All Aboard the Equity of the Seas
“The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths, it has its pearls too.” ― Vincent Van Gogh.
Alongside sits a very large light blue and white steel tub. It weighs roughly 312 million pounds (156,000 tons) and by some magic of physics, it floats. Underneath this colossal steel sculpture of welds and bolts are a couple of big cork screws which turn and give this ship the ability to move through the sea.
Imagine the fastest man alive. Usain Bolt, an Olympic gold medalist, when full out sprinting was able to reach a top speed of 28.7 miles per hour (roughly 25 knots). That is how fast the Freedom of the Seas can cut through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Like the rippled muscled thighs of Usain pumping up and down like a locomotive, the car-sized pistons of the six V-12 diesel engines of the Freedom stroke in smooth unison offering but the gentlest of vibrations. Today it is taking a breather and is rubber-banded to a dock in Cozumel, Mexico. While it rests, thousands of its guests, daredevils actually, are frolicking in the nearby beaches or getting rowdy at Senor Frogs. Tonight, sun-baked and a tad pickled, they’ll be offered escargot, lobster tail, and baked Alaska in the chandeliered dining room.
“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines…sail away from safe harbor…catch the trade winds…” Mark Twain
I call them ‘dare-devils because they have abandoned caution. These freedom seekers are not only risking the dangers of an open ocean with its storms and sharks and swells and shallow rocks, but also risk getting some variant of COVID-19 despite the promise of the vaccine. The CDC has recommended against ocean cruising, so too perhaps neighbors and family and other experts and official opinion dispensers.
The boat owner, heavy in debt, is dutifully following various mandates having guests wear masks where COVID-19 is most likely lurking- interior hallways, restaurant aisleways, stairways, and near elevators. Everywhere else is off-limits to the COVID virus and it appears to follow those rules. While eating and drinking, even when talking or singing or loudly spitting jokes in a bar, masks are not required. Fortunately for sun worshippers, the rule-makers eventually caught up with science and deemed the great outdoors safe from COVID. But some do have tan lines crisscrossing their face.
Next to the Freedom of the Seas, is a lesser boat where I have rented a small room on the ninth floor. Family members are splattered around the boat in similar quarters. My tub is smaller, rustier, older, and mostly painted all white. I’ve affectionately named it the Equity of the Seas. It too is a floating hotel with dining rooms, cafeterias, bars, show halls, a casino, movie theatres, swimming pools, hand cleaning stations, and water slides. For me, it will serve as sort of a petri dish of how peoples from nearly every country in the world serve mostly Americans with every skin color and sexual orientation. With so many people in a relatively small space (albeit, a very large boat) it will allow me to observe hundreds of human interactions.
I have to admit to a brief moment of envy when admiring our larger dock mate. A modern meme today is to say ‘size matters’ and in this case, the Freedom of the Seas is maybe 100 feet longer, a little taller, 36 million pounds heavier, a little less rusty, and has many more rooms. But a careful look across the dock to those painting, washing, and polishing the Freedom suggests the crew is similar to my ship; they’re from all over the world.
With the world aflame with various notions of equality, equity, racism, sexism, ageism, speciesism, and fragility triggering anti-anti-racism, I looked hard for any sign of it while aboard the Equity of the Seas. And indeed, I found some.
But first, I had to deal with my gnawing fear that the very idea of a boat, an object that floats and has a useful human purpose, was an invention of some privileged white patriarchal supremacist in some western country with a last name like Van Gogh.
I have to admit to becoming ultra-sensitive to the origins of things. Take meat for example. So many folks point at lightly pigmented skin in anger and say it was your ancestors who first killed and ate animals for sustenance. Carol Adams, an American citizen and author of ‘The Sexual Politics of Meat,’ was asked to speak to a gathering at Oxford. A vegan evangelist, she gave a most eloquent sermon as to how it was white western colonialists who first slaughtered animals for the purpose of eating parts of their carcass. Men do so to prove male masculinity because they fear becoming ‘soy boys’ she claimed. That bit of argument drew more than a few snickers.
Even being surrounded by family one is subject to ridicule. The ‘nuclear’ family has come under attack. Using ‘woke’ logic, they claim it a construct of white patriarchy and baked into all of our cultural systems. They complain of the iniquity of those who pursue non-traditional living arrangements. If so curious, you can enroll in this course and mend your racist non-inclusive ways. Paradoxically, Equity of the Seas has all sorts of transgressors from all over the world. The dining room is full of nuclear and non-nuclear families of all skin pigments and orientations noisily eating in peace and harmony. Not a lamb shank cooked in red wine sauce was thrown.
I breathed a sigh of relief to learn that it was likely bronze-skinned Egyptians who cobbled together a floating boat perhaps 8000 years ago or more. And in fact, years ago I saw with my own eyes the remnants of the oldest boat thought to have sailed the Mediterranean Sea in a museum in Tunisia. Well, that’s the claim. Others claim older findings. Old pieces of boats have been found off Korea, England, and China. It’s even possible the 10,000-year-old aboriginal clan known as the Klingits of the Pacific Northwest bobbed around harvesting starfish in carved-out canoes. Hard to prove when all that is left is clumps of decaying wood.
Back aboard the Equity of the Seas, my observed injustices revolve around ageism and sexism. I observed no example of racism or speciesism. When sitted in the dining room, our server from Mauritius (an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa), was most deferential to two of my grandchildren. There were served before we adults and showered with lush attention. The cynic in me thinks all this attention is to groom future business. Very smart actually.
The sexism inequity involved the order by which the sexes were served. The lobster tail and the volcano chocolate brownie, even the rather poor representation of a key lime pie, landed in front of the women before the men. Out of curiosity, I asked the women at our table if they too were offended by this clear display of sexism. “Are we not just practicing this silly and quaint notion that we feed the women and children first, and then gently lower them into lifeboats in the event of a boat leak? Is it fair and equitable that men drown with empty stomachs?” I protest. Without exception, they laughed not taking me the least bit serious. Is this tub like the Titanic? Is it unsinkable?
Looking for agreement, I turned to our Mauritian waiter and asked, “In your country, would the women and children take to the lifeboats before the men?”
“Ohhh yesssss!” he roars with a boyish grin the size of a whole roasted quail which I admit to imagining as his face is hidden beneath his mask. “We Mauritian men would have it no other way.” Appears chivalry is near-universal. But it may not have always been.
Of course, not all of history has been recorded including that of shipwrecks. But one particular boat disaster was different. In 1852, the HMS Birkenhead sank off the coast of South Africa. Onboard were 480 British troops and 26 women and children. The captain gave the order to ‘Stand Fast’ which meant for the women and children to be the first to board the lifeboats. Most of the troops drowned or were eaten by sharks. Every woman and child survived.
Just five years later, a ship enroute to New York began to sink. The magazine, ‘Godey’s Lady’s Book’ wrote “Captain Herndon’s first order, ‘Save the women and children!’ was the test of this Christian heroism… Every man on board that doomed ship knew the captain was acting rightly.”
While standing on the fourteenth deck late one night taking in the fresh air, I peered across the point where the sea merges with the celestial and imagined a tropical iceberg or a rogue wave or some calamity necessary for a romantic ship scene. Not far from me in the shadows, a young couple was acting out the bow scene from the movie Titanic. Leaning forward as if into a roaring violent sea wind, they hung to each other with limbs and hair intertwined laughing and daring the future.