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The South Pacific Islands Survey–5 Things You Didn’t Know about Life on a Boat

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Ever wonder what it’s like to live in a cramped space with 14 strangers for a week? Well, I can tell you. There are the highs like watching the sun rise over the ocean and realizing the twinkling stars in the background are actually Mercury, Venus and Mars! And there are the lows like when you get dehydrated, become seasick and then pass out on the deck for a few hours before realizing it’s night and you’re supposed to be on watch. But here are the real surprises about life on a 72-foot sailboat:

1)     Forget a tan, your new skin tone is black and blue

With the boat swaying back and forth, you’re bound to bump into something, or rather slam into something as you loose your balance. I have so many bruises that I’ve lost track and someone joked that we should start dating them. I’d put 5/8/11 next to the bruise on my knee and 5/9/11 next to my sprained toe, which I jammed against a metal hook on the boat while taking down a sail. I still can’t bend it so I’m hoping the adage "time heals all wounds" is actually true.

Left: During my watch I was responsible for keeping the ship on course. My watch group includes three other people and during our daytime shift we take turns steering the ship, putting up sails and cooking meals. At night we steer and look out for oncoming vessels.

2)     Your dreams are on Ritalin

I’ve had more intense dreams while on this ship than I have in the past five years. Here’s the recipe for dreams on the boat: add two old friends who you haven’t seen in ages and who you feel guilty about losing touch with, add a strange location you’ve never seen, an impending hurricane, a hit man who’s after you and you’ve pretty much got a garden variety boat dream.

3)     The fish are gone!

Well, they’re not really gone but they’re not at the surface and you won’t see a single one on your journey from Tahiti to Rarotonga. The good news is, this also means they won’t get caught in the trawl that we drag behind the boat. It isn’t unusual to witness a "barren sea" because most fish don’t swim within the top three feet of the surface where the trawl collects samples. They are more often down below near algae and other creatures they can feed on.

Right: This is where we sleep. Our personal space consists of a bunk and a plastic bin where we keep all of our belongings. With 14 people living on a 72-foot ship you can see how tight it gets and how difficult it is to keep all of our things in one place! My bunk is on the top left.

4)     Cooking is now an Olympic sport

You think cooking for fourteen people on a tiny stove is difficult? Try doing it while you’re seasick and the boat is rocking back and forth. Additionally, baking in the oven becomes nearly impossible. When the ship lilts to one side anything you cook in the oven will be completely uneven. One night we tried making brownies and when we pulled out the pan a thick undercooked brown mound was on one side and a thin burnt section was on the other. On the upside, anything tastes great at sea and we happily ate the entire charred mess.

5)     You’re on a leash, literally

At night, to keep from falling overboard we all wear life vests and harnesses that clip onto a long line running along the inside of the boat. If you stand up suddenly and run off to do something you’ll feel a sharp pull and land squarely back where you were. Now I know what my dog feels like when I tie her up outside the grocery store. I’m sorry Nerf; I won’t do this again.

Left: On the left is the kitchen or galley and on the right is the saloon. The galley is where we make all our meals and where Jeff likes to make enormous vats of popcorn to keep the crew happy. Each watch group cooks either breakfast, lunch or dinner and puts a kettle of hot water on the stove for the watch group that’s awake from 2-6am. The saloon is strewn with sleeping bodies at night when it’s too hot to sleep in the bunks.

If you have any questions about life on the boat let me know and I’ll be sure to answer them. There are many more stories to tell.

About the Author: Lindsey Hoshaw is a freelance environmental journalist. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Boston Globe and Forbes, among others. In her spare time she moonlights as a garbologist studying people and the things they throw away. Follow her on Twitter @thegarbagegirl.

Editor’s note: The South Pacific Islands Survey is part of a larger multiyear expedition run by Pangaea Exploration, a nonprofit that investigates the health of marine life through exploration, conservation and educational outreach. The expedition focuses on marine debris, water quality, habitat conditions and overfishing in the world’s oceans. Specific emphasis is placed on the five gyres, or the five areas with the highest accumulation of plastic pollution.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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