I was hanging over the rail loosing my lunch (or in this case breakfast) and looked up to see Captain Dan’s smile from the flybridge. It wasn’t a smile to rub salt in the wound; it was a friendly, knowing smile as if to say we’ve all been there kid, now get back to work. I worked on boats a lot, but I never did get over the seasickness. Vomit just became part of the daily routine when we were working offshore, and after the morning donuts came up I’d feel pretty good for awhile. Donuts…decades later I still have the association, diesel fumes…same thing. The mind latches onto these things and doesn’t let go. Nausea is a good teacher.
We were working about 20 miles off North Carolina at a place called 23-mile ledge. Captain Dan would get us to the same darn spot every time; it seemed like the middle of the ocean. Satellite GPS did exist in those days, but Captain Dan thought it to be unreliable. Instead he relied a World War 2 era technology called LORAN which detected time delays in radio signals broadcast from land and used them to calculate position. It was an art and a science and Captain Dan had mastered both. Even in the worst conditions, we’d jump off the boat, drop down a hundred feet, and be within 10 meters of the spot. Twenty miles offshore, the exact same spot, every time. Not a single miss.
There were a hand-full of days over the course of the two years we worked out there that were really nice. Days with flat seas, no wind, little current, 100-foot visibility; days when a normal person might decide it was a good day for a dive. Most days were not like that, and if we’d waited for those days nothing would’ve ever got done. Most days the wind would blow about 15 knots producing a two or three-foot swell with wind-chop over the top. The gulf stream produced a current that could be 2-3 knots.
We’d dive four at-a-time. Once we started diving Captain Dan would turn off his radio and the kitschy 50s music would stop. He’d get real quiet, watching bubbles, keeping track of the time. Few words, just calm quiet confidence, experience and skill. Folks like him, folks that quietly get the job done well, and don’t talk about it seem hard to find these days. Maybe I’m just not looking in the right places. So often, it seems to me, words serve as a cheap substitute for the real thing.
Twenty miles offshore, 100 feet of water, 15 knot wind, choppy seas, current ripping and Captain Dan would calmly sit on the flybridge, maintain the position of the boat, and keep track of 4 sets of bubbles.
That’s a lot of moving parts.
I don’t know what happened to Captain Dan. Life’s currents took us in different directions, but I still think about him and his quiet perfection.
If Captain Dan is still roaming this Earth, I hope he is doing well.