A semester at sea

When I was in college I spent a semester at sea. I thought it would launch me into the fields of like marine biology and aquatics and stuff. I imagined myself really learning the nuts and bolts of life out on the open ocean, but it wasn’t anything like I had expected. Nothing I could have read or studied would have helped prepare me for the challenges of living on a boat.

semester at sea

Like, for example, I thought that there’d be like a big disembarking, like a “Bon voyage!” type of farewell. But no, they kept us in this stupid inflatable room on campus inside the Olympic sized swimming pool for two days straight. “What’s the point of this?” we all asked, “When do we get to go out to sea?”

The faculty explained that they were giving us a couple of days in a controlled environment to develop our sea legs. I told them that this was unnecessary, that I’d been on a boat several times. I was lying, of course, but come on, people have been travelling on boats for forever. Do you think that the pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic were forced to sit on some glorified pool toy for two days straight?

The worst part was that the swim team still had practice. The inflatable only took up like three lanes, so we had to just sit there and watch them all staring at us like this was the stupidest thing anybody could have ever decided to come to college and actually pay to do.

I was just about to give up, thinking about all of the regular classes that I’d have to sign up for after I backed out of the whole semester at sea, but one of my classmates, or shipmates, or potential shipmates, he backed out. I thought to myself, what a wimp, I can’t believe he quit. And then I realized how ridiculous I sounded, criticizing this guy for a decision that I was just about to make, so I doubled down on my commitment. I was going to earn those sea legs.

We finally made it to the boat and everything was just, again, not at all how I had imagined it to be, certainly nothing like the brochures from the student center made it out to be. I was pretty sure I’d have a roommate. One roommate. Not three. And I hesitate to even call them roommates, because it was hardly a room that we were forced to share.

These guys were a bunch of total nerds. Everybody had the same pair of knee high rubber boots from the first day, I was like, “Guys, what did your moms all go shopping at the same boat store?” and I turned to the first mate, he was checking us all in, and that guy was a huge nerd too, he hadn’t even cracked a smile. One of the nerds was like, “These are the boots they told us to buy. You don’t have any?”

And I don’t know how it was possible that I was accepted into this program, how they let me sit on that tube in the pool for two days, but nobody sent me like a checklist of stuff to buy. “They sent it to our campus email,” one of the dorks said, but I didn’t even bother replying, I never set up my campus email. I was still using my AOL email at the time, I’m not going to bother sharing my old screen name, but it was something lame, childish, you know, I can say that looking back now. Fine, it was SpleenHarvester6834. I don’t know. I thought it was badass at the time. I think I just saw the Hellraiser movies or something.

So I was totally underprepared without the waterproof shoes. But that’s OK, because I bought this pack of novelty eye patches and pirate swords from a party goods store. “Come on mateys!” I passed around the plastic trinkets, nobody took any, what a bunch of weirdoes, seriously, you’re going to spend a whole three months on a boat out on the open ocean and you don’t want to have even the slightest bit of fun?

And that’s what it was, three months of no fun, of performing a bunch of boring calculations. All of the ship’s work was mostly done automatically and, I guess reading the brochures would have helped, but it was all just lab work, just pointing stuff at the sky and taking seawater samples and eating this disgusting packaged food. I didn’t have a cell phone yet, so it didn’t matter that there wasn’t any service, but no TV, just a deck of cards that I brought that got wet with sea spray almost immediately after I busted them out.

I didn’t do anything, not that it mattered, you pay the price for a semester at sea and you don’t do any work, apparently the price tag has an included C+ minimum grade. I’ve never since spoken to any of my shipmates. It’s like, you know when Facebook came out and all of the sudden you start reconnecting with kids you went to Kindergarten with? There was nothing from any of those guys. Maybe they’re all back at sea, back at the open water, who knows, bunch of nerds, I bet you they have no idea what Facebook is. Still, I always find it strange that there’s basically no digital record I ever even boarded the ship.

The absolute worst part was, while I didn’t have any seasickness at all while on board, as soon as I touched dry land again, I started to feel the waves. After a couple of weeks I went to the doctor and he diagnosed me with Phantom Wave Syndrome, something about the brain and waves and, I have no idea, but everything’s always a little wobbly. I asked him, besides medication, is there any relief? “Well,” he told me, “You could always get back out there, back out to sea, I’m sure you wouldn’t feel anything if you were back on a boat.”

But fuck that, fuck the sea, fuck marine biology. I put my heart and soul into the water and it just sank, like it was encased in a cement defibrillator, a whole big vast ocean of nothing.

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