I began my first day aboard Atlantis the same way I finished my last day aboard Atlantis seven years ago - hung over. The crew of the Atlantis, most of whom I hadn't seen since 1999, saw to that. I reunited with them in the dank, smoke-choked Portway tavern shortly after my arrival in Astoria.
I drank a micro-brew with Patrick, Atlantis' bosun mate. He and his longtime girlfriend had finally married. They'd bought a house in Cape Cod. My friend Paul, the third engineer, had vacationed in the Philippines. A scuba diver, he'd gone there to complete a course in rescue diving. Besides earning the certification, he'd found a girlfriend. Her bronzed skin and lithe body beguiled him, and he had decided to buy a house for them on a verdant, white-beached island north of Manila.
I sipped a $15 shot of Glenmorangie Scotch whiskey while I chatted with Atlantis' captain, A.D. Beneath a collection of orange life rings decorating a ceiling support beam, we reminisced about the Knorr, Atlantis sister ship. We'd sailed together on her three years ago on an expedition to the North Atlantic. Our bow thruster burnt up in Glasgow, Scotland. They cut gaping holes through two decks above the thruster and craned the motor up and out and onto the bed of a tractor trailor. During the two weeks it took to repair it, the Knorr's crew developed a fondness for scotch whiskey and for the Park Grove House, a downtown brothel masquerading as a aroma therapy clinic.
The bartender placed a rum and coke before me. Who had bought it I didn't know. I overheard Greg, ex-Alvinite and my long-time friend, trying to explain his new job to Kazumi, Atlantis' Japanese electronics technician. His hand flew through the air, mimicking the helicopter that flies him into Mt. St. Helens. Kazumi nodded her head vigorously. If she didn't understand that he maintained seismic equipment for the United States Geological Service, she didn't let on. She appeared wide-eyed, a smile frozen on her face.
Greg lives on a boat just outside Portland. He picked me up at the airport, and we drove from Portland to Astoria in his Jeep. As we headed west along route 26, Portland's urban sprawl gave way to forests of spruce and pine. The air cooled and thick clouds obscured the sun. Greg's Jeep lacked doors and a roof, and as we sped along the winding highway goose bumps rose on my forearms. As we neared Astoria, isolated homes gave way to rural communities. Restaurants and businesses sprouted. Meadows disappeared, replaced by strip malls and fast food outlets. The road widened. Traffic increased. Ascending over a rise, the wide brown waters of the Columbia River appeared before us. And then we saw her. Atlantis' pistachio-green superstructure loomed in the distance. Even in the muffled daylight, it glowed with a noxious incongruousness.
A stranger bellied up alongside me at the bar. Short, stocky frame. Unkempt goatee. Crooked, Nickelsonian grin. Recognition yawned in my brain. I knew this guy. Andy, Knorr's oiler, now aboard Atlantis. I hadn't seen him since Bergen, Norway. We squeezed each other's hand, the measure of our grip the sum of our mutual delight. He hadn't changed in three years. Like then, pints of ale had blushed his cheeks, and the combed cornrows of his blond hair hung limply over his head. We caught up over a pint.
Paul bought another round of rum and cokes. I began to sway on my feet. Simple words were becoming hard to pronounce. I sounded like a man in the early stages of hypothermia. My eyes kept wanting to cross. Jet lag pulled at my eyelids. My ears rang from loud conversation and cackling laughter. Time to go. Paul and I walked along a winding road past port buildings and canneries shrouded in mist illuminated in a pink halogen glow. I crawled into my bunk's womb-like darkness and evaporated.