The last ten days, while Doug has been at sea, alone, heading towards Hawaii from Nuku Hiva, have gone slowly here in Vancouver. And while it’s felt slow to me, I know time will have been even weirder for him.
The seven day passage from Tahiti was a lesson in the bendiness of time. Time off (mainly sleeping or cooking) flew by. Watches, for the most part, didn’t. A three hour stint of steering the boat under the moonlight could feel like just a few minutes one night, and never-ending another. The three minutes between banging on the floor to ask for relief and somebody’s head popping up to say they’d be there in a minute dragged ridiculously. As did the next ten minutes waiting for them to get their drink and snacks and life jacket, and get up on deck to take over.
I had thought being up in the cockpit for hours alone there’d be all sorts of profound and meaningful thinking going on. Maybe, I even anticipated, that first chapter of my thesis would start to make some kind of sense. But, apart from singing a lot (thanks Nancy Kerr for writing great songs which never get boring), my main entertainment was devising The Illusion Show production notes. During a crew discussion about movies, Jim Carrey’s career came up and, in particular, the 1998 film The Truman Show. (The one where he plays Truman Burbank, a man whose whole life, unbeknown to him, is constructed and broadcast as a reality TV show. Haven’t seen it? Really? It’s cool! Watch it!)
The Illusion Show had a similar premise. A boat, a crew, an ocean to cross. After days with only the sea and the sky around us, it was easy to imagine that we weren’t really moving anywhere, just floating in some weird simulated reality. And the idea kept me laughing through the longest minutes.
Disappointed we weren’t seeing any dolphins? The Cetacean Designer must have been on holiday. But it was ok, because Flying Fish Guy was working overtime to keep us entertained. Nice sunset? Probably a promotion for the artist who really went for it with the colours on the water. The Cloud Artist was in trouble for getting a little silly: those Kama Sutra style positions weren’t really appropriate for the family audience. But he did well with the cloud whale, making up for the aforementioned lack of action from the Cetacean Designer. The camera operators were pretty pleased with their new flying cameras cunningly disguised as birds. The Weather Editor had a whole load of fun trying out the new special effects (squalls and downpours), but then got ill and nobody knew how to work the wind machine, which slowed us down somewhat.
At one point, after hours of nothing much, obviously the production crew needed to distract us (changing a backdrop maybe) so sent along a ship to sail past us AND caused the shackle of the main sail to break, within minutes of each other. While normally the passing ship would have been more than enough to break up the monotony of the morning (it was close and we could have watched and probably made radio contact) we hardly looked at it, as Janice was at that moment flying around in mid air, banging against the top of the mast. Or maybe that was the cliffhanger to an episode or even a season? Either way, we could have happily done without the main sail collapsing on us – thanks a lot screen writers. They also threw in a decent amount of weird noises and rocky waves just to make sure tensions would rise between the crew due to lack of sleep and seasickness. A few tears here and there, a few stony silences: they didn’t scrimp on the soap opera story lines. We amused ourselves working out what the camera angles would have to be to make sure there wasn’t too much nudity when we were doing our on-deck showering. Clearly they hadn’t quite prepared the set for the island we were arriving at (or perhaps were still hiring the extras to staff the shops and snack bars) so they changed the wind direction a few times to slow us down as we approached. To make sure we didn’t get suspicious and keep us happy, they gave us a nice moonlit night and some dolphin sounds alongside the cockpit, plus a turtle popping its head out for Doug’s entertainment.
Seriously, I would go on like this for hours to myself. I think all that sea air was getting to me, as obviously it’s not that funny. But it was that funny at the time. Honestly.
It’s weird to think of Doug out there alone, without anyone to have silly debates with about who is most likely to get fired next or get a bonus or to notice that, perhaps, fingers crossed, the Cetacean Designer is back. He has a whole stock of books and podcasts to keep himself occupied, and there are always loads of little, and not so little, jobs to do, but the days (and particularly the nights) must feel long and lonely at times. His only conversation the daily radio check in when he reports on the weather and sea conditions and gives his location to Jane or Gary or one of the other friendly voices volunteering with the Pacific Seafarer’s Net. That radio moment is a highpoint of the day, listening to all the other boats checking in and realising you’re not the only crazy people to be out there on the water. A lovely little moment of shared community with people we’ll likely never meet. Shame it coincides with sunset, another time when there’s something new to watch and enjoy.
The longest hours for me now, waiting at my computer, are between Doug’s check-in (which happens daily at 5.30pm Hawaii time) and the time they post his location on the Yotreps site, which tracks Illusion’s route. It’s impossible to not keep checking to see if the line has grown yet. It’s impossible to not panic on the nights it isn’t updated before I go to bed. Not in the same league as the sleep-deprivation on the boat, but still, hourly phone/computer checking makes for a slow night. I hope, though, that time has been dragging for him. When it’s going slowly it means not much is happening and I’d prefer him to be having a boring, uneventful journey than a dramatic, difficult one. That said, he’s picked up speed now and is, by the looks of it, fast-approaching his destination: the west coast of Oahu. No doubt there’s still time for the production crew to slow things down a little while they get the marina ready for his arrival…. I’ll watch and wait, knowing that he’s doing the same in a somewhat less comfortable environment.