Day 9 |
Apr 02, 2011

At sea

By Olga Stavrakis, Anthropologist

Co-ordinates: n6°S, 8°E (by 6 PM)

Weather: slightly overcast, hot and humid

The day started out promising to be like any other sea day near the equator – hot, humid, quiet, and full of lectures. However, that is not how it turned out. Far from quiet, our sea day ended up with the raucous fun of a first-ever guest-involved Zodiac Paddling Regatta.

In the morning, I gave my lecture on slavery and its effects upon the social organization of various African societies. No excitement there, although it does give a framework for thinking about the political evolution of the governments, such as Luanda.

This was followed by a fascinating talk by our Marine Biologist, Robin Aiello, on fish shapes and behavior in the tropics. Just as she was about to finish with a the final punch line of a story about a barracuda about to spring out at her during a dive, Robin’s voice came through over the intercom, apologizing for the interruption and announcing a pod of what he at first called pilot whales just off the bow of the ship.

Of course, we all rushed out, including Robin, who was more eager to see the animals than finish the story and there they were! All over the sea! Except that Robin revised his species description to Risso’s Dolphins after we got closer.

There were perhaps fifty and they sliced through the water delicately exposing one large dorsal fin and a bit of grey. What a show! A few did some spectacular breaches and quite dramatic tail flapping. The Captain turned the ship to stay close to the pod and their performance continued for about an hour. I had the feeling they were as curious about us as we were about them.

After lunch we had the Zodiac Paddling Regatta. I have never paddled a Zodiac before and it seemed to me like trying to paddle and elephant in the water, which turned out to be close to the truth.

Eight teams of six paddlers were formed and, I must say, a few took this whole competition very very seriously. One team trained by not drinking wine and another planned careful strategy at dinner beginning the night before.

I was asked to join the Les Girls team and our lack of strategic planning probably contributed to our being eliminated in the first round. However, we did not lack in enthusiasm and congratulated ourselves on a most vigorous effort against the rowdy Australians.

The procedure was to align the teams in two boats at the starting line, which aligned with the side gate. Then, straddling the pontoon, we had to paddle in unison (mostly) toward the bow and reach the floating lifesaver ring first. Robin West, our Expedition Leader, and Jarda Versloot, Assistant Expedition Leader, steered the competing boats, shouting out “pull!” in a regular rhythm with crowds of well-wishers shouting encouragement from the upper decks.

Onboard, Nadia Eckhardt, our tour agent, organized the teams for boat duty with the practiced precision of a camp counselor, clipboard in hand. Amid the shouting, singing and generally raucous fun, Nadia had to gather the teams by the side gate and get all the paddlers into the correct Zodiac at the right time.

Two teams competed against each other and then the winners of those had run off races, until the winning team, The Agony and the Extasy (sic!), won the final race. Triple Sec, ended up in second place but there were two other prizes awarded. Our rather loud and flamboyant competitors, the Yellow Shirts got the prize for “Most Creative” and Cairns Crocks were awarded the honor of The Oldest Team with a combined age of 432 years!

In the evening we gathered on the deck where Robin awarded prizes of champagne and certificates of achievement and we were treated to a slightly cloudy but warm tropical sunset.