Day 343: Drowning Dorsey II the Drone
We had good times together Dorsey II. We had good times. Photos: Isaac Stone Simonelli
Daily Updates are not edited and function more as daily journal entries – so if the plot seems to be all over the place or missing entirely and the tenses changes faster than a kaleidoscope, well, that's just the way it is.
DORSEY II my drone is falling behind. Slowly, steadily the current and Musafir's full sails are increasing the distance between my work partner and me.
I'm only on the boat because I promised to deliver a promotional drone video for them. After this, I have an unpaid shoot at Distant Relatives and a paid gig lined up back in Nairobi. More importantly, I have the chance to bolt together countless videos for Top Journey at 160 dollars a piece.
All those opportunities, all that money, is being left behind.
The joysticks on the remote are jammed forward trying to get her to fly faster, but there's nothing I can do.
“Please, slow the boat, the drone is getting left behind,” I call out again, rushing from the top deck to where I can spot the captain.
Their reaction speed is too slow, even once we manage to turn and the sail begins to flutter, Dorsey II is only a spec among the clouds.
Romain throws a kayak attached to the ship wit ha long rope into the water. He paddles toward where we think Dorsey II might still be hovering.
I was landing Dorsey II on the deck with plenty of battery power a few minutes ago, but the numbers are dropping devastatingly fast.
We call out to a fishing boat, tall poles jutting behind it as they troll the waters, but they can't hear what we're saying. It turns out our radio is broken, which means we can't reach them.
A bit concerned, but confident in the speed of the Phantom 4, I'd put Dorsey II up in order to catch the unfurling of the traditional dhow's massive sail. Dozens of meters of-white sail being pulled taught by the crew, as the line of them tug on a thick, braided rope.
The emergency plan was to fly the drone back to land if there was a problem bringing down on the moving boat. However, by the time the sail was up and I was done shooting, a thick sliver of land was visible below the clouds, but too far away Dorsey II to make it – at least I think it was.
I panicked, perhaps I had tunnel vision. It seemed in that moment that flying back to the boat was the only solution.
The drone wanted to return home. However, the home point was some patch of water which would do it no good.
Everyone is looking at the clouds. Those who can still see her keep using voluminous marshmallows as landmarks. Of course, the giant fluffy cumulus clouds offer little help in establishing a point in the sky.
“Use landmarks on the shoreline,” someone calls out.
I can't see her anymore. The current is continuing to drive us away.
We're too far from her and the battery level has dipped to critically low.
We were so close to landing her. I had a catcher ready to go. She was only about two meters above his head, as I eased her past the sail and another mast toward us. Then, the Musafir took off, the drone fell behind.
We nearly managed to safely bring her home.
“Device disconnected,” appears against a red background on my phone.
Everyone is still scrambling in hopes that something can be done.
Calmly, I walk back toward my drone bag near the bow and start packing up.
“So, will you get your drone back?” Nelly, a Kenyan friend, wants to know.
“No, it's gone.”
“It can't catch up?”
She asks a few more questions that are irrelevant to the situation.
I sit back with my head against a bag on the deck and look at the sky.
There goes Dorsey II.
I have to let her go. Without a doubt, she's had a water landing and sunk to the bottom of Indian Ocean.
A few people offer their condolences, though my calmness and easiness seem to put a little bravado in their comments, as if losing 1,200 dollar piece of work equipment isn't such a big deal.
It is, of course, a huge deal – but what can I do?
“Still jealous?” I ask Prudence with a smile, taking up a position next to her and another woman on a coiled up rope.
Prudence's fancy voice recorder wasn't working this morning. The files weren't saving and even the last one she recorded sounded like rubbish. She's been in print and digital media for the last nine years, after taking a job with Reuters straight out of university. She worked through the ranks at the New York office and then got a post abroad in Kenya, where she butted heads with her editor and turned to freelance.
“I'm just starting,” she explained to me this morning. “This will be my second one. Luckily VOA [Voice of America] doesn't have high standards on quality as long as the story is strong. So, it's a good place to learn.”
She's squeezed a VOA gig and two print pitches out of this trip.
Prudence, originally from New York, explained how to properly pronounce Houston stop in the subway, which is different than how you would say the name of the city in Texas, as in “House-tin” versus “Housten”.
“Do you want to take a look at it,” she hopefully asked me, before Dorsey II drowned.
“Sure,” I say, though I know nothing about voice recorders or tech in general.
If I was a woman, I'd wager she wouldn't have asked, and if she did I'd be more prone to honestly saying that I don't have the slightest clue about such a device.
After a couple false starts, with me interrupting to get some footage for the Musafir, we settle down on the open deck to take a look at the device.
There are a great deal of buttons and the such, as well as some intense menus.
