2 min read
Bluewater Martians

by William Thomas

Mars aficionados and Hornby-Denman gardeners must’ve gone gaga over Ridley Scott’s, The Martian

Bluewater sailors said, “No biggie.” Want a crew capable of coping with life-threatening emergencies and each other’s company during the cramped, seven-month voyage to Mars? Choose ocean voyagers...

     How the confused and reluctant hero of the Bourne Identity ends up stranded on the surface of Mars is never fully explained. But Matt Damon (aka Mark Watney) is certainly a mellow Martian.

     Despite lacking an atmosphere to transmit sound, the movie Mars is disconcertedly noisy – though nothing approaching the nerve-shredding cacophony of a storm at sea. Marooned 53 million miles from nearest habitable land, and reduced to counting zip-locks of human waste and a dwindling supply of potatoes, the wise-cracking Watney is in greater danger of being driven mad by a collection of dated disco recordings than by playing Robinson Crusoe on the Lonely Red Planet.

     After an Earth-based rescue attempt blows up in his face, NASA’s director elects to sacrifice Watney in order to ensure the safety of five astronauts onboard the orbiting mommy ship. But that vessel’s skipper disobeys distant orders and risks her ship and its entire complement to save one man.

     NASA made the right call. Apparently, that mutinous commander never had to confront this budding Ensign’s exam question: “If your ship was catastrophically flooding, would you order watertight hatches dogged shut on your drowning shipmates?” (I answered correctly.)

     Since electronics are as allergic to sand as seawater, sailors can only marvel at Damon’s destiny. Thanking his lucky stars that it’s not an F-35, the chuckling castaway manages to locate and reactivate a long-buried Pathfinder rover, then boot up a derelict resupply probe simply by wiping off an external keypad scoured by decades of sandstorms and radiation.

     The movie’s climax is a passage only Shackleton or Tristan Jones would have attempted: a 50-day Mars crossing onboard a rock ‘n’ roll rover equipped with monster-tires and a million-dollar stereo.

     In 1984, Celerity completed a similarly “impossible” first-ever nonstop crossing from Japan to North America by multihull. With her bluff bow, broad wings and rapier-lean outriggers, the plucky backyard-built trimaran resembled a miniature Vulcan scout ship as she set out on a 4,800 sea-mile crossing far longer in distance than that attempted by the witty Watney.  

     In an interior space smaller than his RV-size Mars Rover, her two-person crew had to stow enough water, provisions, spares and tp to transit this watery planet’s longest and most formidable high-latitude passage. Unlike Watney, our solar panels did not have to heat the cabin in -80F temperatures. Or make oxygen. But beyond the 3/8” skin of our vessel lay a turbulent environment as vast and inhospitable as space. And unlike that Hollywood Martian, Hiromi and I could not stop for scenic walks whenever claustrophobia threatened.

     Watney drove his modified dune buggy across the Mars regolith for just two days longer than our 48-day passage from a small fishing harbor in Hanabuchi to Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf, where Celerity tied to the same berth on the same jam-packed float she had departed from eight long years before. 

     Like Watney on his rescue, the first thing I did on stepping ashore was draw a deep breath.

Photo Captions:

Blue Mars -flickr.com

Lone astronaut on Mars by Alberto Vangelista -humanmars.net