When I tell friends and colleagues about my being one of the eighty “38th Voyagers” to sail on the whaling vessel Charles W. Morgan, for a night and a day, they invariably wonder what it will be like to sleep in a hammock strung between the low rafters of the deck above. Yo ho.
In fact, the Morgan is equipped with rows of berths, layered along the sides of the ships below decks in the forecastle, pronounced “fōc’suhl,” the traditional living quarters of the sailors who worked the ship.
Because I am on the last leg of the Morgan‘s “38th voyage,” I and my crewmates have had the benefit, over the past month or so, of hearing online reports from earlier fellow voyagers of what their experiences have been and what it is like to sleep in one of these berths, which, ominously, has been likened to a coffin.
Indeed, these six-foot long coffin berths give the average-sized human of 5’8″ plenty of leg room for stretching out. Happily, I rise to that exact average height. Taller mates are not so lucky. But I also hear that the forecastle is “stifling,” and there is always this incentive to get out of the berth and seek fresh air on deck. That said, we have also been told by those higher up the chain of command that we must not clump around on deck at night, as the deck is the forecastle’s ceiling, and the reverberating noise disturbs the slumbers of the inmate crew.
Of course, as a Melvillean, I immediately recognize a link to Moby-Dick. In the novel, second mate Stubb is so annoyed by Ahab’s obsessive, midnight, whalebone-leg pacing that he interrupts Ahab and asks him to soften his step: Ahab kicks him back down to his berth. Simply as a literary-critical gesture for the benefit of my shipmates, I am tempted to take a midnight walk on deck in order to simulate Ahab’s obsessive pacing. Unlike Ahab, I am still equipped with two legs, so I will have to substitute a pair of heavy-soled boots for his noisome and noisy peg-leg. But this is not part of my project proposal, and besides I’d rather read Moby-Dick than perform it.
But this reminds me that I should tell you of what I shall be packing for my night and day on board the Morgan. We were given a list of suggested items, including waterproof jacket (check), comfortable shoes (hmm), water bottle, pillowcase, sheet, and flashlight (check times four), toothbrush and paste (yes), deodorant (please), hat, sunscreen, sunglasses (OK), meds (by the fistful), and my favorites: binoculars and writing tools (check and double check). I will also bring my laptop and camera.
Ishmael put it all in a Carpetbag; I have my old backpack, which should hold what I need. But please understand that I am one of those types who define “camping” as where they don’t have room service. My understanding is that such service is not supplied aboard the Morgan.
Reader be kind: we all have our set ways and our morning routines; we are all getting older, and set in our ways. Rarely do I sleep in coffins, and at times I need to walk my suburban deck at night looking up at stars. But I have vowed to sleep snug, to walk soft, and to man up and be the “boy” that my crewmates and captain will admire.