I Saw the World on Cruise Ships
High school didn't serve up much adventure, so Devin Murphy signed up to do grunt work on expedition ships that sailed to Alaska, Iceland, Antarctica, and other far-flung places. Turned out to be a pretty great idea.
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The ship’s naturalist, in 47B, has filled his cabin with seabirds again. Too many to count. He spent the hours before sunrise stalking the decks, looking for fatigued jaegers and shearwaters that see our lights as an island of rest. This happened in Greenland. No. The South Pacific. No. Off the coast of a black-sand beach in Siberia. One of those. Wherever it is, the room is full of pelagic noise. Gannets. Puffins. One time a great frigate bird perched on a curtain rod and ballooned its ruby red throat up to the size of an elephant’s goiter. It’s hard to keep all these experiences straight. There was so much. That was the point.
People paid a fortune to travel aboard small expedition-style cruises ships that promised experiences of a lifetime, every day. Part of that was being invited into small cabins with world-renowned wildlife experts. The birds stayed in the cabin for a day or two, long enough for the passengers to see them up close. The passengers stayed on board for up to a month, depending on the itinerary. When they disembarked, the ship moved on to the next locale, and new travelers arrived, or new specialty charter companies took over, serving everyone from birders to nudists. They listened to lectures by eminent professors, immersed themselves in exotic cultures, and traversed what Melville called “the watery part of the world.”
One day while I was helping passengers disembark at the end of a Central American cruise, a woman grabbed my forearm.
“Do you keep going with the ship?”
“You have no idea,” I said.