Scrabble and other equatorial diversions

scrabble tiles“This shipboard life is curiously hypnotic,” I wrote to my parents a few days out from Wellington in February of 1962. “Absolutely nothing to do all day but sit & watch the waves go by. You soon find it practically impossible to do any thing else.” The ‘what else’ we found as we sailed for two weeks across the tropical Pacific was the game of Scrabble. Every afternoon we gathered on the deck with a group of shipmates, one of whom had a Scrabble game in her luggage. While the nautical miles accumulated, we bonded over the game, and have continued to stay in touch with some of them over the many years since.

After the storms and seasickness of the first week, we had perfect weather: sunny days, calm seas, and just enough breeze to keep things cool. I decided that ocean voyages were not so bad after all.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

I had time to dream. When my husband Tony and I carried our bags up the gangplank of the “Johan van Oldenbarnevelt” earlier that month, bound for New York and then England, I felt I was walking in the steps of my role model, the great New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, who also went abroad at a young age to pursue a literary career.

JVO_sunsetAs the familiar constellations of the Southern Hemisphere receded southward, we discovered the truth of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lines in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner:”

The Sun’s rim dips; the stars rush out;
At one stride comes the dark

JVO_lidoMy letters comment on the group of people we got to know: “… Mainly the crowd from our table. We have had some very good discussions and arguments about all sorts of things. The brain needs some exercise after sitting looking at the sea most of the day. So does the body – we are getting good at deck tennis (our own rules), and have spent quite a bit of time in the swimming pool. When the sea was rough the water in it sloshed back and forth terrifically, but is better now.”

M steering JVOA few highlights of the voyage float into my mind. A visit to the bridge, where I was allowed to steer the ship. Watching flying fish and dolphins leap out of the water close to the ship. The obligatory visit from King Neptune the day we crossed the equator. But mostly I remember playing Scrabble on deck with our new friends, while Indonesian stewards in white jackets rattled tea-trolleys.

I haven’t played Scrabble in years, and don’t remember what happened to our old game set. But this week we bought ourselves a new one. Nostalgia filled my heart as I pulled out from the bag a handful of little wooden tiles.

black file logo


JVO photographs are by Tony Eppstein.

 Maureen is exploring the contents of an old black filing cabinet, which contains 55 years of letters, notes and memorabilia.


3 Responses to “Scrabble and other equatorial diversions”

  • Alice Richards:

    What inventiveness on a leisurely cruise. Scrabble has always been one of my favorite games. My Grandson, Alexander and I played it often when he came to visit. It is one game that has lasted for many generations.

  • Kate:

    I’ve never been much of a Scrabble player, but your memories make me want to gather a group together and play!

  • Diane Andrews:

    Just when I was going to give my old Scrabble set to a thrift shop, our mutual friend Judi sent me the link to your blog. Now, I’ll dust the game off and keep it, awaiting an opportunity to play.

    My family plays a fast version of Scrabble called “Take Two.” It requires additional Scrabble tiles as individuals play off the board, building their own word grids.

    All the tiles are placed face down and each player draws seven tiles and starts making words(only on her own grid). When a person uses up all her tiles, she calls out “Take two!” and everyone has to take two more tiles. This goes on until all the tiles have been drawn and one person uses up all her tiles.

    Then comes the hard part. You have to count up your points to see who the winner is. Deduct the points on your own remaining tiles from your score. There are variations on “Take Two” but that’s pretty much how my family in Michigan plays it.

Leave a Reply