Monday, October 1, 2007

Barents Sea without engines

A day earlier we'd transferred
from a Russian Trawler to a supply ship.
On a tiny life boat made of rubber.
Its motor had taken a while to start.
It was barely powerful enough to move in the rough seas.
For a moment I was sure we'd just drift away into the fogs and disappear for ever.
I'd never been that far north.
And certainly not in a rubber dinghy scarcely larger than bathing tub.

We were one day closer to the northernmost tip of Norway.
Two more days.
There's nothing out there.
Just water and sky.
Not even a blimp on the radar screen.
We spotted the occasional whale,
when weather was clear enough.
We ate. We slept. We talked. About life.
The meaning of it all.
I was reading Man's Search for Meaning: An introduction to Logo-therapy,
by Viktor E.Frankl,
Holocaust surviver.
The book was lent to me by my most
wonderful friend George Tannenbaum.
The captain read it as well.
We talked.
But mostly we said nothing.
We sat there staring into the fog.
At nothing.
Although, it's amazing what you can see in fog.
Perhaps you see your thoughts.

When you're on a fishing boat,
even as far as days from land,
even if the closet land is the ice of the north-pole,
you have company.
Seagulls. Seagulls.

On a ship with no fish there are no seagulls.
Only silent men.
The steady hum from the engines had disappeared.
The old hull was creaking more painfully
now as she rolled more when there was no speed.
Those engines are huge.
The piece that was brought up for inspection not bigger than a hand.
There were no spare parts.
None of the four crew onboard could repair it.
We had to rely on the smaller reserve engine.

There's something Zen about ships on the open seas.
Or at least so I felt. Just minutes ago.
That spell was broken.
The seas are not to play with.
You could see it in the captains eyes.
He'd been out there for perhaps 50 years.
Never lost the respect.

Orders were changed.
We had to go to another port for repair.
It would take a day longer, perhaps two.
If the reserve engine didn't fail us.
if the weather remained calm.
If we didn't push it.

A couple of days later we were in a taxi in Tromso, Norway.
Headed for the airport.
I will never see that old ship again.
I will never meet the stern but friendly old Norwegian captain again.
I will never meet the Russian crew again.
But i will never forget.


geo said...

I can't think of a more solemn setting in which to read Viktor Frankl. Symbolically, we are all adrift in a cold and endless sea without an engine. We find solace and safety through friends and love and laughter.

T said...

That's profound.