Everyday activities that we take for granted take on a different dimension when attempted on a tall ship. The mundane becomes a major task, needing care, thought, consideration, and a very great deal of luck and good fortune to be able to leave the cabin and carry out whatever activities are called for on a normal working day.
Before going any further it might be useful to set the scene. When a tall ship is in motion, except on the flattest of seas and in the most favourable of circumstances, it will be listing to either port (left) or starboard (right). Under sail that tends to be more gentle and easier to deal with than when under power. Then the movement of the vessel becomes much more erratic and more difficult to predict.
Another matter it is difficult to image, until you experience it for any length of time, is how heavy the most common, every day pieces of furniture, becomes. A door that swings effortlessly on an even keel seems to weigh a ton when at an angle of 20 degrees or more. Drawers that open and close with no problem can either shoot out of their runners on their own accord or need the strength of Superman to open.
OK. So we will take a ‘typical’ day and try to do what is automatic at the start of the day in a land based environment and see what happens at sea, on a bucking bronco of a tall ship.
The human body, even after millions of years of evolution, does not fully use all that is taken in in the way of food and drink. Waste products are created and have to be expelled on a regular basis if the body is to function at any reasonable level of efficiency. Most people will go through this process first thing in the morning without any thought whatsoever. Not on a tall ship.
Assuming you have evacuated your bunk and arrived at the bathroom door without being bounced against every surface on the way (everything seems much harder on a ship) your first problem is the door to the bathroom. (In this scenario I am using the luxury cabin situation, i.e., one with an en suite bathroom.)
Depending on its positioning it will either weigh a ton and need all your strength to open or will close so quickly you are in danger of crushing either fingers and/or ankles/legs. But for the sake of brevity we will assume that entrance has been gained without major mishap.
Men might piss standing up, gentlemen do so sitting down. Homo sapiens is the only mammal that doesn’t mark its territory with its scent, but that’s exactly what you would do if you attempted a pee standing up. At the same time, if you were able to stand long enough without crashing painfully into the metal wall, you would be able to see graphically the effects of gravity as the normally straight stream of liquid gets distorted depending upon the relevant listing of the ship.
The use of toilet paper also has to be thought about. Standing up in the normal manner is not recommended, you don’t know how well fixed to the wall the tiny basin might be, as that’s all you really have for support. To add to the difficulties related to the ship’s movement the toilet system itself is quite delicate and excessive solids can have the impact of breaking the vacuum and then disabling the whole toilet system on the boat. Not a way to make friends and influence people.
Next to a shave. (This section could be relevant to both genders.)
Standing in front of a mirror to lather up is not really feasible. (In fact, the more experience I have on this ship the more I realise that sitting is preferable to standing in most circumstances.) The use of two hands to carry out an action is just not possible. All the techniques you might have learnt about keeping your legs wide apart and flexing the knees in response to the movement of the vessel will only be effective for a few seconds. Having already broken an ankle as I was getting undressed for bed I don’t want to add to that the breaking of a leg that had been trapped between a toilet bowl and my own momentum, a thought that has crossed my mind not a few times.
However, sitting down on the edge of the bath tub means looking at the mirror at an angle of 90º, which is not easy. A fish would have less problems but evolution having put both our eyes at the front of our face we have to make the best of a bad deal. As to the sitting I’ve found that naked skin is definitely de rigour, as this provides friction which would be lacking if clothed. This is easier in the first class, en suite cabins as streaking along the corridor of the cabin deck would probably be frowned upon.
As to the actual shaving that becomes an acquired skill, either that or you only do so in the calmest of conditions or wait until the ship is tied up in port. After attempting to shave you realise why sailors in the past were predominantly bearded – before the invention of the safety razor the cut throat would have lived up to its name.
Now to the shower. Easy, no? No!
The small bath tub is designed for sit down use and unless tied to a dock that’s the best policy. Again, on land too many assumptions are made, things are done without any thought as they have been carried out so many times before. Those assumptions are positively dangerous on board a tall ship.
Handrails exist but too much dependence upon then whilst standing could lead to the most dire of consequences. Yes, it seems strange sitting whilst having a shower, especially when the water is on a push button timer, but it does make sense. Think of it. Whilst showering there are times when you are effectively blind, either by soap or shampoo. In an environment that is moving it’s very easy to lose your orientation and the next thing you know you are clutching at thin air rather than the handrail you thought was there.
But your problems aren’t over yet. Now you have to get dry. By now you are used to doing things much slower and in a more considered manner so getting rid of most of the water shouldn’t be that difficult. But what happens when you want to get out of the bath tub? You know that non-slip flooring that is common in showers nowadays? Effective, isn’t. Yes, but also no. Not when it gets wet and then you tip it up on its end. I would challenge any manufacturer of such surfaces to prove that they had tested their products under such circumstances.
So, a final warning. DON’T let the floor get wet. Bare feet and a slippery surface don’t mix and when the ship is really moving about that broken leg is just waiting to happen.
I hope from the above that there is now no need to describe the difficulties associated with dressing, they are much the same as already written about.
So a process that is carried out without any thought in the comfort of your own home takes more than twice as long on a tossing tall ship on the high seas with the added threat of imminent personal injury at virtually every stage.