16 September 08

Questions from a Friend

what is it like out at sea for so long?

Tranquil. Beautiful. Lonely. One of the things I really like, which sound funny, is that each day is exactly the same. I wake up, take a shower, eat lunch, stand watch for four hours (noon to 1600), Do a little puttering, relieve the chief mate for dinner, eat dinner myself, study/read/write - stuff like that, take a nap, stand watch for four hours (midnight to 0400), go back to bed. Every day at sea is just like that. On land when you have things that you want to get done, you might plan on doing it one day but then things get in the way: friends call, you realize the laundry needs to be done, your roommates have a party, etc. Out here when you carve out a time slot in your schedule it will be there every day. On the last ship I was on I was working my ass off and so every day after dinner I would correct the navigation charts or write passage plans for three or so hours after dinner, now I'm not over worked so I go to my cabin and work on math for that same time slot, I'm getting so much school work done, it is great! And I can count on it each day.

And don't you get lonely out there? Or do you have a lady in every port (like the stereotypical sailor)?

No ladies in any port actually.

Fortunately though, on some ships I work my ass off so it feels like I do nothing but eat, work and sleep. I don't even have the energy to think about women.

I hope you are not offended by the last question, I really do wonder how a person can live your lifestyle, and what it is like, and how you deal with those human necessities.

No offense taken. There are plenty of guys out here that make bee-lines for houses of ill-repute in each port. Sometimes I end up knowing more about that than I really care to: on one ship I was the medical officer (I often am for some reason) and a few days after leaving East Africa a guy told me it burned when he peed. Sure enough he had the clap so I gave him some antibiotics. (oh, part of the diagnosis is that it be 'milked' - I made him do that part - insert shudder) Now for men it is really hard to get gonorrhea when you are wearing a condom, basically impossible actually, this pretty much told me he wasn't wearing a condom! Having unprotected sex with a sex worker in East Africa is just about the definition of stupid. A few days later he came down with a sudden onset fever and pains all over the place, it lasted a day and he was back to normal. I knew a little about this and a friend of mine who is a young men's health doctor in Harlem confirmed that these were the text book early indicators of only one thing: HIV. The current understanding is that one to two weeks after contracting HIV your body's immune system goes haywire for a day and causes all these symptoms. I described all this to my friend and he said that it could all point to only one thing.

I was a little pissed at the guy, he was an adult, has a wife and kids, he is going to go home and give his wife AIDS all because he couldn't keep it in his pants for few months, or at least use a condom when he got busy. I had even put out baskets of condoms in the mess rooms every day in that port! There was no excuse. I kept thinking about the fact that I was 23 and my hormones were raging and I was able to keep it in my pants, why couldn't this guy? I also spent a whole lot of time thinking about what I could ethically or legally do to warn his wife. I mean, I might know something that could save her life. My diagnosis is pretty weak, I'm not a doctor, I didn't do any lab tests, etc. so I can't be 100% sure about it, but at the same time my friend said that had he seen what I did he would be very sure and the lab tests would only be used to confirm the diagnosis. In the end I didn't say anything.

So there you go. I've seen the worst of what can happen when you take care of your needs with prostitutes ashore. For the rest of my life I'll be able to wait.

How many hours do you work in a day?

This ship: around 9 hrs a day 7 days a week. Some ships I have averaged 12 to 14 hours a day 7 days a week (weekends and holidays don't mean much out here).

Do you ever have time off in these exotic ports?

Yep, I was in Kenya a year ago and everyone on the ship got to go on photo safaris. I went with three other guys and spent the whole day in a national park looking at animals I never could have imagined existed. With cable TV and the internet it is hard to believe that animals come in shapes you never even heard of! (giraffe gazelle is one such animal, the dik dik is another). (Photos of these animals can be seen here.)

So, is this your last trip?

Probably not, but I'm getting there. Who knows what the future will hold.

You never did mention what you wanted to do with yourself afterwords...

I'm hoping to go back to school for something like a masters in mathematics. I'm not sure what I want to do with it but it would be valuable in many fields. I'd like to integrate some of my other passions into a future career (it is tough to weave sewing, privacy rights and the sciences into a real career, so I'm plucking off the hardest part of the sciences right now, I'll see how to integrate the rest later. That is a big question though. I don't know what the next chapter in my life will be but I do know it is time to start writing it.