An Interesting Look Into The Life of a Mariner
05/02/2013 66 °F
If I were to write you a short autobiography about the last three years in my life, I would begin by telling you about my job. For those of you unfamiliar with my line of work, I want you to know that I am a deckhand. I am a proud member of the bottom rung of the maritime ladder. I’m not sure there is anything else I’d rather be on this ship, much to the chagrin of my superior officers. A good deckhand has no use for promotions.
I truly started living when I became a deckhand. I‘ll never forget how it felt to be on the open sea for the first time. I’ve been in love with the ocean ever since.
Deckhands are wanderers. Deckhands don’t make decisions. Deckhands do the dirty work. Deckhands know how to tie knots, both practical and fancy. Deckhands appreciate a good officer. Deckhands despise a bad one. Deckhands live and work outside in all types of weather. Deckhands have strong backs. Deckhands carry sharp knives. Deckhands like to swear. Deckhands don’t spill their coffee when the ship is heaving in rough seas. Deckhands are silly in the early morning hours. Deckhands can throw a heaving line a hundred feet. Deckhands know how to coil rope. Deckhands have nicks and cuts in their hands. Deckhands are mischievous. Deckhands like to spend their money. Deckhands have friends in every port. Deckhands love to eat. Deckhands love to drink. Deckhands often have tattoos of a chicken and a pig on their feet. Deckhands save lives. Deckhands probably have had their life saved. Deckhands despise bad line (rope) and hoses. Deckhands despise sloppy seamanship. Deckhands expect good seamanship. Deckhands can cook. Deckhands can sew. Deckhands know who’s sleeping with whom. Deckhands are healers. Deckhands like passing tugboats and trains. Deckhands love to lean on the rails. Deckhands love the sea. Deckhands love the stars. Deckhands love to laugh. Deckhands have seen things you have not. Deckhands stick together. Deckhands are indispensable. Deckhands are proud to be deckhands.
Dennis Puleston wrote about a certain deckhand in his book, Blue Water Vagabond. “…He was one of those men born of the sea who had lived on it his entire life. He could easily spend a morning forming an eye splice out of steel cable before heading down into the galley to make delicate French pastries.”
There isn’t much a deckhand cannot do.
A Note on Rough Seas
The ocean can be as docile as a sleeping cat or as ferocious as an attacking lion. It all depends on the wind. Two days ago, the wind swatted us with its lion paw.
Go to a set of stairs. Now picture yourself walking on the front side of the stairs instead of the top using the rails to pull yourself up. It feels like you are walking downward even though you are going up. This is what its like to move on a heaving ship in big seas. It’s difficult to keep your balance when the only thing you can trust is rocking unpredictably.
It makes mundane tasks challenging. It’s hard to pour coffee in a cup that is sliding all over the counter. It’s harder to carry that cup without spilling it.
The swells were hitting us diagonally just off our port bow. I estimate the swells to be at least ten feet with another three feet of wind chop atop them. These swells caused our ship to roll from side to side, pitching at steep angles. They weren‘t the biggest seas I have seen, but they were the biggest I have seen in a long time.
So we were rolling. It was my job to walk throughout the ship to make sure everything was secure and not falling over. As this was the last day of ten beautiful days at sea, the crew forgot that the ocean could get lumpy. Seamanship Rule #2: Never trust the ocean. There were objects banging into things all over the ship. I had a hell of a time trying to lash down those loose items. I went from room to room, deck to deck securing a weird and wide variety of stuff.
Thom’s list of stuff that needed securing
Two kayak racks (which pissed me off because whoever moved them should have done this after they had finished their work). Four outdoor tables (in which I had to roll across the top of them to get the line to the rail. This is dangerous.). Two stacks of chairs. I found a puddle in the bar and found that the refrigerator had moved off the drainpipe. A food rack came loose in the storeroom. A file cabinet started sliding across the bridge. The refer doors in the galley started swinging violently open, almost spilling meat everywhere. The wine cupboard in the bar needed taping down.
I did pretty good, but not good enough. I forgot to check the public head and while I was busy securing all that other stuff, a monumental mess was created.
It turns out our hotel staff was keeping one-gallon jugs of liquid hand soap, shampoo, and lotion on the shelf under the sink. With one good roll of the ship, they broke out simultaneously spilling all over the deck (floor). Since it is a small space, it spread evenly and mixed into a slippery ectoplasm an inch and a half deep. It was an awesome sight.
I sighed. I went off in search of a large stack of towels and a dustpan I could use for scooping. Deckhands do the dirty work. If I was malicious, I could have left it for the hotel department to clean up, as it was their mess. But, that’s not the nature of this job. It was the nastiest mess I’ve ever had to clean up. The worst part was that I really had to pee. That’s why I went in there to begin with, and it was too slick to stand on that deck until I cleaned it.
As I was rinsing off one of the bottles in the sink, I looked in the cupboard to see if anything else had spilled. I found a small puddle forming from the suds I had just rinsed off. The drain gasket was leaking. I called up our engineers on the radio and asked for help. Perry came up to take a look. It wasn’t a hard fix and he was about to go and get the tools needed. Our other engineer called up and asked if we needed anything, and I told him, “a cold beer.” He laughed and said, “Maybe in awhile.” He meant when I got off shift.
The thing is, it was a truly beautiful morning. It was crisp, damn near cold. The air was fresh. Each breath was a pleasure. The sun poured over the scene - white gold rays of a dramatic intensity that a photographer would love. Sadly, this photographer was knee deep in slime, but I could still admire it from afar.
The seas eventually abated when we turned with them into the Straits of Juan de Fuca. What a night, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.
When I come to Seattle, I call Amelia first. “A mariner has a girl in every port.” So they say. There IS a lot of truth to this, but don’t get any ideas about Amelia and I, we have been and always will be the best of friends.
I haven’t seen her in a half a year. That’s a mariner’s social life. When I saw her, I tackled her. I didn’t mean to, but our feet intertwined and I pounced a bit too aggressively, and shit… She cut both knees and scraped her elbow. I felt terrible. That’s not what I had in mind at all, but alas, it happened. Why am I such a jack ass? Anyway, I bandaged her up, apologized nine million times and made amends by buying pints of good beer at the Freemont Brewery. Eventually, we realized that we would laugh about this some other time. “Remember when I tackled you?”
We drank our pints at a likeable bench and talked the afternoon away. There was a lot to catch up on after all, and we took turns listening and speaking. We vented, listened, and helped each other think through some problems. We laughed. We were ridiculous. Why is there so much clarity when talking to some people compared to others? Amelia helps me think clearly.
We moved on and bought burritos from a notable food cart. We ate those burritos at a small park near the canal.
Thom’s definition of happiness:
I have a delicious burrito in my hand. My best friend is sitting on my left. Ahead of me blooms a warm spring park scene of green grass, swaying trees, azure sky, passing boats and gaggling geese. To my right sits a dude with the most outlandish sideburns I have ever seen. I am happy and content. Ah, yes. How I love these moments.
If I were going to write you a short autobiography about the last three years of my life, I would end it like this: I love my life, the life of a deckhand.