Monday, February 23, 2015

Evanston: dinoflagellates; hooked; unswum


Day 90        February 16 (1975)

        We are sailing through the doldrums again, speed varying from 6 to 2 knots, but without the spectacular cloud formations or the squalls we had last November.  Yesterday evening the wind began backing from the southeast to the northeast.  Every quarter hour after 8 PM, I had to trim the sails flatter, until by 10 PM we were hard on the wind.  Several times during the night, I was awakened by rain, lightning, and changing wind; but we were actually becalmed for only a half hour at about 3 AM.
        There is great phosphorescence in the water here, and during one of my spells on deck, three green wakes seemed to form spontaneously and streak directly toward us like torpedoes.  At first I thought they might be sharks, but then it became obvious that they were porpoises.  I never did see them, but their sinuous paths illuminated the sea around us for several minutes.

        I remembered that passage while reading an article in the current NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC about bioluminescence, which I incorrectly called phosphorescence.  And what I called porpoises were probably dolphin.  Ah, well, it has only taken me forty years to make the corrections.
        From NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC I learned that the illumination in the water was made by dinoflagellates, life forms so small that they can’t swim quickly enough to escape tiny shrimp-like creatures who prey on them.  They emit light when the water around them is disturbed both to startle the predators and to attract predators of their predators.
        Unintentionally they also often bring moments of beauty to the sailor as in the paths of those dolphin I remembered all these years and in the greenish wake of a boat brightening dark sea and night.


        I’m halfway through H.M.S. SURPRISE, the third of Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin novels, having moved quickly from MASTER AND COMMANDER and POST CAPTAIN.  I’ve bought the next seven of the twenty book series.  Twenty-one counting a novel left unfinished at Patrick O’Brian’s death.
        Obviously I am hooked.


        My physical therapy sessions have been reduced from three times a week to two, and next week and the week after only one.          
        They have resulted in significant improvement.  I can now sort of sleep on my left side and I have less discomfort.
        My therapist has said that if I were a normal old man—he didn’t quite use those words—he would have already discharged me, but since I’m not, he hasn’t, and we will continue to try to increase strength.
        While something may surprise me when I’m back aboard GANNET, I believe I can do everything I need to sail.  What I can’t know and what can’t be tested in advance is whether the shoulder will withstand shock loads, such as when I have to grab onto the boom or mast when reefing the mainsail and an unexpected wave hits.
        I doubt that I will be able to resume doing my age in push-ups.  They continue to be too painful.  An end of an era.
        More disappointing is that recently I realized that I probably can’t swim either, other than perhaps side stroke or just kicking my feet wearing flippers.
        At a dinner with other couples the other evening, I was asked about my shoulder and related the above.  Someone said, “But of course you wear a life jacket.”
       A clear proof of total lack of understanding the situation.