Belowdecks with a Babe

Date:June 13, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:15 1.00 S, 158 51.00 E


Despite coping with the imminent breakthrough of his upper canine, Taz was in high spirits today. Lively sea conditions kept us cooped up down below, nesting together in our berth. While I provided Taz with motherly comfort and company, he supplied daylong entertainment and had me in stitches. Meanwhile, Pete dodged many a soaking wave from our companionway perch.

At sea, Taz is generally confined to the main salon where he is safest. We are so pleased with our primary baby modification to the boat-a new and improved lee cloth built high (to keep Taz from throwing himself over the top edge) and long, extending from bulkhead to bulkhead (so that he cannot slither out of the sides). The space doubles as a sea berth and playpen and has the necessary effect of keeping child and/or crew well contained at sea.

Pete has joked that we might very well be arrested for keeping our child in a cage all day long! While it gets a bit claustrophobic for me at times when we are inside (along with a gaggle of books, blankets, toys and stuffed animals strewn about), for Taz there is ample room to run around if he can manage, plenty of air flow and no barriers to communicate his wishes. He is clearly happy in his berth. I may sound like a zookeeper making a case for humane cage conditions-but as a zookeeper who spends as much time inside the cage as our waddling little penguin, I have a vested interest in making sure the space is suitable. The main differences in accommodation from his fellow zoo inhabitants should be made clear-Taz has not been removed from his native habitat, he is caged purely in the name of safety, and the majority of his life is spent elsewhere, as time spent sailing is minimal compared to time spent at anchor.

From his perch this morning, Taz was pleased to spot our sweet “birdie” companion in the cockpit. Blasted off and on by the blinding early morning sun as the boat rocked to and fro, however, he was often thwarted in his efforts at hailing the bird.

Ever since Taz settled into life aboard Privateer, he has claimed a certain spot as his very own, quite naturally suited as it is to his little body and curious inclinations as well as his desire to be in close proximity to mom at all times. His “perch”, as we’ve come to call it, is along the curvy keyhole cutout on the portside bulkhead (a boat’s wall) that serves as an aesthetically pleasing demarcation separating the aft space from the main salon and which also acts as a structural piece. Taz has claimed his territory by way of tiny tooth marks dug into the varnish and a perpetual veneer of baby saliva slime smeared across the wood. From his rightful spot he can pluck at bits of allocated food on the countertop, stuff raw and prohibited morsels of food stealthily into his mouth, open wide to be spoon fed, watch all manners of food prep in the galley, stretch himself impossibly far in hopes of snatching a knife, and pitch my painstakingly washed and chopped produce onto the floor with devilish laughter. The dregs of many meals and the dribbles from his chin rot away in the slot below the perch devoted to the ship’s calculator, protractor and parallel rulers. Taz is wild for citrus fruit and the juices from pamplemousse, grapefruit, and mandarin run down the bulkhead, in the gutters between the tongue and grove. Rotating in either direction, our astute observer is able to survey nearly everything on the boat. While an advantageous, convenient and safe location for Taz, his positioning at the perch is often slightly irritating for me. Such is life in a space of 36 feet!

After making quick work of his adult sized portion of oatmeal, I left Taz in his portable baby chair, firmly seated on the floor of the salon, and handed him his beeswax crayons for the first time since he’s blossomed into a full-blown walking and talking toddler. I felt jaunty that I’d thought of a good strategy to bide myself a little time to grind coffee and maybe eat some breakfast. Gingerly fingering his novelty items, Taz quickly became infatuated with the chubby little blocks nearly as much as the small tin they came in. In and out of the tin the crayons went, and he discovered that they had multiple uses as he formed a solid Jenga pile. I drew the moon, stars and fruits that he enthusiastically identified. Than I wrote his name and drew a kangaroo in lieu of our upcoming landfall in Australia. Taz was excited about the “T for Taz!” as he is starting to identify letters. He then proceeded to smudge his body and mark up his chair, which bought me a little more free time, so I was quite happy.

