Expedition Futility

Copied from of my journal, October 29th, 2006:

Three days in and all we’ve seen of dolphins are the frayed yarns of our old skipper, who used to plug ’em by the dozen back when fisherfolk and the playful ones were at war for tuna. David, who called me sweetie and let the boat steer itself most of the time, is a leathery, turtle-headed Moroccan who bought his ramshackle old trawler behind the helm of an older, ramshackler trawler that had plied the eastern coast long before the Brits ripped a map of Palestine apart lengthwise and gave the coastless half to the guys on camels. Now, in his virile old age, he drives ‘sportfishermen’ around the bay as they smoke molasses tobacco and wipe hummus off the bottoms of deep tubs.

Our research vessel, outfitted with Turkish mattresses and American rugs, makes a steady 7 knots (discounting the stupendous kinetics of our rolls), and keeps us out on the water from quarter-to-six a.m. until four p.m. every day of the survey. There’s no head (toilet) onboard, but researchers of both sexes were issued carte blanche for peeing off of the stern. Bags of groceries stashed below include sandwich fixin’s, apples, cookies, coke and fresh water. In my over-eagerness to get some caffeine on the first day, I unwittingly volunteered myself as coffee-brewer for the remainder of the survey. This usually involves washing a menagerie of filthy mismatched glasses, spilling finely ground coffee on sole and bulkheads, and holding a finjan over a tiny military campstove screwed onto a mammoth propane tank as the boat lists drunkenly. I like the job.

After puttering out of our slip, past freighters and submarines and the lights which welcome shipping traffic into the bay, after coffee and cookies and after David drags an old speaker out on deck and puts on the only CD he owns, after the sun finally grabs the water by its collar and starts shaking, we all go on watch. Then the rest of the day goes by without dolphins. Routines really make the difference.

— In all, five days were spent searching in vain for the elusive sea-mammals. I now firmly believe that the ‘dolphins’ are nothing more than a myth, no more real than mermaids and sirens.

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~ by jonlib on November 13, 2006.

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