll Do the Rest. And so we head east. There is little to do but watch the current.
The sea mesmerizes me. I stare at it constantly.
I have prepared for this, our longest stretch at sea, with two kinds of kava and three kinds of weed. I’m sure that getting high and staring at the sea is all that I need. I smoke weed once a day after dinner, trying to conserve what I’ve brought as I have a feeling it will be difficult to score on the resort islands of French Polynesia. I smile, exhaling into the vent in my bathroom as instructed by my junior high school friend that has slept with crew members who have told him this is the way. And then I watch the sunset.
One morning I find a bird stuck on the boat and wonder what to do about it. I bring it water and whatever food I can think of. The crew member at the desk tells me that if she tells anyone they’ll just toss it over the side. The next day it is gone.
I catch a performance by the house band, and develop a little crush on the sax player. He’s got a US flag on his nametag, but the honey brown color of his skin makes me wonder at his heritage. The cruise power dynamics of brown producers and white consumers have me tired and uninterested by and in white people.
And back again to the sea, so beautiful, every ripple and all the currents becoming so familiar as if to be a part of me.
Until we pass through the doldrums.
I am mesmerized. It is alien. I feel as though we have left planet earth. For hours we move through waters still as glass. I lose the ability to believe what is coming to me through my own senses. This is not ocean water.
I think of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and all the sailors without giant Azimuth thrusters – propellers twenty feet in diameter that send us scooting along a sea that looks as though it has iced over. I spend the whole day outside watching it. Everything else fades away. When we move out of the calms I have trouble believing it ever happened.
We cross the international date line, which is beautiful because it results in us missing Friday the thirteenth.
No bad luck here!
I wake in the middle of the night with a start. Something is awry.
I kiss my partner who slumbers peacefully and quickly throw on some clothes and shoes and I’m out the door and down the ugly carpeted stairs to deck seven where I have taken so many hamster walks.
I head out the sliding doors and smell the sea, reassuring me that whatever I am feeling, we are still afloat.
The lights are on and so I see nothing, just blackness beyond me until I go to the back corner of the ship. I look down and out into the dark current and notice that we are going very, very slowly. It is difficult to feel speed on a ship this size. I look up into the sky.
We’ve done a fucking 180. We’re heading West. As sure as I know the water in my body and the water of this planet I know this.
Immediately it sinks in. I know exactly what has happened. We’ve been turned away. And the crew is delaying releasing that information to the passengers.
All the port changes and all the baffled people who told me that this cruise couldn’t possibly happen. Ya think maybe there was something to their thoughts? Fuck.
I go back inside and go back to bed. There’s nothing else to be done. The next day, I wake and bake.
I decide that it is time to take part in some events, and I go to the Atrium to get a good seat in advance of the fruit carving workshop.
Where else would I attend a fruit carving workshop?
It is here that Cruise Director Dan introduces the captain who announces that French Polynesia has closed their ports to cruise ships due to SARS-CoV-2.
I am in the crowded atrium for this announcement. A wow and a hush goes over the crowd. People panic, people react, there’s a flurry of activity. The captain says we are heading back to Suva, Fiji who will let us port and disembark. And that we should all buy tickets for next locations from there.
We are days from there. I narrow my eyes. Decide not to make any rash choices.
And attend the fruit carving workshop.
And this, my friends, is how I start off my experience with the New Normal. I’ve just learned of the first of who knows how many changes I’ll experience in my itinerary of life, and my reaction? Well? Just fucking live, man. Fuck, if they still have to put on a show, I’m still watching. You should see the shapes those FIlipinos made out of fruit.
The workshop is more of a performance than a workshop. As if anyone could copy their talent just by watching it done.
It may seem insane to watch a fruit carving workshop just after learning that your next cruise ship port has closed, but I was not the only one.
Let me remind you of the real insanity: I’d had a full twelve hours to adjust to this news from personal observation. As far as I saw, no one else had. Even members of the crew were unaware that we had, in the middle of the night, turned around and were going the opposite direction.
You would think maybe, just maybe, that a portion of the crew and passengers would have realized this at least by midday – when the sun was clear on the other side of the ship – if not in the middle of the night, by the current of the ocean and the stars in the sky, as had I.
But no. The ship turned around and the majority of the some 1800 human beings on it didn’t fucking notice.
It is a little insane, though, to be using food as decoration when you have just learned you are stuck at sea. But that’s not what we’ve learned, now, has it? We’ve learned we’re heading for Fiji.
Next come the long lines for internet. Achingly, excruciatingly long lines for short snippets of free connectivity to let loved ones know of the change in plans. Most everyone lines up to do so.
Instead, I charm the Serbian lesbian head of internet into giving me extra time on top of what I’ve paid for already, into topping up my account so that I can access it on my phone and don’t have to stand in any lines. It’s still a paltry, snail-like connection.
The Filipino woman who wipes down tables in the dining hall teaches me how to get extra minutes free, one at a time, by logging out just before the minute is up and logging back in.
Her name is Gloria. She is a young mother. She wears braces. Gloria tells me about her child that she left to go on this cruise. The baby was a month when she left the Philippines. She was supposed to be away for only a month. Now she’s not sure. Will one port change turn into many?
She doesn’t trust her employers.
I don’t blame her. It took them twelve hours to tell people we’d had a port change. We at that point already had the usual announcement from Cruise Director Dan – who obviously already knew we’d done a 180 but didn’t say a word about it.
The next morning, we have another intercom announcement about events and music and also hey a gold Rolex went missing so if it’s yours show up at this time and place. This seems like a really weird item to add into the mix considering the circumstances and makes me wonder if it is spy terminology.
Either way, nothing new is mentioned. We’re still supposedly on our way to Fiji. It’s going to take a few more days. I start brewing kava in the foldable sink I brought on board to do my own free laundry.
Yes. I brought everything and the kitchen sink. I’m a Cruiseneck.
I’m now entirely mistrustful, though somewhat soothed by being kava high. I begin doing my own navigation to the best of my ability based on the sun, stars, and currents.
And, well, the nav screen that plays on the TV in the Stateroom. It shows our trajectory and is a reliable way to see which way the ship is headed, but again I am slightly mistrustful of it as a product of the cruise line.
I trust the cruise line to cover their ass above all. If that involves lying to the passengers, they’ll do it. Every announcement they make sounds so official, even though at this point we are in “unprecedented times”.
To beat the doldrums (pun intended), I watch all the movies on all the channels on the Stateroom TV. They repeat in a slow pattern, such that that programming for any given day is different, but if you miss one there will be a chance to see it again.
The channel I watch the most though is BowCam. My partner and I love BowCam.
BowCam is a camera mounted on the bow of the boat. It shows me the outdoor weather, the waves, and the stars. There’s a hot tub out there for the most elite on the ship, and one day I see all the performers from the various shows out there lounging in and around it.
The days float by. Clouds and water. Sun and stars. Arugula salads, walks on deck 7, and “washy washy, happy happy”. Until one morning, I notice by the currents and sun, and by the line on the nav screen on the TV, that we have turned. Fiji is directly West, the direction that we came in. We’ve turned South, and are heading Southwest…