Prudence needs to show me how to turn it on, which seems like a bad sign. We do a dull sound check, which seems to be fine. However, when she goes to listen to the file, there's no recording.
I flip through a few of the menus, searching for something that might impact how the file is being saved. We make a few adjustments. We do another sound check. Still nothing.
“Have you tried switching out the SD card?” I ask.
After watching numerous mechanics work on my motorcycles during Dice Travels, I feel like I've started to get a hang of how to problem shoot: Identify problem. Then, start checking parts to see what you can confirm is working and what isn't.
Prudence doesn't seem very hopeful that switching the SD card will make any difference, and, to be fair, neither do I.
I dig out the SD card from my phone. She pops it into the device and does another test.
“Oh my god. It works. Thank you so much. I'm so happy,” she says. “This has made me so sad these last couple of days.”
However, the playback quality still seems bad. We swap out the headphones – voila – all fixed.
“Just so you know, I love you,” she says, beaming at me.
It really does feel like the more stuff you break, the better you get at learning how to fix things in general. It's the same way with a college education. Sure you learn specifics, but what you really learn is how to analyze the world, create context, and clearly explain your thoughts and observations.
Prudence, Nelly, and I are now lying on a coil of ropes. The Musafir is running fast again, rocking in the swell and waves.
“Yeah, but people expect people to lose drones,” Prudence says. “When you show up with a voice recorder, people expect you to be able to make it work.”
I know that feeling. It's the hardest part as we get older; we have a clearer idea of what people expect from us. As a child, people don't expect much and we don't really know what to expect them to expect.
Though I disagree that one should expect to lose their 1,200 dollar piece of equipment from time to time, I've decided to take it all in stride.
“I'm impressed with how level-headed, you're taking all of this,” Prudence says.
“Yeah, well there's no getting the drone back. So, I only have two options: be upset and ruin the trip or enjoy the trip. If a shitty thing is going to happen, this is a pretty good place for it to happen,” I say, surveying my surroundings, taking in the miles of deep blue ocean, the beautiful people, the incredible ship.
The quickness and calmness with which I've excepted the reality of the situation seems unnatural. I had so much going for me that was attached to that piece of technology, and now it's gone.
However, I'm not rattled or frustrated or upset. The calmness bubbles to the surface, like a spring in some Egyptian oasis.
Paolo, the Italian man in charge of the Musafir, is on the sundeck. He'd made his way toward me for a moment, then changed his mind, unsure of what to say.
I go upstairs to where he's standing.
“Sorry. I guess this means I can't put together that video for you. I mean, I can try to bolt together something with the other video I have, but I didn't get any of the new footage,” I say, I small part of me fearful that I might have to pay for trip since I can't produce the video.
“I'm sorry. You don't have to worry about the video,” he says.
I spot Nelly hanging off the back of the boat, two people with comforting hands on her back as she pukes. Better let them take care of her for now.
Breakfast – a pile of tropical fruit, nuts, oatmeal, and bread – is served up in huge dishes on deck. Those feeling well gather around to serve ourselves on metal plates. A second round of recently ground and brewed coffee is served up as well, rounding out a fine meal.
“Pray for fish,” our wild-haired, boisterous Kenyan captain calls out in his booming voice to anyone within earshot, which is everybody on the boat. “Call the fish for us so we have something to eat for lunch.”
There's music playing through one huge speaker and the tropical boat vibe is only dampened by the waves rolling the wide-hulled ship.
There's a stunningly beautiful German girl sprawled out against the railing of the boat, one of several tourists suffering from seasickness. Only a few of us are entirely unaffected by the motion of the ocean. I saddle up next to the German girl. She has mellow, soft green, hazel eyes and her hair tied back in a tangled blond bun.
There's a group of three German girls on the boat. The two who are a bit more plump posses spritely smiles and are unperturbed by the waves. The one I'm sitting next to has more of an athletic build, it's hard for me to tear my eyes away from her.
In fact, our eyes keep catching, holding for a brief moment, then looking away after something – lord knows what – is communicated. We chat a little, but the conversation doesn't have any inertia and dies. I'm okay sitting there in silence. I assume she is as well. Silence is often exactly what a seasick person desires most. That, and land.
Johanna leans over the rail.
“I think it's going to happen,” she says before puking.
“Do you want water?”
She already has water and lime and ginger.
At the bow, I find Prudence, who is also feeling a bit unwell, though not puking.
“Maybe think of it as an opportunity to focus on some other things. Try to find some stories with photographs you can pitch,” she says.
I have an aversion to pitching.
“See, I've spent my whole time on the other side of the desk. I feel like I don't know how to do a proper pitch or what to pitch,” I admit.
