I snuck into bed around midnight, long after the rest of the crew. Still I woke before my alarm, at 5:30 am, ready to start the day. I relished having that urgent sense of purpose again – the awareness that people were depending on me for their nourishment and that it was up to me to make sure they ate well.
The night before, I tore up more of that store-bought wheat bread into chunks and threw it in a big, buttered hotel pan. I also parboiled a bag of small mixed potatoes. So breakfast was easy: I poured the batter over the bread and baked it; put the potatoes in the oven with parmesan cheese and my own blend of “Texas toast” spices. I threw some leftover ham in the oven, too, on a cookie sheet greased with leftover bacon fat. I threw together a fruit salad of grapes, peaches, bananas, apples and strawberries and called it good.
This was a special day. It was my last full day as cook and it was filled with the kind of adventures I’m used to having on tall ships.
It wouldn’t be complete without the latest kind of adventure: another sudden increase in diners! Captain Nash’s other job is as a musician in a band. (Hopefully he won’t mind a little undisguised promotion.) That day he was playing with some other guys. “How many people are we now?” I asked him after lunch. “Well, the tuba player from my band might join us too, if that’s alright… so that’s um…”
Seventeen. I fed seventeen mouths that night. Captain Nash said it was because of my cooking. He said it was my fault.
I scrambled. I was making coconut chicken. I took out more. I had – I kid you not – exactly seventeen piece of chicken. Unfortunately I didn’t get them in the oven on time. I stayed a little too long listening to Captain Nash and his band. So I also had seventeen people milling around the deck for thirty minutes. But I don’t think they were disappointed. Along with the chicken I served a honeydew melon salad with chilies and mint and carrots (I made a similar version and wrote about it a while ago on this blog). When learned we’d be seventeen (!), I also scrambled to create a curry. I chopped up carrots, onions and celery, added leftover potatoes from breakfast, threw in a can of green beans and seasoned them with curry spices. Right at the end I added lime juice, which gave it a kind of Malaysian flavor.
A night at the races
The crew hurriedly ate their dinner so as not to be late to the much-hyped “bilge cart races.” Apparently, these races were held in a more clandestine fashion in previous years and therefore took place without any lights on. This year, as soon as the last visitor had left the festival for the day, museum docents stood guard at the ramp to the Star of India.
They checked to make sure we were wearing the proper footwear. They warned us that we were the last to be let in. Then they led us across the deck and down into the bottom of the boat. I’ve already alluded to this ship’s massive size. So you can imagine that her bilge is equally awe-inspiring. (If a bilge can be such a thing!)
It extends under the lowest deck, without about a 2-3 foot crawl space between it and the level above it. Along both the starboard and port sides they installed tracks. Running parallel with the tracks, along the bottom of the first level, they installed a set of pulleys. So here’s how the races work: two sailors lay down, each on his own cart – much like the kind you use to do maintenance under a car. Then they use the pulleys to get themselves from stern to bow.
After the races we went back to our dock where Poi Boy was letting other crew members take a stab at “poi,” a Maori performance art involving knotted ropes aflame with a mixture of lighter fluid and diesel fuel.
Then the crew of the Adventuress set up a projector and we watched “Around Cape Horn” against the backdrop of their mainsail.
One old salt, a volunteer named Homer crawled into a giant coil of line and settled in for the show. “You get used to the sail ties and the baggy-wrinkles being in the way,” he told me.
He was right. I watched it as if for the first time, glued. If you have any interest in ships and sailing, this film will give you an idea of what the sailing life was like in the last days of the age of sail.* The narrator, Captain Irving Johnson, took some of the earliest known footage of the trip around Cape Horn – often climbing to the top of the masts or out on the bowsprit in incredible weather in order to get a good shot.
“There’s something about these vessels that cause some kind of hypnotism,” he says in his narrator. “You do things you’d never dream of doing in your ordinary mind.” As he says this, you watch as storms in the North Sea shows waves burying the rails in 3-4 feet of water. “This is not Cape Horn,” he adds, “off the Horn [the rails] go 25-30 feet under water.”
*Johnson filmed “Around Cape Horn” in 1929 aboard the Peking, which can still be seen rusting into her grave in New York Harbor.