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Table & Head

Table & Head

Eating a Balanced Meal and Finding Relief

Reindeer's 1976 Transatlantic Voyage

Blog Entry #10

I thought this blog entry might be the toughest to subtitle. So many choices seemed appropriately descriptive while equally replete with double entendre and cheesiness. I attempted to raise my thoughts above bathroom humor, but food and toilet were frequently in our dominant thoughts and bodies as we crossed the tumultuous North Atlantic ocean during four gales in 10 days from Newfoundland to Iceland.  Here is my list of alternative titles for this article:

  • Balancing Fruits and Vegetables
  • Eating Habits
  • Eating Disorders
  • Table Matters
  • Table Tetterings
  • Captain Chow
  • Balancing on Your Head
  • Using Your Head
  • Getting Ahead
  • Getting a Head Start
  • Keeping your Head about You
  • Head's Up
  • Staying A Head
  • Heads and Tails
  • Untethered Souls
  • Eating a Balancing Meal
 Our fold-up gimboled table amidships and our infamous coal stove.

Our fold-up gimboled table amidships and our infamous coal stove.

Anyone who has eaten aboard a boat at sea knows how important the quality of food is to crew morale. While not only essential for sustenance, warmth and energy, the quality of the next meal could represent the highlight of any rough sea day. While food storage, refrigeration, preparation and consumption require effort in a stable environment, just imagine all of those on a roller coaster.

Now picture the roller coaster as part water slide....now add the mixed aromatic experience of a hot cooked meal being serviced on a table that moves up and down with every way and the odor of a seasick crew member spicing up your culinary experience.  Some ability to adapt to the situation is called for. After this experience, it was not difficult to appreciate the pleasures of a cozy cafe, a stable table, sipping a tangy Merlot, enjoying quiet conversation as all taste a epicurean treat served with style and class. Our eating was more feeding the livestock than serving renowned dignitaries.  While all eight of us ate like kings, consumed like paupers and slept like drunken sailors, we all had the same problem after each meal.

Orlin prepared almost all the meals back in St. John’s and Newport. And many had been pre-made and frozen for ease of storage and preparation. I thought the food was always warming, hardy and tasty. That was not everyone’s experience as not everyone felt like eating. As I previously remarked, I ate like a horse.
— Newbold also wrote in Down the Denmark Strait that I was a "real chow hound" (CH 4, page 88).

Eating at the gimballed table was an unusual experience. The table like the stove would sway from side to side with the rocking of the boat. Unbelievably, plates of food placed on the table would stay balanced and relatively immobile during a meal. What was really odd was if you were eating on the windward side, the table was even with your knees or feet. If you were sitting in the leeward bunk, the table was level with your chin. So on one side of the table you had to bend over to reach your plate while on the other you had to reach above your head a guess where your plate was. The seesawing table only added to the adventure of eating below. 

June 19: “Supper cooked by Orlin. Beef bourguignon, Uncle Ben’s Rice with chopped dried mushrooms, and salad. Really stuck to the ribs.”
June 20: ”Supper was chicken a la king with added boneless chicken. A great rough weather meal.”
June 22: ”Supper is delicious beef stroganoff.”
June 23: ”Had roast beef dinner with wine.”
June 26: “Orlin cooked us spaghetti and meatballs, and we polished off the last of the salad.”
— Some of Newbold's notes from his ship's log on suppers during the 10-day voyage to Iceland.
“Such conditions made visits to the head damn near a federal project. Unless one sat on a nautical toilet during a beat to windward in a choppy sea way, it’s hard to imagine the trajectory, if not the trajectory, that eliminations take. It takes a full court press to do the job. Someone once likened ocean racing to taking a shower with a full suit of clothes on, while at the sametime beating your own head with a hammer. ( I might add to that, ‘While using the other hand to tear up hundred-dollar bills.’) In any event, the difficulty of executing normal ablutions under these circumstances can not be exaggerated. In deed, gravity is not always in one’s favor. One top of this, none of us had flies in our foulweather gear, so just preparing for a visit to the head was a debilitating exercise, pulling off all outerwear.”
— Newbold's description about using Reindeer's restroom in Down Denmark Strait

Finding Relief: I watched Newbold maneuver the head a few times and I could only marvel at how he accomplished his daily constitutional with his physical handicap in our extreme conditions. Again, I gained more respect for his strength and perseverance.

Going to the bathroom with all the rocking, rolling, pitching and yawing was a real challenge. While a harness wasn't required like it was up on deck, for some it could have been helpful or necessary. Remaining on the toilet without slipping to the floor or getting catapulted through one of the two doors required some strength and coordination. The use of arms and legs was essential for propping and wedging oneself into a position, albeit not ever comfortable.

Because the toilet was located on the port side of Reindeer and because 90% of our 10-day ordeal was close-hauled on port tack, it meant "the throne" was most frequently on the left high side of the boat. Of course, the challenge was greater on the left side of the boat for falling off "the can". The right side had the unpleasant possibility that the bowl might spill over. Flushing required agility and coordination, but I think I will leave that action to reader imagination...if he or she would ever think of venturing there.

My biggest worry below deck during this whole leg was I had been unable to have a bowel movement for the ten days, and as I was later to learn, this was the case for most of the crew. (Of course, no one spoke about this human dysfunction or stoppage until we were ashore in Iceland.)

Life at sea has a tremendous impact on people's digestive system. At the time I knew enough to understand that proper plumbing is important to all human health and well-being. Whether we want to or not the quality of our bowel movements usually determines and demonstrates to some extent the quality of our daily lives. The strange fact that I had to face was that my appetite had been voracious for the whole trip, but I had nothing, so to speak, "to show" for it! I was worried that I might explode or have an accident. What I learned was that my body adapted and miraculously found some storage place within me. And most amazingly, I usually felt fit and energized. Maybe the sign of the adaptability of a 26 year old athlete's body. It was only in my mind that it became an issue.

Writing on his topic seemed important enough to warrant a blog entry. Hope no reader was made too uncomfortable, uneasy or queasy reading my description.  However, if I have done so, I've actually accomplished something.  Just multiply your discomfort at least ten-fold to empathize with what Reindeer's crew endured.  It was all part of the 8-crew human experience in crossing the Atlantic in a 43' sloop in the middle of the summer of '76.

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