Baby occupied and conditions seeming pleasant enough to permit me to grind coffee beans with little hassle, I set to the task knowing full well that Taz considers himself an integral part of the morning coffee hand-grinding process. Once upon a time, Taz was simply content to fondle one greasy morsel of a bean between his fingers like it was the greatest of treasures. As he grew, we granted him a small pile of beans and he began to insistently add them to the hopper one at a time. Soon he was demanding to take charge of the handle. While this was once charming, the process has become increasingly longer as the handle makes fewer and fewer rotations as Taz dips his fingers into the hopper, interrupting the flow to extract another bean or two. Our patience wanes a bit as we crave the morning cuppa (as they say in New Zealand).

The first day out to sea continually proves to be a bit rough for Taz. Fortunately, he is able to overcome his ill and equalize his inner ear in rather short order. Today he proved that he is one with the sea, so completely aware of the gravitational forces affecting his movements. This boy knows how to lean with the sea, how to instinctually maintain balance while heeling over. In a situation of extreme heel, this means that one knee is bent into the high side of the boat while the other leg is extended straight toward the low side, legs parallel with one another. This strategic movement seems altogether specific to the sport of sailing.

While making a rolly-polly downwind run, the wind splitting the stern and causing the boat the rock from side to side, Taz was giddy as he worked with and against gravity. The adults aboard felt a bit annoyed at the motion but agreed that it granted us freedom of movement as compared to our previous upwind passage that left us plastered to the port side of the boat. Jungle gym antics commenced in Taz’s berth and he managed one or two gleeful steps forward before collapsing with a dramatic “Ah boom!” He performed a sort of calculated catapulting, knowing well that he was doomed to cover any significant ground before spilling again into a puddle of laughter and across the berth cushion. The lurching looked awkward but was all part of the game. Taz was indefatigable, tumbling and jumping up and down in his berth and previous concerns about lack of activity aboard were all but erased. Taz will not atrophy at sea; quite the contrary, the constant motion is forcibly building muscle.

It’s funny how he adjusts so easily and readily to this new environment without the promise or reward of standing on solid ground ever again; meanwhile I struggle to perform basic functions. For the first few days out to sea he would say “dinghy” and point towards the cockpit but I think he’s abandoned hope by now that we will disembark for a dinghy ride in the middle of the ocean.

Awake from his nap, Taz springs immediately upwards like a jack-in-the-box (sometimes actually giving me a scare) as if to implore “What did I miss, guys?” His tiny fingers curl over the wooden rail before his head pops up, back into its usual notch. Still rubbing away sleepiness, he struggles to appear as eager as possible and begins to instantly point at things and name them in his gravelly munchkin voice. While he once experienced a slow and gentle post nap awakening, cooing sweetly and twiddling his toes in his bunk, those days seem behind us. The motion of the sea sends Taz into motion.

He has me in a constant state of awe, delight and amusement as his vocabulary explodes and he mimics nearly every word that I utter. He likes to say “shovel, bucket, turtle, pocket, penguin, beetle, purple” and look to me for excited affirmation. Laying in bed tonight, Taz cycled through all of his token phrases that make both of us laugh-“boom boom”, “up sie” (whoopsie daisy), “oh nooooo”, and “honey” (apparently my most frequently used term of endearment for him). At night, his body is wedged comfortably in his bunk, the curve of his spine molded into the forgiving lee cloth material. In rough conditions that make it difficult to sleep, his body fits snugly alongside mine as we spoon.

In many ways, the routines that fill our day vary little from that of most 18-month-olds-there are books, music, meals, exercise, naps, nappy changes and sleep. The way in which we manage to accomplish these activities often differs a bit-Taz might eat standing up, in his bed or on the floor. Considered apart from these everyday details, however, he is a serious minority among babies. The soundtrack to his dynamic existence is the whistling of the wind and the lapping of the waves. The backdrop is the endless blue ocean, the near constancy of the sun, the faces of the moon, a million twinkling stars and marine life that surprises us along the way. In his sub-marine bedroom, the water makes a dramatic “whoosh” as it rushes past the hull while we surf down the waves, a thick piece of fiberglass all that separates him from our surrounding ocean habitat. If any kid has a name appropriate to the life it is Atlas, titan of endurance, navigation, and the celestial bodies.

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