Daily Post – word prompt – Voyage https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/voyage/
I have posted some parts of this already (slightly modified) on an earlier blog/post – Life on the Open Sea. This was a piece I wrote for a book published by a friend my husband. We all sailed together for sometime a long time ago. Still the memories and friendship very much in tact. He is probably the one responsible for me to start writing and the birth of “The Dreaded C Word” https://wordpress.com/post/uma197.wordpress.com/27
Here goes, I hope I take you on a voyage into my past, warning there are no sordid scandals.
My CSC Years as a Supernumerary
My life in CSC started on the 7th June 1987. When I was asked to contribute for this book of CSC recollections, I thought well mine is going to be the only true story, considering I was the only one sober on board that ship. There was a lot of drinking and partying on those ships but I have to admit, the ships were still ship shape, and no one shied away from their responsibilities. This was a place where the individuals took pride in their jobs. Captain to the Cadet, everyone took their duties seriously. Work hard and play hard was the motto.
As usual the ship’s ETA was as punctual as a pregnant woman’s due date. My maiden voyage was looming. So was my 21st birthday. I was a young new bride awaiting her 21st and her maiden voyage all at the same time. We were meant to sail out on the 10th, just a couple of days after my birthday. Cake was ordered and all set for the big day, my birthday party.
Ships are referred as a “she”, but I think they should be referred as a “pregnant she”, their so called ETA’s are never accurate. This time was no different. She came in early. She arrived on the 5th (I think per memory, well it was a couple of days before my birthday). We finally sailed off on the 7th. I was excited as well as nervous about the trip.
Ganesh had just returned after completing his Masters exam. But, there were no vacancies for him to get command. So he was made the Senior Chief Officer. So the Senior Chief or (Super Chief as I teased him), went on board with the Supernumerary by his side. Many eyes on the supernumerary, she was being watched and measured.
I was fascinated by the word Supernumerary. I was just a number but just that I was a special super number. Complimented and brought down to earth at the same time. Things were pretty much the same at the mess table. There was always a lot of friendly banter. It was a lot of fun. Felt like I was back at school, in the boarding. I soon realised the friendships we were making here was going to be the same. It was going to be a lifelong affair.
We were heading to the Middle East with Capt. D.J Amera as Master. Word spread that it was my 21st. My birthday was celebrated just after we left Aqaba, Jordan. What a unique way to celebrate one’s 21st. The chef had made a lovely cake, so just after dinner everyone gathered in the bar, cutting the cake, then followed by a lot of drinking, dancing and singing. Not the way I imagined my 21st to be. I wasn’t planning on being married by 21, let alone being married to a sailor and celebrating my 21st on a ship. This goes to show that you can’t always plan everything in life. I have no complains about the way my life has turned out, even though it was not what I had planned.
Sea and sea life teaches us the biggest metaphor, “Go with the flow”, yes sometimes, things don’t go the way you plan, but you ride the waves as it comes. You still plan and get prepared for the next big wave, but when you get hit by that unexpected Seismic Wave, you are still prepared to ride that wave.
Until this trip I really had no idea that I would fall in love with the sea the way I did. I come from the hills of Sri Lanka. We have no sea, just rivers and waterfalls, even then it was no big deal for a Water view. So I never gave that much thought to this mass abundance of water – The Sea. Until I set sail on MV. Sri Mathi. There was nothing but the vast sea, day after day. There was something serene and pure about this setting. I came to love this journey. This was my life, my home, my family, for the next four years, till we migrated to Australia.
Once Ganesh goes up to the Bridge, I had to fend for myself for entertainment. Most times there is at least one other female on board, either another officers wife or the purser. But there have been times where I was the only female on board, which meant I was the only one who didn’t really have a job to do. I didn’t really mind it. I spent my time reading, going on the bridge wing and just watching the sea, and at times being entertained by the dolphins and so forth. I didn’t have to do any cooking or cleaning and every 3-4 days shopping in a different country. A girl could get used to this life.
If there was another female, then I just hoped that they liked scrabble and monopoly, preferably scrabble. I think the best buddy I had on board was Irani, 2nd Engineer Ryan’s wife. She was a great scrabble player, unless she was struck with sea sickness.
Yes, the sea was not always calm. She can have the biggest tantrum at times and put on a show. I started to learn some nautical lingo (but never could work out why we had to call it port and starboard, right and left would have sufficed). I loved pitching; the waves would hit the front of the ship, the focsle and make a big splash. While, I admired this beauty, mother natures’ fury out on display, Irani was in the bathroom, bringing up yesterday’s corn beef. Not the best time for either of us. I was bored and she was sea sick.
I didn’t mind rolling although it wasn’t as pretty as pitching, but yawing made even my stomach churn. Another down side to rough seas was that, most times the chef was unable to cook a proper meal and hence you end up with corn beef. I hate corn beef.
I learnt pretty fast that the sea can change its mood without much notice. This particular day Ganesh came down to the cabin as the sea was getting very rough. I didn’t think much of it. I was lying on the bunk (bed in laymen’s term) and reading a book. Ganesh came down to the cabin and started to stow away the things that was on top of the cupboard and lash the cupboard. I couldn’t understand why he was tying the two cupboard door handles together. It didn’t seem that rough. I thought it was a bit of an overreaction, anyway who am I to advise him? While I was admiring the seaman’s knot that was now on the cupboard door, this Seaman’s slowly developing tummy and trying to read all at the same time, the ship rolled. I departed the bunk on a horizontal manner, hit the bulkhead and fell to the floor, like a bird that would fly into a glass pane. My ever supportive husband was laughing his head off. News travels fast in these ships. This was news of the day at dinner.
