Doug stands at the wheel sobbing his heart out. It's the second day and I'm feeling groggy. I always feel groggy on the second day of all night watches. I stand by the companionway ladder and watch Doug cry. None of this half-hearted, restrained male macho stuff for Doug.
Big tears, shoulders shaking, mouth open, gasping for breath, moaning away and, naturally, not watching the compass. Christ only knows where we are headed. It was, I realize, the change in Moira's roll which woke me up. Nary a breath of air so we've got to steer and Doug is on watch.
I climb the ladder into the cockpit. Doug tries to stop bawling and this, apparently, is a mistake because he crumples onto the seat and dissolves in big hopeless sobs.
"Hey, come on Doug, easy there, easy buddy, what's wrong?" I take the wheel, check the compass - we were headed northeast - and swing us back to our southeasterly heading. He sniffs and wipes his eyes and then his nose and coughs a bit. "It's OK, Doug. Hey, it's fine. Look at that dawn sky, really beautiful, huh? What's going on, old buddy?"
"I..uh....Oh GOD...." He wails. "I miss Palau. I miss my girl."
"Hey, I can dig that. Sure. Hell, I miss Palau, too. It's one hell of a special place. And your girl. Sure. She's real nice, Doug. Real nice. Come on, relax huh? Cool it."
"Yeah. Yeah, you're right, Rick. Yeah." He pulls it together and looks back at the horizon behind us. "She's really wonderful. I really miss her."
"Sure you do, Doug. But hell man, she'll be there when you get back. Right? Lighten up, OK?" He looks around like he's just waking up, shakes his head to clear it.
"Uh. Yeah. Listen, Rick, guess what?" he looks at me and then quickly looks away. Back aft towards Palau. "I forgot my medicine."
"What medicine, Doug?"
"Well. See, I've got a this problem. Sometimes, I mean. I have a problem sometimes. But with my medicine it's OK. Only I forgot it in my girl's room. It's on the dresser. Back in Palau."
"What medicine, Doug?"
"It's for manic-depressives." He mumbles.
"Manic-depressives." I repeat.
"I'll be OK," he nods his head and gives me a wry smile to assure me he's going to be OK.
"Let's talk about Palau. Those Nautilus were really fantastic. Your new book on them is bound to be a best seller." His face is still blank, so I go on talking and steering and watching the sun rise over the edge of the sea. "Where did you get the design for those traps?" I point aft at the big Nautilus trap sitting on Moira's afterdeck.
"Oh, that. Uh. I copied the design from a book about, uh.. Nautilus fishing in the Milne Bay district of Papua New Guinea. A really old book. Pre-history fishing." This seems to make him feel better so we talk about his secret dive spots in Palau.
"Hey those were a wonderful two weeks, Doug. I really appreciate your showing us all those neat dive spots." And I mean it. "I loved the secret lake, hidden in the center of that island. Man, that was neat swimming in through that narrow tunnel through the lush jungle. And all the corals in there.... Outta sight, man. Undisturbed by wind or waves, they were so delicate and intricate only your photographs can do them justice. Green, yellow, orange, even fluorescent red corals festooning the walls of the secret lake. Fantastic." I smile at Doug who looks reasonably calm again.
"Lots of those are new species," Doug bubbles, happily, clearly entering the manic side of the manic-depressive cycle. I prefer the manic side if it means he's smiling instead of sobbing. "I took samples with each photograph and sent them to Dr. Bayer. They are in the U.S. National Museum."
"Yeah. Your book will be terrific, Doug. And the day we went out to the reef and picked up the Nautilus trap. That was one dive I'll never forget, my friend. I never did that before. Nothing like it. We fished your trap in 600 feet of water, down the vertical face of that cliff. Remember? You picked up the float and backed the boat offshore until we could feel the trap rising from the deep. Then we hauled it up and found those seven beautiful, huge Nautilus in it. What a blast. When we moved into shallow water and put on our gear and dove in, the water was so clear and the cliff so neat. You don't get many places like that in the world, huh?" Doug is in memory land now so I just go on talking, washing his mind out with words. "You opened the Nautilus cage, reached in and took one out. It was the first time I ever saw a Nautilus alive, face to face. What an incredible creature! The delicate tentacles smoothed together into that yellow brown cone in front of the perfect spiral shell. The eyes with that narrow black slit like a cat's. Remember, Doug? It jetted away from us, each jet pulse sending it one squirt further into the deep Pacific blue. I swam along with it taking photographs."
"And later we ate it." Doug adds, smiling thoughtfully.
"Yeah, man, we ate it. It was delicious. Sure. The shell is down below, right there on Moira's aft shelf. It's a prized possession, my friend, a real treasure." I grin and steer across the calm equatorial Pacific.
"Hey, that trip we took with Moira to Palau's famous Thousand Islands. Remember that? Wow, diving between the oddly sculpted tiny islands through underwater gullies filled with a thousand species of corals. Freddy posing for the camera on a little white sand beach with the big broad dark green jungle leaves all around her. Beautiful, beautiful Palau." I ramble on.
