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Meridian Passages, Volume XIII, Number 11

Central Pacific Edition

At Sea

Musings of an Amelia Explorer

Equatorial Sunset – Sue Morris
Equatorial Sunset – Sue Morris

We may count ourselves among those who “went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters” (Psalms, 107:23). It is a privilege that bears reflection. It is a circumstance rich in contradiction. At once, you are isolated from society, yet in close company with your shipmates. You are immersed in nautical traditions of organization, timeliness, protocol, and routine, yet always subject to the random whims of the sea and nature. You have almost nothing impeding your vision, but a limited set of things to see. You have set aside any work that seemed essential to do on land, and replaced it with an entirely different set of tasks that are essential to do at sea.

Under these circumstances, the relationship with shipmates, the value of tradition, the nightly wonders of the heavens, and the satisfaction of accomplishing small but important jobs take on a great significance. When we return home and resume our land lives, we find that we have a new appreciation for these things, and find the ways ashore curiously lacking. No matter how eagerly a sailor looks forward to returning to port, to reunite with friends and family, to enjoy the comforts of home and hearth, once ashore he soon begins to recall fondly the ways of the sea.

While there is some truth in this romantic point of view, the reality for most seafarers is quite different. Cap’n Joe, for one, says, “It’s only romantic to those that haven’t done it.” He wasn’t talking about a South Pacific run, with fine weather, good food, and easy work … for some of us. For the team in Ops, it’s like an office job – except the office leans a bit and you don’t go home at the end of the day. It’s not the same as stints in the engine room, day after day with the heat, noise, and grease. Or twelve-plus hours, seven days a week working the survey gear back aft, or all the backbreaking work that goes on with the deck gang to keep us afloat, not to mention the cooking and cleaning that keeps us fed and comfortable. It’s easier to be “romantic” when you don’t have to spend days rebuilding a diesel generator, or reassemble a hydraulic power unit in the rain, or cook all day every day for three dozen people.

Now, consider doing it in Alaska, and imagine you are spending most of the time in cold, drenching winds, heavy seas, and primitive surroundings. And much harder work, exhausting physical labor. And some real hazards, even for the experienced sailor. Joe doesn’t want to tell some of his stories … friends he’s lost and close calls he’s had.

He will tell you, though, that, “Cruise ships don’t go to the Bering Sea in January.” I wonder why ….??

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