Living on a boat – its personal. You get good at being alone in your head as you live cheek to jowl with two other people in a 40 ‘ x 12’ space, a space that is even smaller than it sounds. In this space you are together yet alone like never before. Consider it a subway ride that takes 85 to 100 days until you reach your destination. You sit next to a stranger, careful not to make eye contact in the confined space because that would mean you need to acknowledge the person on the other end of your gaze. Maybe even have to talk to them. To avoid this you bury you nose in the thick walls of the book you are currently engrossed in or are at least pretending to be. You feign sleep in your bunk when crew mates fail in their loud efforts to be quiet as they climb down into the forepeak. Upon waking for your watch you crawl up the ladder from that same forepeak. Emerging in the wheelhouse you nod and grunt at the person at the wheel who is eagerly awaiting you to relieve them. You hope the person coming off watch will actually leave the wheelhouse but you never know, so you stagger to the head both out of necessity and to seek few more moments of alone time before going on watch.
On a fishing boat forget any thoughts of privacy, except when you are in the head that was just mentioned. Even then someone is only a few feet away on the other side of a door that doesn’t offer as much privacy as you might hope. We are all reminded of just how human we are in these times. Your crewmates will be the other people who see you as you thought only your chosen life mate would. There you are in your underwear as you rise out of the bunk after a night of snoring – your husband says you do and now your deckhand knows this, too. With your head hanging over the rail puking up your latest attempt to keep ramen down as you pass through the three to five days it take you to get your sea legs. Singing like you are alone in the car while you clean fish a few feet away from the deckhand in the trolling pit. You are not one of those people who easily belts out tunes in front of a crowd and when you realize just how loudly you were singing you cringe a bit and keep singing but now under your breath. It’s what gets you through and you enjoy it despite the fact that probably no one else does. And on late night wheel watch, as you are jumping around to bad disco or anything loud to wake yourself up, the deckhand pops up out of the forepeak because he can’t sleep. Great. Embarrassed at being busted while shaking it down and still tired, now you need to act alert while sitting still in the captain’s chair and making conversation during what was supposed to be time alone time at the wheel.
But this goes both ways. Not only have your crewmates seen you as your most vulnerable and sometime worst, sometimes goofy self, you, too, have seen them. It’s a mutual pact of look the other way when you walk out on deck to find someone peeing and an unspoken agreement that songs that are sung unconsciously are a pact of trust without judgment regardless of how off-key the notes. You didn’t commit your life to them but you did commit a season. We’re in this together and up-close and personal.