"Hey, Rick, guess what?" Doug leans toward me. "How about you writing the text for my coral book? OK?"
"Sure, Doug. I'd be honored to do that," I reply, thinking I should be asleep now. Doug is reasonably lucid again. Maybe I could get him to steer. Maybe in a few minutes.
I watch the polarized image of the sun edge slowly, slowly up from the horizon. Sextant steady, sea calm, easy does it.... We are motoring along smoothly. This will be a perfect noon shot. Noon shots are important because just as the sun transits I get the exact latitude and longitude. Like a signpost at sea. I love noon shots. Love knowing exactly where we are.
I keep the sextant aimed at the sun as it transits. To get the highest position I watch the sun's image lift above the horizon and tweak the little micrometer adjustment again to move the image back down. When the sun no longer rises and begins to set, Bingo, that's the highest position from which I get the exact latitude.
I am poised, waiting, watching, tweaking the micrometer, ready to say `MARK'. The sun is doing its transit. I swing the sextant aft as the sun transits overhead. It's moving and I keep tracking and it keeps moving and I keep tracking and it dawns on me that the sun is moving one hell of a long way. I can't look away from the sextant but I know we were going off course.
"Hey," I shout, trying to sound friendly so as not to upset Doug who is at the wheel. "Watch the heading, Doug, careful." The sun is almost on the stern now and I can't see it because of the sail. I curse and glance at the wheel and guess what? Nobody is steering the boat. I move into the cockpit, the sight ruined, and look below. Freddy is busy in the galley fixing lunch. Doug, stretched out on the settee, is reading a goddamned book.
In the strained voice one reserves for speaking to someone you don't really want to aggravate but would really like to strangle I say, "Oh Doug? I thought you had the wheel?"
"My watch is over at noon," He gripes in a pouty little voice.
I absorb this, steering the Moira with one foot. "Yes. Well, the thing is, I was right in the middle of the noon shot. To find out where we might be. And Freddy is fixing us all lunch. And if it isn't too much to ask, perhaps you could steer for just a few more minutes?"
"You two are always picking on me!" Doug screams and begins to sob. Freddy stops putting tuna fish salad on a slice of bread and looks over at him.
"Hey, Hey, Doug. Hey, it's OK, I'm sorry." I turn on my best consolation voice. "We wouldn't pick on you. Hey, come on man, we're your friends." His face is all screwed up and ugly and he is so tense the muscles in his arms bulge and ripple. He jumps up and stands on the salon deck, feet spread, his big fists balled up and all I can think is, "Oh shit."
Freddy sighs, calmly puts down the knife, and walks up to him, coming between the two of us. Her nose is about the level of his chest. She weighs some 90 pounds. My mind is frantically working on my next move when Freddy spits out, "If you are going to act like an 8 year old, we're going to treat you like one. Get your ass up there and steer. Right now. Come on. Move it." She grabs him by his ear, twists it hard and propels him up the ladder, all the time looking angry but in complete control. A peeved woman with her unruly kid.
Doug, saying "Ow..ow...ow...ow," races up the ladder and gets behind the wheel and steers, his eyes filled with tears.
"If you don't behave you don't get any lunch. You got it?" Freddy shouts after him and goes back to the galley. Doug just nods, his face calming, his ear red.
Over lunch, during one of his more coherent modes, he tells us about his six month stay in Bellevue Hospital in New York. He was on a jet plane, going from London to New York, seated between an old lady and a fat businessman. According to witnesses (Doug remembers nothing of this himself), "I began screaming, I sat bolt upright in the seat, threw my arms out straight to either side and passed out in that position - catatonic."
Doug eats for awhile, the massive muscles of his jaw working on the sandwich, his eyes roving the overhead. "Rigid. Like this." He abruptly shouts and throws his arms out to either side; Jesus on the cross. "Then I started to bleed from little cuts which opened on my forehead (right here) and from holes which appeared on the palms and backs of my hands and feet (here and here)."
"Guess what," He goes on after eating for awhile. "They have a name for that `The Stigmata Syndrome'. Nobody knows how the body manages to make the skin open up and bleed like that. Right where Jesus was supposed to have bled."
The flight attendants and a co-pilot stuffed Doug into a straight jacket. When they landed in New York, there was an ambulance waiting and the little boys in white took Doug to Bellevue Hospital for awhile; a long while.
Nice lunch story as we are about to cross the Equator and 1100 miles of ocean with this 210 pound, 6'2" 8 year old wacko.
Freddy mean-mothers Doug all day, all night. She insists it is the only thing to do with someone who thinks they are 8 years old. Doug, from time to time, actually reverts to a little boy voice around Freddy. Sometimes he pretends I didn't exist and sometimes I am his childhood buddy and he cries on my shoulder about being mistreated by Freddy. I am a bit worried about all this, since he is big and we do sleep while he is on watch. But Freddy says she will keep him in line.