I sailed on a few other ships after that, MV. Lanka Athula and MV. Lanka Seedevi to name a few. We were back on Sri Mathi a couple more times. This was and is my favourite ship. I guess I could be a bit bias, as this was my first ship. Second time around we had Capt. Asoka Wijey as Master and Robert Wijey as Chief Engineer. Asoka’s wife didn’t accompany him as she had just given birth to a baby girl. Obviously Asoka thought this was the best time to escape to the sea avoiding the nappy duties. Robert had not met his (beautiful) wife at that time. I love chocolates. When I am shopping in Port Khorfakkan , I do what the locals do. I followed the “when in Rome… theory”. The Arabs have big families and big wallets. Purchases are made by the carton. I did the same. I bought a carton of kit kat, a carton of twix, a carton of bounty, a carton of… you get the picture. After lunch these two would follow us to our cabins for a chocolate. Munching on the chocolate we will continue to talk more BS. No one made any sense, but each one of us was sure that we were right, the other was not, and most often it was three against one. I didn’t mind as I secretly felt proud that I could hold them out on my own.
Many a times I have sailed with kids as well. No scrabble, but I didn’t mind as I enjoyed being the spoiling aunty.There were two kids in particular that I fell in love with. Chief Engineer Rogers son and daughter, bit vague on the names Shiva and Shivi I think. Cutest little things, now all grown up and probably married. I read somewhere the other day that “It’s not you that is getting old but your kids are”.
Along with jokes and fun times, I also like to shed light to some of the heroic work that goes on. For them it’s just another day at the office. It was early hours in the morning, we were still asleep, Ganesh answers a call from the bridge. He says fire into the phone, looks through the porthole and then runs out the cabin without telling me anything. I looked outside through the porthole. Rows and rows of containers, I couldn’t see any fire. I got changed out of my pj’s. Ganesh came back to the cabin on a mad dash, said “good you are changed, a container is on fire, but should be ok”, and dashed back up again, fire alarm went off. I was not too keen on getting into the life boat, we had just left Fujerah and my fridge has just been restocked with chocolates, it would be a shame to abandon that.
One of the containers carrying charcoal had caught fire. Sitting in the hot sun in Fujerah the charcoal had ignited due to self combustion. Next five or six days everyone including the chief cook was fighting the fire. Ganesh barely slept. It was the same for everyone on board. We finally managed to reach Saudi, sense of relief, we can finally hand over this headache to the Saudi’s. Unfortunately it wasn’t that simple, they didn’t won’t to let us come in, until the fire was out. I guess they understood petroleum more than charcoal. It was hard to explain it to them that the charcoal has to just burn down, it cannot be put out by water, we were using water to keep it under control, to keep it from spreading to the other containers. Suggestion was put forward by the P & I Surveyor to use this container by the fire fighting training college was eagerly accepted by the Saudie’s . It is in these circumstances that it comes to light that the ship life is not just fun and games. When you out there in the middle of ocean, it just you and the crew, for better or for worse. It high lights the importance of team work, proficiency, trust and commitment by each crew member.
I spent many a Christmas and New Years on board. It’s a day for the Chief Cook to highlight his skills. There was one Chief Cook in particular who loved the festivities. He should be called a Chef rather than a cook. He could be rated along with Rick Styne the Michelin star Chef. Just like Rick he was well travelled and cooked many different cuisines. However, just like Rick, struggled with the simple parrippu. I had no complains, I could care less about the parrippu, I had four amazing deserts to devour.
Sundays was rather special, all gathered in the bar before lunch, round of drinks and darts is usually the order of the day. Everyone was keen on giving me a turn on the darts. That was part of the entertainment. The dart board is mounted on a bigger plywood board. Great excitement and cheer if I manage to get the darts on the plywood board. It received more cheer than a bulls eye from champ. I think the rightward slant of the body and leg to balance the rolling ship is negated by the leftward slant walk and head tilt now due to the hydration in the bar, gives them the perfect stance, balance and aim at darts. I now realise the reason for my shortcomings. A few more glasses of gin and may be a pair of stilts could have fixed my problem.
It is twenty five years since we last sailed and have migrated to a new country. But the friendships made and the memories created, still remain in tact. Even when we lose all contacts with someone and then we meet them years later, it starts from where we left off, and it’s as if we never left. It was a workplace like no other. Even amongst shipping companies, CSC was rather special.The bond exists, not by the proximity of your dwelling, but rather by the memories of yesteryear. Here’s to memories and mate ship.
… Other than my husband’s name all other names have been changed. Just in case I become famous they don’t come down demanding for royalties.
2 thoughts on “My First Voyage – MV Sri Mathi”
Among my old and dear friends in the US is a woman from a small island in the Philippines (since returned). Just inside the front door of their family’s very old Spanish-era home rests a container holding the bones of the family patriarch, her grandfather, a third-generation mariner and ship’s captain who drown at sea. Seems a common theme in the Philippines.
My friend’s eldest brother continued the family tradition as a merchant marine. I guess he started at the bottom on some pretty bad, not especially seaworthy ships as what he termed “disposable” crew. Eventually, however, he learned and worked his way up to a position as a Chief Engineer with a very professional Norwegian captain on a ship that he really liked. But during a shore leave with his family, the ship was lost in the Indian Ocean after a load of timber suddenly shifted in high seas, and only one of the crew survived. He never went back to sea, breaking the family tradition.
Nature is an unsympathetic partner. Seems there’s a great deal of faith as well as trust in a crew that makes life as a mariner possible. The smoldering container made me think of this. It’s easy to forget that those things which cross the oceans beyond our gaze do so under the watch of people. Yours is a well told and fascinating story.
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Thank you for stopping by. And thankfully we were on much better conditions. the above story is pretty fascinating too. thank you for sharing
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