“I'll give you the contacts for them [some editors she knows],” she offers.
The conversation drifts toward a startup magazine she's building in Nairobi and its inevitable failure when she returns to New York at the end of June.
“It might not sound like a lot, but going to conventions and handing out fliers and talking to people is essential,” she says.
“Yeah, after working 14 days straight, you need someone who will still go out to a cool event that needs to be covered. I get it completely.” I say. “Do you want some water?”
I run back to the stern get her a steel cup of water.
Like a nest of mice, many of the guys and girls aboard are happily sprawled across the deck, napping in the shade of the sail.
I can't help feeling a little like a perv with the way my eyes keep following all the beautiful women's bodies. There's a girl in a super skimpy bathing suit that would pass for very sexy lingerie and even the German girl's more athletic-style bathing suit seems to hold my attention for too long.
The boom switch that has left my eyes searching every woman I see happened only a couple nights ago when Lovince and I were out at Js. There was a girl in a brown jacket, whose eye I caught while I was ordering an espresso at the bar – because the die dictated I order an espresso. I never spoke to her, but there was such a strong attraction. And now, I was feeling it pulling me all over the boat, specifically to Johanna – though much to my chagrin I found out that she graduated high school only two years ago and has spent the rest of the time living in Australia and traveling – another beautiful woman who is probably too young for me to be pursuing. I pray this is a fluke, rather than a trend.
“Wow! Fish in,” someone calls out.
Romain, a dashingly good-looking man with curly hair, a scruffy beard, and clear blue eyes, is pulling on thick monofilament line with his bare hands.
A dorado, also know as a mahi-mahi or a dolphin fish, leaps from the water, its blue and green body a sliver against the skyline before splashing back into the ocean.
The fish starts swimming for the boat, allowing Romain to easily take in slack. Someone behind him ensures that the line doesn't begin to tangle or get caught in the rudder. The large fish's body flashes a brilliant blue against the blue of the sea.
“Pole, pole. Let him swim in,” the captain says as someone swings a gaff at the fish. The hook bounces off its thick head.
Several attempts later, someone else is able to hook the fish and haul it onto the back deck. There's the dull thud of a machete slapping against its hard skull. The sound comes again and again, until there is blood gurgling from the side of the dorado's head and the fish is still.
Several of us continue to huddle around the animal, watching the captain sharpen a knife and quickly flay it. The thick white meat peels away from the spine, the guts are tossed into the water. The flesh is flipped and the skin carefully pulled away – there will be lunch; a beautiful lunch at that.
“This is good, but we need more,” the captain says.
The lines are thrown back into the water. Large, heavy squid lures with a bit of live bait attached to the hook dive down behind the ship and then rise back toward the surface.
I smile thinking of our departure this morning, when I still had Dorsey II. We were towed out of the creek – though there is nothing small and creek-like about the channel the Musafir was previously anchored in – by a game fishing boat.
As we approached the bridge, there as the blasting of horns as a couple people picked up conch shells, which were transformed into instruments by their breath. Garth, an artist who helped with the installations and bar set up for the Kilifi NYE event, pounded a drum with the thick palms of his hands. The rhythm flowed through the boat, while long blasts from the shell fell on top like a white caps powered by deep swell.
“There's really not much to do on the boat,” I mention to Claudia, Paolo's girlfriend.
“We have some games and a coloring book,” she offers.
“Oh, I wasn't complaining, just commenting. I've also got a deck of cards.”
The general chill of the boat is punctured by another hooked fish. This one is also a dorado, though a slightly smaller one.
“Lunch is ready,” the cook calls out about an hour later
With a steal trap stomach this far into the trip, I'm not shy about piling my plate up with rice and thick stew heavy with chunks of soft dorado and vegetables.
The day drifts by. With five knots of current and plenty of wind behind us, we could make Lamu by midnight if we wanted to. However, we don't want to.
A fresh maki is sliced up and turned into sashimi as part of dinner.
“Mate, you want a beer?” asks a charming Australian by the name of Dan.
I agree to have a beer, but mostly just watch it warm as the night deepens.
The classic dice game of 10,000 arrives in flat basket next to me. A group of us hunker down around it, sipping rum, drinking beer and trying to arrive at a winning score.
Though I've only had half my beer and a single slug of rum, my stomach is questioning the situation.
After what feels like eternity, someone wins the game of 10,000. Most people have already pulled there narrow, thin mattress up from below deck and spread them out. I crawl onto mine, tucking my face into the pillow they gave me and pulling the sheet up over my clothes.
But I'm not to get much sleep tonight.Not because of the silly fear of Somalian pirates, but because my iron-clad stomach was about to have a boom switch of its own. And, sadly, I would be standing in its way.