Sunday, March 30, 2014

Expedition 2014 - Of Whiskey and Men

The search for the Bonhomme Richard, ongoing for 8 years now, has grown massively since its inception.  It has become much more than a quest for the remains of an important American war ship. It is an exercise in maximizing assets; it is a test of endurance for people, ships, and equipment; allows for cultural exchange; is used for training in an extreme environment; and is a highly regarded partnership between the U.S. and France.  I write about all of the above, and not just the results of the missions, because all of these things are what makes time spent at sea so valuable and unforgettable. 

Arriving in Edinburgh, Scotland two days before heading to sea on our first expedition of the year proved to be a very wise move for me. I have a hotel room and a large bathtub to luxuriate in before taking on the seas and tiny, moving showers.  It also provides invaluable time to get to know the Commandant and officers of the French Navy’s minehunting vessel Sagitairre, who are enjoying a weekend port call.  We meet for the first time for a tour of Edinburgh Castle. 

We are pleasantly surprised that the Bonhomme Richard and John Paul Jones are mentioned in an audio recording in the prisoners’ barracks, but with Jones being a Scotsman it does make sense that he would find some honor there. These hours together are important because they make us a little more comfortable in that we are no longer unknown to one another, and hopefully some preliminary bonding can occur.  It also gives me a head start on remembering and correctly pronouncing the names of the people whose capable hands my mission is now in. There is a U.S. Navy Exchange Officer with us who is on a two-year tour with the French Navy, and is my project liaison in France.  He is an important part of the mission and as he speaks French and English, eases my transition into French Navy culture, and brings me into the conversations.

Our group of seven men and one woman opt for dinner and drinks at a local pub, and chat as best we can.  Although I am politely invited to tomorrow's pilgrimage to the whiskey distillery at 8:00 a.m. (eek!), I opt to sleep in and spend the day shopping and touring by myself, enjoying some precious alone time before boarding the ship the following morning.  And sometimes men just need to do their man things without a woman tagging along. Speaking of whiskey, this is a common sight in many of the shops.