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'Jarvis' reunited with his original shell.
Photo: Chris Johnson

December 20, 2000
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

We have a wonderful new crew member in our lives: Jarvis, he has has more charm than a duck. He's about 3/4 of an inch long and full of pep, guile, and good looks. Two weeks before I arrived, the Odyssey visited Jarvis island (an uninhabited island covered with nesting seabirds) where Reb picked up a handful of seashells and brought them back to the boat. Several hours later, and with the boat now well underway and far from Jarvis island one of the prettiest shells, a red and white one, got up and started to walk off. It had a hermit crab in it! He was unanimously named Jarvis, and put in a commodious cage while all on board began ministering to his every whim. But one night he did an amazing thing: he slipped out of his shell, climbed out of his cage and disappeared somewhere inside the Odyssey. The crew's theory is that maybe his shell was too heavy for him to drag out of the cage so he abandoned it in order to escape. I must say it's an attractive theory, and given the number of shells in his normal world it wouldn't seem to be taking all that big a chance to dump one shell in order to make your escape and then pick up a new one on the other side. But the Odyssey is not 'normal circumstances,' and now that Jarvis was free he was also buck naked, and presumably madly looking everywhere for another shell. That was six weeks ago, during which time everyone harbored dull worries about some idle step of theirs squashing him, or someone sucking him up by mistake in the vacuum cleaner while using it in a dark corner, or spilling hot coffee on him, or dropping some heavy object on him. And as it happened, once I was on the boat, we again passed Jarvis island on our way from Christmas island to Tarawa. But although we had planned to stop and return him there, we didn't stop because he had escaped.

But today, six weeks and about 2000 miles after he had vanished, Bob found him in the Lazarette, down under all the equipment, in an area where every person who tries to get stuff out might easily have crushed him accidentally by stepping on him. But Jarvis had found something to clothe himself in: a tiny piece of shiny thin-walled steel tubing about half an inch long into which he had stuck his butt, so that instead of his shell he was scuttling about in this bit of shiny metal tube, looking like the man who, when he lost all his clothes in a poker game, had to go home in a barrel (only Jarvis's butt stuck out a little bit beyond the far end of the tube because it was a bit too short to do the job fully). How on earth he had found such a perfect thing for himself is hard to imagine, and the glee he must have felt when he finally encountered it after wallowing around for some part of 2000 miles of an ocean crossing is something we can do no more than imagine. But he did find it, and he did take possession of it. And man is he ever a trend setter now.

When I asked Bob what the small tubing was he knew. It is a separator used on the sign board that holds the name Odyssey, and which is used to hold the letters away from the sign surface. Bob has a stash of such separators in a sealed jar, but had no idea where Jarvis might have found a spare one. Nor can anyone figure out how he ever got into the Lazarette since its front wall is a sealed, watertight bulkhead. The only reasonable possibility seems to be that he got folded into a drop cloth or some such, when someone was painting, and got carried into the Lazarette. As it turns out, Bob had cleaned off the floor of the Lazarette and lain on it yesterday while repairing some lines and didn't see Jarvis then. So Jarvis may have entered that space fairly recently.

As it turned out, Reb had Jarvis's shell-after all the reason she had picked it up in the first place was because she thought it was pretty-and so when Jarvis abandoned it to make his escape, she put it in with her other shells. So now she produced it again, and put it down in front of Jarvis in his cage. And when Jarvis Tin-Butt saw his old shell, he immediately abandoned his barrel, rushed over and backed into his old shell... thus becoming Jarvis Shell-Butt once more. We had no idea of what to feed him, but a book Gen has says hermit crabs are scavengers. So we opened a can of tuna and put a dab of it in his box. WELL that was FINE!! He just planted his face in it and shovelled it into his mouth. Although it seems unthinkable, he may not have had anything to eat for a six weeks, (certainly he devoured that tuna avidly) but I suppose that's not realistic, and it is probably more likely that he has been cleaning up bits of algae somewhere in the bilge beneath the Lazarette, or who knows what else. Though how he possibly does that while the Odyssey is wildly rolling around I'll never know.

Well now he has his own, in a very elegant cage (a shallow Tupperware dish) with paper towels in it to make it cozy (why that is relevant to the life of a hermit crab, or how he can benefit from it I have no idea, but I suppose it's a matter of sanitation). And he is the center, the clown king, the beloved sweetheart of everyone on the boat. And the crew, whenever they pass his set-up and see him resting in state in the middle of the dining room table stop to admire him and speak his name and show him respect.

Jarvis. Even the name is a triumph. No crab was ever more loved I suspect. And no crab must ever have traveled so far in such a grand boat, over such a mighty ocean, and found such a perfect piece of tubing with which to cover his butt. He is in every sense a most superior, most accomplished, most lucky crustacean. And as I sit on deck in the night harbor of Tarawa, thinking of home, Jarvis sits in his dish on the dining room table thinking, I suppose, of his home (on that island which he now must realize was named after him). And I realize that we are both far far away from our homes (but thanks in major part to canned tuna fish, are both doing well). And we have both found out how important metal tubes can be: in his case a short metal tube, and in mine a long metal tube... called an airplane in which I will fly back to my wife, starting in about 6 hours. It's close to midnight, and Gen just passed by my chair, and announced: "I just made Jarvis a huge new home: it's like a football field." So now I will go down and investigate his "football field" (and hope it won't make me feel too jealous). And then I will go to bed.

This is Roger Payne making my farewells to Jarvis and to Tarawa, as I prepare to cross half a world to find my house which, unlike Jarvis's, I cannot pick up and carry about on my back.

Log by Roger Payne

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