On Boats and Containment

I have been trying to write this post for a while now, but only recently did Professor McCoy provide me with the lens to critically think about what I am attempting to discuss in this post- containment.

I grew up on boats, yet I am terribly afraid of drowning. Starting at age four, my father and I went on canoe camping trips every year in the Adirondacks. I started sailing with him at age six, and at age ten, I learned to sail on my own. My family vacations always include water, usually going to the Thousand Islands or the Adirondacks and bringing a few of our eleven and a half boats (my dad is currently building one) with us. To add insult to injury, I was a competitive swimmer in high school. What I am trying to say is that I have absolutely no reason to be afraid of drowning.

Most likely because of this background, my reading of Superstorm was focused on the voyage of the Bounty. The experience of a boat in a storm is something I am both familiar with and something that terrifies me, and I also know what it is like to be waiting for someone to return from a storm.

The thing about boats is that they are a form of containment- the only barrier between you and the water around you, something that becomes painfully evident in a situation where that containment is no longer perfect. I can perfectly recall a situation where the boom broke on a sailboat my dad and I were on due to high winds. Obviously, we made it back okay thanks to his quick thinking but there was a very real possibility that we wouldn’t have figured it out and someone would have had to come rescue us or worse. That same day, my younger brothers were out in kayaks and waiting for them to get back was also nerve-wracking. Winds that break a sailboat create waves that can swamp a kayak.


In these situations, the containment of air against water itself was never broken. None of us took on more water than expected and the boats themselves were not leaking, but even the idea that the breakage of one part of the boat might mean the breaking of the seal that separates one from the water is unnerving. Viewing boats where this has happened is eerie- one of the things that my family likes to do in the Thousand Islands is to look at shipwrecks. There’s a pair of sunken boats called the Twisted Sisters (pictured above) that are easily viewed just by snorkeling- they were sunk on purpose to avoid being crushed by ice and simply never brought back up- and it is unsettling to view the relatively intact remains of the boats covered in mussels and algae, and somehow becomes even worse if you happen to see a fish swimming around the ruin. Even though I know they were put there on purpose, there is something deeply unnerving about a boat that no longer keeps out water, made that much worse by the elements that make that much more obvious, like the algae and the fish. The similarity of the wreck to a skeleton (hello Zone One) is also rather unsettling.

As such, it makes perfect sense to me why Colson Whitehead uses the language of water in Zone One, as discussed in class, to describe the skels. In a way, the barricaded area of Zone One is a boat floating in a sea of skels, and the possibility of the skels breaking that seal of containment is similar to a sailor’s fear of their boat leaking- both spell danger and death. Fittingly, I noticed the language of water most toward the end of the novel, after the wall is breached. The skels are described as a “black tide” and they “splash” through the streets of New York City after breaking the barrier.

However, water serves as a different kind of containing agent: it protects as well. Gary speaks of wanting to move to the island of Corsica, where water would keep the skels out. This goes against the use of water as a means to depict the skels and points out the dual role water plays of both something to be avoided and something that protects.

To conclude this post, I’d like to thank the reader for listening to my ramblings about my childhood and my attempts to connect them course concepts. It certainly has helped me to think about water as both something to be contained and something that contains in the context of my experiences with water, and I hope to hear from others who have had (or haven’t had!) similar experiences.

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